We all do things we regret: things that hurt others, things that hurt ourselves. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of self-blame, but that doesn’t help us move forward. If we want to live our lives fully, we need to have processes in place to help us when we mess up — because we will mess up. We’re human. It happens.
The three things that are required to deal with our mistakes in a way that is healthy and authentic are:
- Penance Penance is the willingness to endure the consequences of your actions. It’s accepting responsibility for what you did and all that resulted from your choices, no matter how unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even heartbreaking they may be.
- Atonement This is your commitment to learn from your mistake so that you don’t repeat it in the future. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
- Amends What can you do to heal the damage that your actions caused? Like penance, this requires a depth of honesty that can be very difficult, because you need to understand and acknowledge what harm resulted from your choices.
This last one can be especially challenging when you were acting in good faith and had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, while positive intent is important, it’s not enough if it had a negative impact. This doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it negate the fact that you meant well.
It does mean, however, that you need to change what you do so that the impact you have aligns with your intention. Obviously, this is a simplified overview of the process. There are other factors to consider, like learning how to let go of a blame mindset, recognizing how other people can be hurt by your actions simply because they experience things differently than you do (and learning how to respect those differences), loving and forgiving yourself when you are the person you have hurt — the list goes on. But if you incorporate these three areas into your strategies for making peace with your mess-ups, you will be on your way to living a more vibrant, resilient, and fulfilling life.