A few days ago, I sent two well-meaning emails to colleagues. As I read them after I had pushed the “send” button, I regretted that they were hurtling through cyberspace and landing in the inbox of these two recipients. It’s not that they had an angry tone but they were too long, divulged too much information and were a bit tone-deaf to the sensitive matters that were at hand. I know I’m not the only one who has sent emails they wish they hadn’t, but it’s not so common that I do so. It was a swing and a miss.
We can take big and little swings
I don’t like swinging and missing, but that is what we humans do. Sometimes, I wish I were a baseball player who has permission to swing and miss two thirds of the time and still be seen as a superstar. Failed swings of much greater magnitude can leave me feeling quite bad. Sometimes, shame can rear it’s head as I berate myself for doing what I have done.
Guilt I can handle because it educates me. Perhaps next time, I’ll wait a day before pushing the send button. Unlike guilt, though, shame is corrosive, telling me that I am unworthy. These two emails rose to the level of brief guilt, not shame, I’m relieved to say.
Living with bipolar disorder has caused me to have the biggest swings and misses of my life. For me, there simply hasn’t been anything worse than hurting those around me. I refused to accept that I had bipolar disorder and for many years didn’t get treatment. Despite efforts to spare those good souls pain by hiding my secret life away (the swing), I hurt them even more by doing so (the miss).
We can ease the angst of missing the ball
I have found two ways to ease the angst of sending emails I wished I hadn’t and causing pain to those I love. First, I use the “war crimes” yardstick. I ask myself: “Did I commit a war crime?” Since I didn’t, it helps put my deeds in a kinder perspective. The things I did likely may not have risen to the level that I feel they did. Almost always the case. A gentler perspective helps.
Second, I try hard to identify the impulses that drove me to take the action in the first place. The genesis is rarely to be intentionally hurtful. Most often, it’s an attempt to protect someone else; it’s an attempt to protect myself; it’s an attempt to be closer to someone; it’s a cry for help; it’s an expression of fear; it’s an attempt to receive admiration; it’s an attempt to be noticed.
Recognizing all this allows me to quickly ease my feelings of guilt. Do I expect myself to go through life without ever erring? Sure, sometimes I do. But at those times, I reflect upon what drove me to do things I did. I travel on the path of humanness just like everyone else. Sometimes that’s a bit humbling, but sometimes it allows me to feel that I have a world of fellow travelers and innumerable kindred souls. In this regard, I don’t feel so alone. And while I can disappoint myself and others, I know that my average of falling short of my high expectations is a lot better than two thirds. It’s OK to keep taking swings and realize my humanity when I miss. Immersed in a life of guilt and shame? No, thanks. Living in a world of humanness? Yes, please.