You’re not really trying to learn anything. You’re looking for a reason to beat yourself up.
How many of us make the “mistake” of marrying the wrong person?
There must be millions of people who wonder how they managed to get themselves into such a serious life commitment with someone who ultimately proved incompatible.
Most of those who make this kind of mistake eventually correct it by divorcing, some sooner than others. Yet, even after the crisis of divorce has passed, many are left wondering why they made such a horrible decision in the first place. Why did they stay in a loveless (or worse) marriage for so long The answers, however reasonable, are seldom satisfying.
The same questions often seem to re-emerge at various times in one’s life.
Why would one make decisions that are clearly opposed to one’s own interests, or contrary to one’s health or mental health? Lack of an acceptable explanation often leads to self-criticism, lowered self-esteem, and self-doubt.
“What is wrong with me? Why did I make such a horrible decision? Why did I put up with it for so long? Why didn’t I just leave?”
“Why” questions are a kind of self-torture.
They demand answers to questions that often have no real answers.
Ultimately, we may find ourselves saying that it is because we are sick, bad, crazy or stupid. These are the things that get implied with those why questions.
“Why?” stops being an actual question. It becomes a statement that morphs into a criticism of oneself: I must have been sick, bad, crazy or stupid to have done what I did.
Why do we expect ourselves to have an answer?
Have we come to know more about ourselves than we did then? Even when we have done much soul searching, have thoroughly examined both ourselves and other parties involved, just how satisfying are our conclusions? Do they really matter? Are we completely convinced that we understand?
The assumption that underlies this kind of self-examination is that there is an answer, that somehow if we try hard enough we will be able to comprehend our own behavior. The trouble is that when we try to figure these things out, we can only do so with the skills given to us by our present level of development. If you don’t see things very clearly, you probably aren’t seeing yourself with much clarity either.
“But, aren’t I supposed to learn from my failed relationships?”
Usually we do learn something, but seldom is it a complete realization of who we are. We try to make different choices based on this limited comprehension and are then surprised when those choices are as disastrous as our previous ones. Your first partner wasn’t amorous enough, for example, so you find someone far more sexy only to discover they’re unfaithful.
Whether you see yourself as making the same mistake over and over again, or over-correcting all the time, you’re bound to think there is something wrong with you (unless you prefer to think everyone else is seriously flawed). Self-criticism isn’t what’s needed. What we need is some sense that we are developing as human beings, that we’re maturing, “growing up,” learning to stand on our own two feet.
Being on your own for a time can be exactly what you need, giving you an opportunity to be independent, making it possible for you to develop confidence in who you are. If you spend the time obsessing about what is “wrong” with you, however, that’s a good indication that you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing.
Second guessing yourself isn’t self-knowledge, it’s guessing.
You need to look at yourself honestly and with compassion rather than criticism. Make appreciation of yourself your first priority, rather than finding someone who will “make” you happy.
If the idea of self-knowledge is daunting to you, please understand that this business of discovering who we are is incredibly complicated! It takes time for us to see things. Sometimes we may even have to make the “mistake” again to find out who we are.
You don’t need to identify what is wrong with you. You need to make an honest assessment of who you are at any given time. You weren’t “wrong” in your ignorance about sex when you were six, for example. Cut yourself a little slack about what you think you ought to know now.
Open yourself, instead, to discovering what your so-called “mistakes” may have taught you.
Difficult relationships often serve as initiations to our personal development.
Did we learn anything from the experience? In what way have we been strengthened? How have these things made us different than we were before? What does this tell us about what we need to do now?
When you do this kind of work, you are nurturing your own development, witnessing your own capacity to grow. You may be surprised at just how far you have come.