• Natalie Hartney, LPC NCC

I Messed Up: How to Do Better

Sometimes we goof. We flub. We royally screw up. It is bound to happen, we are human after all. It is what we do next that matters most. I often say that it is fine to fall down seven times, as long as you get up eight times. It's the getting up that counts. So, how do we get up after a fall? Here are a few strategies to try:


First, know your goal. We resolve issues when they are laid to rest, not when we get our way. Perhaps we simply need to apologize for not being considerate. Or, we may have done something so egregious that the other person decides to no longer be friends with us. This is fine. The sooner we can confront and arrive at, then process this conclusion, the sooner we can grieve that relationship, learn lessons, and move on to make better decisions. So, be clear that you can only control you, and be clear about what your goals are. We cannot control the injured party, nor can we decide what response is appropriate for them.


Generally, you'll want to confront the issue with the person involved. This means turning toward the person and your relationship with them. Sometimes we try to hide from our wrong doing, or try to work it through with third parties. Both of these options may just

enlarge the issue without resolving it. Does confronting an issue mean that all will be forgiven by the other? Absolutely not. But you can't control that. Confronting the issue really begins the process for you to forgive yourself. Confronting the issue means addressing the wrong doing using "I statements." To the best of your ability, own what you've done. "I'm sorry that I was disrespectful. I was hungry and crabby. My bad." What not to do: Complain to ten people that your friend is "soooooo sensitive, jeeze!" Yeah, that's not going to help. Along those same lines is what I call the "Real Housewives" apology, "I'm sorry your feelings were..." No. No. No. "I'm sorry that I....." is the way to go, here.   Accepting responsibility goes a long way toward helping the other person understand what happened, and hopefully smooths the path to reconciliation.

Next, you will want to make amends if possible. An example might be, "I'm sorry that I forgot to pick you up, can I send an Uber?" The making amends needn't involve flogging one's self in the public square. It is a simple offer to do what one can to improve the situation. It will be important that you offer to do something you are prepared to do, otherwise you run the risk of adding insult to injury! If the other person insists there is nothing to be done, then simply accept that answer. It may be that they need more time to process. If it is appropriate, leave the door open. Try something like, "if you think of anything I can do, let me know."

Many suggest that the final step is to promise to "do better." I'm "meh" on this one. Empty promises are insulting and often set us up for dysfunctional cycles. Perhaps what is more important is that when we screw up, we take a look at it, and learn from our behavior. We become our better selves when we learn from our hard lessons. And when these lessons come at a cost to those around us, an honest apology is the least we can offer.


So, when you fall down, get up. Just be careful to not step on anyone else, or pull them down in your process. If you find yourself tripping over the same stuff time after time, counseling can help you discover the patterns in your behavior that lead you to stumble.

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