By Fouad Alaa
“Oh God I think I screwed up real bad…”
I can’t even remember how many times this phrase has run through my head.
When I do something, accidentally or intentionally, that puts me in a situation where I am simply “screwed”, it feels like my world will never be the same again; everything seems to have changed but I would desperately want things back the way they were but … WELL … I can’t.
And so the gamble begins, either make things better or worse. Every time I make a mistake, I put myself at risk: either I fix what I did and make it even better than before, or I fail and make it worse. Much like a mechanical engineer whose design malfunctioned, either they fix it and find a way to avoid making that mistake, or fail and end up with no design at all.
No matter how I screwed up or who got hurt in the process, I have always had a share in that pain. Whether it was a relationship, a job or someone’s respect, I share the loss caused by my mistake.
The same question would always be on my mind. What now? What needs to be done to fix that mistake or at the very least, control the extent of the damage? The way I see it, it all starts with the right mindset. Make a proper apology, avoid anything that would lessen your responsibility, prepare for reactions, and never ever think there is an easy way out (it’s a trap!!).
1- Making a proper apology:
Not only is it a deadly sin, pride can double up the size of any mistake by making you oblivious to the mistake or unwilling to do what needs to be done to fix it. Pride has a way of distorting your self-image, making people think highly of themselves or see themselves as better than they really are. When somebody in a relationship screws up, pride can get in the way by stopping the person who screwed up from realising they are wrong and making them avoid responsibility of fixing it.
I have to say I am prideful by nature. Even when I screw up and fight about it, I tend to think that even if I am in the wrong, the other person should not be reacting that way. I ignore what I did and focus on the moving on part rather than taking my time to study the extent of my actions and be truly remorseful. I always apologise for the effect but not really the cause. By doing that, I only take responsibility for future actions rather than past mistakes.
A proper apology can never be made when pride is involved. No one wants to receive an apology that lacks the admittance of guilt, and no one would give a second chance to someone who is too proud to take responsibility for a mistake.
Excuses and justifications
People don’t read minds, so whatever mistake you made, excuses or justifications are useless. Usually people use excuses to explain a mistake that they think is either not a big deal or can be justified, but they don’t think about the other person’s view.
I was working for a brief period of time at a maternity center to gain more exposure in the medical field, while also computerizing their archive into a simple registry program. After two months of working on transferring data from charts to the programme, I was finally almost done with all the 9000 charts with only 500 left.
A nurse asked me to test the programme, but since I hadn’t made it more user-friendly I told her she could but only when it was done tomorrow. The next day I came to work to find that about 700 files I had already entered were not there anymore, and found her telling me that she needed to find a file urgently so she used the programme and didn’t know what happened to the files. I didn’t mind re-entering the data again, but I did mind her thinking me simple-minded enough to believe her excuse.
Whether a mistake is made at work or to someone, giving any kind of excuse is infuriating. Not only does giving excuses makes the other person seem like they are overreacting and feel like fools, but it also prevents a proper apology and delays the fixing process.
2- Taking responsibility:
Most of the time people experience self-pity when it’s something they think they had no control over. They try to console themselves by averaging the blame with the other person or blaming something else for it, which would lessen the responsibility or the guilt. You’d hear someone saying that they screwed up because things were “too hard” for them or they really “had no choice”. They are not really wrong, in the sense that everything can be harder than people think, but that doesn’t mean they are right.
When you are feeling self-pity you are feeling vulnerable and weak but that doesn’t mean you are, and at that point you should buck up and take responsibility for your actions. If your mind says it’s “too hard” or “too late” to fix a problem think of it as “more challenging”. YOU made a mistake and the first step is realising how much damage has been done and facing the challenge of fixing it.
Seriously … just don’t … ok?
You can’t correct a mistake by making another mistake. Well, you can but that doesn’t mean you should. Once a mistake is done people lie for 3 reasons: First they think that covering it up would make it go away, second they lie as damage control so the extent of the mistake would not be discovered, and finally they are used to lying that eventually they do for no good reason.
Whatever the case is, lying damages comfort, trust and respect; which are the only 3 ingredients to any successful relationship.
Lying postpones taking responsibility for a mistake but it doesn’t eliminate it.By the time it is discovered the mistake now is doubled and so is the effort of fixing it. So why not come clean and be done with it? Honesty is the best way to start fixing a screw up because, not only is it relieving, it might earn you a tiny bit of admiration or respect back.
Just because it is not your fault, doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility. That pretty much sums it up … think about it.
3- Prepare for reactions:
When people are angry or feel that they have been wronged, they tend to vent out. Even if the reaction is not proportionate to your mistake action, the right thing is to just take it. You are in quicksand and the more you resist the deeper you will get sucked in, so let them vent it all out and take it as a step to make things better. Actually, the angrier and more aggressive the reaction is, the better it is.
4- Avoid the easy way out (manipulation):
Now, this mistake is usually done by people who know for a fact that they are wrong and either try being “smart” or are desperate enough to resolve their mistake.
Turning the table:
Everyone I have ever talked to about fights or relationship issues either used this way or it was used against them. When someone is being accused of doing wrong and their response is “well, what about you?” or “that’s exactly what you do too”, that is their way of averaging the blame and making them half as guilty. Averaging the blame is a definitive sign of lack of point as well as desperation which makes any real point of argument invalid.
Playing on their insecurities:
The worst way to escape a mistake is to use the other person’s insecurities against them. It is mostly used exclusively on self-conscious or nice people. Whether it is used against a stranger or someone you know, it is just pure mean and wrong, because it might work and in that case the other person will feel worse and more insecure, or it won’t work and in that case you lose credibility and respect for being manipulative.
5- ‘Going all in’ vs ‘It’s too late’:
Sometimes people make mistakes big enough that the chance of fixing them or restoring things back to the way they were is slim to none. The right way to fix a mistake like that is to give it their best effort, but the worse thing is giving it too much effort.
When a friend of mine was caught cheating by his girlfriend, he did everything ‘right’ to change her mind from leaving him. He took responsibility, made a proper apology, endured her reactions that were caused by his cheating; lack of trust, respect and different view on the relationship.
Although he did everything right they broke up and at the end of it he was more hurt than he would have if they had broken up without trying to fix it.
Sometimes it is very confusing to decide whether it is too late and you are just clinging on to false hope. No one can do better than their best, and at that point it is left to one’s own best judgment whether or not fixing the mistake is worth the best efforts.
Making mistakes is the natural way to learn. The more mistakes you make and learn from,the more you become a better person.
There is a saying about learning that I truly believe in: “If you want to gain insight on a game, don’t talk to the winner, talk to the loser.”
There is just something that differentiates people who make a lot of mistakes from those who don’t. Even though they may be worse off, they have learned the hard way which is imprinted in their personality and in turn would eventually make them better. I am one of the people who are proud of the screw ups I fixed and learned from more than my achievements, I couldn’t have them without learning from my mistakes.
Fouad Alaa (also known as ‘Fox’) is a writer who brings fresh perspective to everyday life issues. A young Egyptian who has lived in several parts of the world, he now resides in Sarawak, Malaysia. With a medical background and a working knowledge of psychology, he plays therapist to his peers and aspires to be a world renowned surgeon.