Expressions like “to err is human” are well known. Mistakes are part of our human nature. Adults solidify their behavioral patterns according to the development of their individual value system taking into account informal social rules as well as established laws for harmonious living.
During the course of his life, man gets to know himself better through personal experience of various situations and so he can choose who he wants to be. In this journey, he also makes his mistakes. But in order for him to benefit from his mistakes, it is imperative that he accepts them and assumes responsibility of them. Admitting one’s mistakes, however, is a difficult matter. And yet, it is only through self-criticism that one can improve.
Through his mistakes man can delve deeper into himself and thus bolster his self-awareness. Examining them carefully he can choose anew who he wants to be, what direction he wants to take, and for what reason.
Great caution should be exercised though, so that our mistakes do not lead to an emotional standstill like that of guilt or shame. Only by understanding, loving, and accepting ourselves can we avoid stagnation. Even our church, through the sacraments of confession, release man from the guilt of sins and helps him move on in life free from the burden of guilt and shame, in the journey to a more functional life.
One can’t stress enough the defining role of family environment on the individual. One’s value system and behavioral patterns are determined to a great degree by that of his parents thought they may be dysfunctional at present. I can’t stress enough at this point how much psychotherapy helps to shake off anything dysfunctional we carry from as far back as three generations even though we may not be aware of carrying such traits. The next generation will be helped only if we do not pass onto it our own burdens.
The Nobel prize winner Irish author George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said that “a life spent on mistakes is far more praiseworthy and far more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
It is equally important to know how our brain is wired and how well equipped it is with the apparatus for error recognition. Their identification and correction aid our knowledge. By depriving our brain of such a capability, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn. Overprotective parents are at high risk for this because by overly guarding their children in hopes of sparing them pain, they actually help form characters too weak to counter the adversities of life when they become adults.
During the 90s, neurologists through EEGs discovered an electrical activity observed only when we make a mistake, like, for example, when we are taking a test or when we are in a hurry while driving that we turn in the wrong direction. This action is called ERN (error-related negativity) and it lasts 80/1000 of a second. This is precisely the signal that allows us to interrupt an activity before we complete it and, if time permits, to correct it. As to the type of correction or appropriate solution, this is a function of other mechanisms to which I have already referred.
Our brain is designed to foresee the outcome of its choices and to record the difference between what it had foreseen and what actually happened. This directly affects our behavior and provides us with the opportunity to adapt to the new data thus allowing us to perform better in our lives.
Besides, our life is still beautiful regardless of any challenges or hardships because “what does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
Spyros Metaxas, Psychiatrist/Psychotherapist www.anotropia.gr