When you screw up it’s really easy to get caught up in the shame of that. And almost always someone comes along and tells you that ‘you are a good person, you’ll do better next time’. Except it’s not that simple.
Here is a recipe. You have empathy already, at least for yourself the moment you internalize you hurt someone. That’s the shame reaction. ‘Oh crap! I hurt them. AND they know I hurt them.’ Yep, there is a bit of knowledge. You know you screwed up but you don’t know how to fix it.
That’s where skills come in. When you’re the privileged party, you may not have been taught the skills to undo it. It isn’t the responsibility of the person you hurt to fix it either. It’s like a broken leg. You wouldn’t ask the person screaming on the ground holding their leg to make you feel better, would you? No. You wouldn’t ask them to call 911 so someone can come help you through the emotional trauma of their hurt would you? No.
What you do in that moment is instead step back and let the experts take over for the more hurt party. Sometimes that means you call 911. Sometimes that means you get taken away from the situation and people help you figure out what the heck just happened. Both of these scenarios by the way, mean calling in community, one for the hurt party and one for you – and those aren’t the same communities.
Then what? Well, now you take a minute to get over the hurt and the shame. They are a valuable tool but you really can’t learn anything when you’re trapped in that spiral, at least not much that will help you next time. But you can and should still honor your own hurt – to yourself. Then you let it go and you go away and you learn how to do better next time. That’s skill building. That often looks like going and reading up on the issue from the perspective of the person who was hurt. It can mean talking to someone with a privilege level similar to yours but is further along the journey of self-knowledge than you are.
Here is what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean you go back to the person you hurt and tell them ‘I’m sorry. I’ve learned better and aren’t you proud of me.’ That’s asking for validation of you as a good person from the person you hurt. That’s still not their job. They didn’t ask for their pain. They certainly don’t need your pain (shame) to be more important than theirs.
There is another aspect to this too. If you take that hurt back to the wounded party you are also taking up space in their lives and community – for yourself. Kinda like visiting your friends without notice, eating their food and taking a seat on their sofa when they’ve got that broken leg and here you are talking about how bad you feel how you broke it. When you put it in context like that it isn’t great is it?
The other thing that happens when you do that is that you drown out the other conversations that might have otherwise happened.
It is not the job of the people you’ve harmed to walk you through that harm, to look after you and remind you that you are valuable.
[Credit to Commodorified.dreamwidth.org for a brilliant post titled ‘On shame, reassurance, and doing the work’ and their comments for inspiring this post.]