It’s very difficult to admit that you are in the wrong. Especially if the misdeed was not an intentional act but a consequence of natural behavior.
With impeccable timing under the circumstances I read this blog post over the weekend. It was like looking into a mirror – and I don’t mean that everything appeared back-to-front! It was as if the writer had looked into my mind, seen inside as if it were crystal. I’m no stranger to recognizing aspects of myself in other Aspie blog posts: that goes with the territory. But occasionally I read something that could have been written about me. Which is kind of why I’m writing this now.
It doesn’t matter exactly what happened over the weekend. But what made it worse was my failure to apologize in a timely manner. You see, I started out thinking that because I hadn’t intentionally done anything to cause hurt then I couldn’t have done anything wrong and the other person must be behaving irrationally. I’d forgotten about unintended consequences.
To truly be responsible for one’s actions means accepting responsibility for all the effects, both intentional and unintentional, expected and unexpected, desirable and undesirable. And realizing that even unconscious, unplanned, unavoidable acts are included in this – accidents do happen.
“I never meant to…” is an excuse. It’s a valid excuse as far as it goes, but that’s not far enough. “It’s my fault” is better. I might not have been able to foresee the results of my actions, or even avoid doing it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t regret what happened. Accidents have causes. In this case I didn’t communicate early or clearly enough that I was approaching a crisis. It’s like being too busy defusing a ticking bomb to evacuate the surroundings in time. I had too narrow a focus on what was happening internally to think about anybody outside. And that was a mistake. There were consequences that meant the problems were more severe and lasted longer.
And so to the apology. I’m sure some people can say sorry and convey the appropriate sincerity regardless of whether or not they feel remorse. I can’t. If I’m going to apologize then I’ve got to understand that I did something wrong and regret it. Admit to myself first that I was wrong. That’s hard.
In some ways I had an easy life growing up. I had a natural gift for the subjects I studied in school and regularly achieved top marks with little effort. I got the “gifted” label early and it stuck. I enjoyed the plaudits. But the down side is that the more used you get to success, the worse failure appears. It makes you risk-averse: you avoid choosing the path of uncertainty because you have become afraid of the possibility of failure, of getting something wrong. In some ways being labelled as gifted is a curse: you’re only as good as your last [excellent] result. It made me happy, sure, but it made me awfully insecure at the same time. I identified with the label to such an extent that I felt that losing it would destroy who I was.
Admitting I got something wrong equates to admitting I failed. To accept being less than perfect. (Yes, I know intellectually I’m not perfect and I make mistakes but I don’t feel it – there’s still that belief that I have to achieve perfection just to keep on being myself.) I try so hard to get past this but it’s always there, like rails preventing me from changing direction. I still look for praise in what I do and dread censure: it’s made me a perfectionist, never satisfied with what I create because I concentrate on the flaws. It’s a never-ending school report with just the comment “could do better”.
So… it takes me time to get to the point where I feel able to admit that I’ve done wrong and apologize. Please bear with me and be patient.
I’m doing my best.
2 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences”
Or that belief that I have to achieve perfection not just to be myself but to be loved for myself… lots of food for thought in here. Thank you for writing this.
You make a good point about the link between perfectionism and being loved (or even just accepted). For me there is deep insecurity and I fear that I may be rejected if I slip up.You're welcome.