To the Perfectionists: Mistakes Are Not Failure

How do you feel when you’ve made a mistake? Like your whole world has come to an end? Like a failure? Hopefully not… Do you accept mistakes, learn from them and move forward—determined to reach your objective? Or do you feel discouraged, embarrassed, or even horrified to think that you’ve done something wrong? Do you look forward or do you look back? Do your mistakes give you experience to base your next decision on, or do they immobilize you and shut you down— instilling fear, humiliation or regret so you don’t want to do anything? This is worth taking the time to look at. Mistakes do not equate to failure, yet some people treat themselves as though they do.

Your perception of how others feel about you—what you think, say, do, and even the way that you look—all play into how you feel about yourself, especially when you feel that you’ve made a mistake. It is widely accepted that your perceptions depend largely upon the way you experienced the reactions you got as a child. Your family interactions, or the way you experienced your parents behaviors and attitudes toward you whenever mistakes were made, shaped your perspective. Was it natural and acceptable for you to make mistakes or was it traumatic? More recent studies have shown that peers also have a huge impact on how you see yourself, because of the way you interpret their reactions and their experience with you. It helps to gain more understanding about how your own perceptions form, and how to be able to effectively change them.

For some people, it doesn’t feel safe to make mistakes. They have a hard time accepting mistakes in themselves or in others. It’s obviously impossible to avoid making mistakes, so life itself can feel precarious, almost set up for failure. Making decisions can feel risky because an incorrect choice might lead to emotional disaster. High demand for perfect outcomes can cause a number of emotional responses, resulting in the pain of Trapped Emotions. Pressure to do things perfectly, without mistakes, comes from within oneself. We all perceive the expectations of others outside of ourselves. You may occasionally feel the attempts others exert upon you to control or manipulate you, but you don’t have to internalize those expectations. Perfectionists often do that. They hold onto the feelings they pick up from others and allow it to put them under pressure. For those who feel they must be perfect, negative feelings like sadness, fear and panic can rule the day—especially when they feel controlled, manipulated and judged. Their internal pressure can lead to negative thinking patterns about oneself and even to undesired behaviors. The impulse to escape from this painful pressure can sometimes lead down a rabbit hole to self-abuse or addiction. When these sabotaging behaviors enter the picture, worthlessness, guilt and shame are common feelings that the abuser or addict must shoulder. Pain turned inward can be a very heavy load to carry.

Children who make mistakes are sometimes treated very harshly. Criticism is common when children don’t “measure up” to an expectation. This can affect children deeply causing them to internalize negatively until they withdraw or wish to become invisible. They may disconnect or disassociate themselves from their family or friends because of their inability to trust. Forming lasting relationships is difficult for them because it has been so hard to feel loved and accepted as an imperfect human being. They may feel that they are less than they should be—not good enough. This can be very isolating because they fear others seeing their deficiencies and they fear being injured again. It’s challenging to let go of the injury created to the inner child, even years later. Some personalities may work their entire lifetime to overcome the feeling that people will react negatively to their mistakes, even long after a harsh family dynamic has ended.

Children with the burden of always living to please or satisfy someone else’s wishes for them may have difficulty, too. They can feel like they are under a looking glass, like everything they do is going to be judged and critiqued when, maybe, their own heart is not even engaged in what they are doing. Parents and teachers can have a big impact on children’s young minds and hearts with their approach and attitude about learning. In the state of New York, approximately 400 grade school children were studied on their performance on how well they learned with 2 different strategies. The first group was praised for being smart. The second group was not told that they were smart, but were encouraged to put forth a lot of effort to learn, regardless of the mistakes they might make. Specifically, they were praised for their efforts.

It was found that the children who were told that they were smart had more difficulty learning. They felt that they were expected to do well and not make mistakes, so they were reluctant to experiment. They became tentative and afraid to try when they didn’t know something, because they felt they were expected to already know the answers, even though they hadn’t necessarily been taught yet. They didn’t want to disappoint by making mistakes, so they held back from trying as hard. Since they didn’t feel free to experiment to learn, test scores declined by 20%. The other group of children, who were encouraged to try regardless of the outcome, did much better. They were encouraged to learn from their mistakes and keep trying different things to find solutions. They were praised for their efforts for working hard but were not told that they were smart. They tried harder and had better test scores by 30%.

Pressure, criticism, ridicule and other negative attitudes hurt children. The families, teachers, and peers of kids can certainly affect how children feel about themselves and cause them to have reason to see themselves in a negative way and internalize those feelings. How very sad. In an ideal world, children ought to feel close to their families, peers and teachers and be able to learn, make mistakes, and always feel safe. We all should, regardless of age. When you aren’t emotionally safe, feelings like fear, worthlessness, hopelessness and resentment result. Unfortunately, when mistakes are made and emotional trauma happens, the focus is left there—on the erupting emotions and on feeling judged and hurt. If mistakes were accepted for the valuable experience they provide, the focus could be on new insights and knowledge gained, even life skills that bring wisdom and clarity to the mind and heart.

Experimenting and making mistakes are part of the process of finding solutions. And life is filled with problems and opportunities for finding solutions which helps us to gain experience and mature. When you realize that loving yourself and others is the goal, in spite of what is lacking during the problem solving process, life is put in a whole new light. We learn more when we help each other through the mistakes. Happiness and joy happen when we are growing and sharing together. Though mistakes can hurt and cost us at times temporarily, we should give ourselves permission to make a few mistakes every day so we can continue to learn, grow and be happy. These are important payoffs.

Suppose you discover that you have a physical condition like a heart problem. Maybe you’ve had a heart attack. Through this experience you learn the hard way that you need to change and do some things to strengthen your heart to improve your health. You might have made some mistakes in the past by being lazy about your diet or exercise regimen. Maybe you allowed work to get out of balance and stress you out. Maybe your blood pressure is too high. These aren’t failures. You can make changes and turn things around. Heart failure hasn’t happened until your heart actually stops beating and fails to pump oxygenated blood throughout your body. This analogy illustrates the difference between making mistakes and failure.

So if mistakes help us to learn and eventually be happier in the long run, how can anyone say that making mistakes makes you a failure as a person? You might have a failed experiment or some negative experience, but let’s clarify, you are not a failure. The project, or the experiment is not you. You are separate and should not identify yourself as the experience you had. You may be programmed to feel that you are a failure because of mistakes you have made in the past, because you judged yourself against what you think you should have known, just like the grade school children that hadn’t learned yet and were afraid to fail. Holding onto the identity of being a failure does not serve toward any good purpose. And it just isn’t true.

You can take responsibility for your life now, right where it is. If you are hurt and you want a happy life you need to be growing and be responsible for what you learn, especially when you make a mistake. You can make corrections whenever you see mistakes you are making. As you do this more often, you will get better at it. You are as self-empowered as you choose to be. Don’t let Trapped Emotions from mistakes of the past hold you back in this journey of life, for it is meant to be a rich, learning experience. Emotional baggage can get in the way but you can get rid of it and allow yourself to live more fully.

Change your mind about the imperfection of making mistakes. Making mistakes is actually perfectly okay because you are a human being. Perfection actually means completeness, so it’s important to accept and embrace growth and progress, even if mistakes and backsliding happen sometimes. Failure only really happens when you stop putting forth effort, stop learning, and stop moving forward. It has been proven in studies that when you make a mistake, it actually endears others to you because you are vulnerable; you are human, just like they are. When you trip in front of your girlfriend and feel like a fool, she may like you more! It connects you because you are imperfect, too. So we have been given an out where making mistakes is concerned. When you fall short of what you would like to see in yourself, you just need to get up and get back on your horse. That helps you to like yourself more, too.

So how can you accept more mistakes when you are overwhelmed already and emotional pain is in your way? Shed all of the emotional baggage you can! Get the energy of emotionally charged events out of your energy field so they are out of your life. It’s just like improving your diet and getting on an exercise routine to improve your health. When the negative energy of the past is inside your energy field, it is as though you are holding onto the past or to the old mistakes that influence how you feel today. You don’t need that! All you need are the lessons so you can move forward, armed with experience. The Emotion Code is a wonderful way to get rid of the negative Trapped Emotions of the past. To learn The Emotion Code, consider getting certified through our eLearning system online at You will open a door to a more abundant life!

By Jean Nelson