Yesterday, I lashed out at Kyeli. I was driving around downtown Austin in SXSW traffic, and Kyeli and I were talking. All of a sudden I felt enraged. I pounded on the steering wheel over and over. I yelled at Kyeli loudly and angrily.
Throughout the rest of the day, I felt horrible about myself. I had just hurt someone I care about deeply, someone I love beyond measure.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked myself.
I felt moved to write about what happened, and to offer you my advice on what to do if you find yourself feeling this way.
1. Take a deep breath.
You are a good person. The fact that you’re reading this means that your heart is in the right place. You want to be kind, you want to act compassionately.
You’re feeling the dissonance between your self-concept that says “I am a good person” and your actions. Bad people don’t feel that dissonance. They hurt people and don’t feel that twinge, or they constantly choose to ignore it.
This dissonance is painful, but it’s the pain of having a heart and living in an imperfect world. Accept it.
2. Forgive yourself.
True change never comes from fear or hate. True change only comes from love. If you fear being a bad person, or if you hate yourself or your actions, you’ll try to change, but it won’t stick, and you’ll be right back here next time.
Accept yourself as a flawed and imperfect human being. Accept that you made a mistake, and that you will make more mistakes in the future.
In other words, forgive yourself.
If you feel resistant to forgiving yourself, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” If you’re afraid you won’t act kindly in the future if you forgive yourself, reread Step 1. You are a good person. What would it be like to believe that wholeheartedly and to have faith in your own goodness?
3. Apologize wholeheartedly.
It’s important that this comes after Step 2, otherwise you might apologize out of obligation. That’s not wholehearted.
Apologize to the person who felt hurt by your actions. Apologize with compassion and empathy. Don’t make excuses; take responsibility. End with “I’m sorry.” and don’t say anything else after that.
4. Notice what might be different.
You usually act with kindness, but this time you acted unkindly. What might be different this time?
Enlightenment is not cumulative.
I like to think that I’m a “good person”, but the truth is that I’m a person who has developed a lot of good habits. These habits nourish my body, mind, heart, and soul. When I let those practices lapse, I lose their benefits.
To paraphrase Michele Lisenbury Christensen of TeachNow, “I become a raging bitch when I don’t do yoga.”
5. Make it a little bit better next time.
Next time we have house guests over, I’m going to plan my schedule around my daily practices of DDR and Remembrance. I’ll remember how important they are for me, and I’ll prioritize them accordingly.
I’ll plan ahead, because I know myself well enough to know that I’ll eat the cheese if I go to the cheese factory (the cheese in this case being fun social time with good friends).
I took a deep breath. I forgave myself. I apologized to Kyeli. I noticed what was different. I made a plan to make it a little bit better next time.
What will you do?