”I feel like a crappy husband and father.” This was the response I got from a client recently when I asked him how he felt after seeing the movie, Courageous. I was intrigued how after leaving such an inspiring film that all he walked away with was a glimpse of how wretched he thought he was!
What do you do when you get a good, transparent look at yourself and don’t like what you see? It’s pretty humbling, seeing yourself not as the good, upstanding person that you portray and want to believe you are, but instead as the flawed human that we all are. When faced with this glimpse of yourself, you have choices.
I had one client who, when his marriage derailed, really saw himself through his wife’s eyes and he did not like what he saw. He was in excruciating pain and in a stroke of brilliance (or stupidity, I’m still not sure which!) I told him that ‘sometimes you just have to sit in your sh*#.’ He hadn’t been a perfect father, he’d been far from a perfect husband, he had been selfish, defensive, angry, quick to point out everyone else’s flaws, and pretty much hard to live with. When he saw the truth about how he had been with his family, I could easily have rescued him by minimizing his flaws and maximizing his good qualities. This would have done nothing more than pull him up out of his pain and free him up to continue doing more of the same. Fortunately, this fellow heard the truth – Yes, you’ve stunk in a lot of ways up to this point. Now sit in it, examine it, feel the pain. Then vow to learn from it and be better going forward.
When faced with the truth about our imperfect selves, we can:
1) Bury It! We grimace at the thought of our misdeeds, then scratch around like a cat in a litter box trying to hide that unpleasant side from ourselves and others.
Since we’ve done nothing to change ourselves, this response does nothing to prevent future messes; it only makes for more ‘cover-ups’ in the future!
2) Wallow In It! We can dig ourselves a shame pit and sit in it, throwing ourselves a massive pity party and waiting for someone to come along and tell us that we shouldn’t be there – that we are actually pretty wonderful! This makes us feel better in the moment, but does nothing to change our behavior. Eventually, we run out of people to rescue us!
3) Dig It! We can sit in our stuff long enough to realize that we can’t change the past, but we can change the future. Forgive yourself for past failings, make amends to those you have hurt, and work hard to overcome what made you behave that way in the first place. Having spent some time smelling our own stuff is a great motivator to keep us from ever wanting to go there again!
In comparison to the image we’ve been trying so hard to maintain (that we are “all good”), we are brought to our knees and crushed at the revealing of the truth – that we are flawed and, quite frankly, pretty messed up. When you find yourself sitting in it, don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t throw a pity party and look for a helicopter rescue. See the truth about yourself, dig your own way out of the pit, and vow never to fall into it again!
FYI, today, the client mentioned above is one pretty cool guy! He is humble, open, genuine, and a fantastic father. He goes to church, attends bible studies, and gives freely of himself to anyone in need. He is happy and healthy and is just an all around great guy! When I see him, we still laugh about the day I told him to ‘sit in it’!!