Nobody want’s to feel like someone is keeping score of their mistakes, and being reminding of our mistakes can trigger us to feel terrible.
While it may feel like the person we are with walks around with a mental notebook filled with our transgressions, there is more to the story and there are effective ways to deal with this type of situation…
In general, I think most of us are pretty good at realizing when we have made a mistake or when we have experienced a failure.
And, in most cases I think we’re pretty good at apologizing for the mistakes we have made that have inconvenienced or caused other people to feel some degree of pain or anxiety as a result of our actions or inaction.
Which begs the question, why do some people feel the need to remind us of our past mistakes after we’ve already apologized and made amends?
Let’s find out.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t really want to hurt you – someone you are close to and with whom you want to have a good relationship.
People Do the Best They Can With the Resources They Have
Do you regularly do things which you know will hurt other people and do them anyway with the intention of hurting others? No? I didn’t think so.
That also applies to other people.
As a general rule, people do the best they can with the resources that they have.
And, I don’t believe the person you care about is reminding you of your mistakes with the intention of hurting you (even though it may feel that way in the moment).
They are merely reacting with a default strategy.
Now, this default strategy may not seem like a very good strategy to you, but it may be the only strategy they can think of in that moment when they feel confronted (or it may be ingrained as a habit that automatically engages within certain contexts).
In my personal experience, I run into this when the person I’m speaking to subconsciously interprets what I’m communicating as an attack, accusation, judgement or unfair “pressure.”
Just keep that in mind if you are dealing with someone and their response is confusing or doesn’t seem to make sense – what’s happening is probably occurring on the subconscious level.
How does this normally play out and what can you do about it? Let’s look at an example.
Example: Personal Responsibility or Personal Attack?
Let’s say you are working together with someone and you commit to completing a project by a certain date, and in order to do so you need them to provide certain information critical to the completion of the project.
Let’s assume you pass the due date and the project is now late.
You might imagine yourself in a scenario where they are confronting you and accusing you of not honoring your commitments.
Now, what if you reminded them you had asked them for the information repeatedly (which they never delivered)?
They would be faced with what may seem like a conscious choice:
- They could recognize your point and recommit to supplying the required information
- They could say they can no longer supply the information
- They could ignore your (valid) point and continue to blame you for the project being late
If you are dealing with a person who is choosing the third choice, then what’s happening may not seem logical, but if you continue reading, it will make sense.
Are You Triggering The Person to Counterattack You With Your Past Mistakes?
If the person you’re communicating with already has a filter in place to view these types of conversations as attacks, then it’s very unlikely you’re position will be considered.
What happens instead is more akin to walking into a tripwire that triggers an explosion.
Because the very act of engaging in such a conversation automatically and subconsciously trips the tripwire.
Now, the person you’re talking to is on a mission to identify something you’ve done wrong in the past which they can immediately bring up to counter the perceived attack which they are facing.
Now, before we outline how you can deal with this type of situation, let’s understand why people use strategies that seem to have such negative results.
The Strategies We Use Have Payoffs
While I’m not proud to admit it, I know this from personal experience.
In the past, when someone I cared about deeply presented me with information that I chose to view as confronting, my default reaction was to look at their life to see if they were in a position that justified them “judging me.”
When I found evidence suggesting they were pointing out the splinter in my eye while they had a log sticking out of their eye, I pointed it out to them.
Have you ever heard the question, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”
Back then, I chose to be “right” and the price for being right was the erosion of the relationship.
But the real reason why I used this strategy was because of the “payoff” it provided…
As long as I used this strategy, I didn’t have to confront myself.
Rather than face my own lack of follow-through, I could point out where the other person had failed to follow through. While this strategy may have worked, the price of deploying this strategy was costly on multiple-fronts.
And it wasn’t until I gained awareness about what I was doing and why I was doing it that I gained the power to install a more effective strategy.
Reminding Someone Of Their Mistakes Is a Good Short-Term Strategy (With Disastrous Long-Term Results)
In a way, when someone uses your past against you in an argument, it is a very effective short-term strategy because it diverts and deflects the focus of the conversation away from them and puts it onto you.
This often places you in a position of having to choose whether or not you’re going to defend something that has happened in the past (for which you’ve probably already tried to make amends).
This is an effective short-term strategy because in the immediate moment it removes the perceived pressure the person was feeling and puts it squarely on your shoulders.
While they may still be engaged in an argument, they can feel better knowing they are now on the offensive. The original topic of discussion has been pushed to the side, relieving them of the responsibility of dealing with it.
This may work in the short term, however, the “perceived” aggression they were feeling has now been transformed into real aggression against you.
And, the weapon of choice is something you can do little to disarm because in most cases, it’s true and you are now in a position of justifying what happened by pointing to your apologies and attempts to make amends (which are often ignored because if acknowledged, the other person will find themselves returning to the conversation they are trying to avoid).
For all intents and purposes, this is a bad position to be in. Anytime you have to justify yourself, the presumption is you are starting in a negative position, and that doesn’t feel very good…
Which leads us to the longer-term effects of being subjected to such a strategy.
Keeping Score May Win Arguments At the Cost of Losing the Relationship
While playing the “Well, you did X,Y,Z.” game may work in the short-term, it’s destined to fail in the long-term.
Reminding someone about something they did wrong or something they did which may have hurt us may feel like it helps in the moment. It may divert the focus away from a reality we don’t want to face, at least for a while (the real payoff).
Ultimately, the result of reminding someone of their mistakes carries a high price.
Chances are, they’ve already realized the impact of their mistakes, apologized and made amends.
The reminder (although it may effectively create a temporary escape-hatch) essentially says to it’s target, “I un-forgive you and I’m here to let you know that I will keep score and remind you of everything you’ve ever done wrong.”
While that can be very difficult to deal with, here’s one solution:
Disassociate of Disengage From the Conversation If You Get Too Emotional
If you feel like your emotions are reaching the level where you may say something you regret, disengage or disassociate.
Disassociation is the process of mentally creating distance between your body and the conversation or activity you are engaged in. Think of it like mentally going a distance away from the conversation from where you can observe yourself.
If you can, disengage from the conversation and do something to change your physical and emotional state. Go for a walk or a run. You may find that doing so will give you some perspective as your emotions return to a more balanced state.
Doing so will help you realize that their “counter-attack” has less to do with you and more to do with them lacking a better strategy for dealing with situations where they feel confronted.
Reframe Your Mistakes
If you’ve already apologized and made amends for what’s happened in the past, then maintain your focus on the fact that you’ve apologized. Nobody can force you to feel bad about what happened unless you give up your power and choose to give in.
You can simply say,
“That’s in the past. I apologized and I made amends. I’m in the present and we are not talking about those mistakes. I brought up the original topic from a place of love with the intention of moving us forward, and if what I’m saying is making you uncomfortable or you don’t want to deal with this right now, just say so.”
The Real Brain-Twister
We’ve discussed why reminding someone of their past mistakes is a bad strategy and outlined one solution to deal with the emotions that can crop up when we are on the receiving end of this strategy.
Now, let’s consider what happens when the other person is actually us.
When you do something new or when you attempt to pursue a goal you may not have reached in the past, do you use the ineffective strategy of reminding yourself about your past mistakes and failures?
If you do, you might want to consider this…
Fact: You Are a New Person Today & Anything Is Possible
Today is a new day and you are a new person. What happened in the past should stay in the past. Any disempowering stories or negativity you directed at yourself when certain events occurred in the past should stay in the past.
Now, chances are, if you are reminding yourself about your past mistakes or failures, you’re doing so because of the payoff you get as a result. Perhaps it gives you an excuse to procrastinate or an excuse to avoid having the courage you need to do whatever you need to do to get what you really want.
By now, you may realize that “payoff” is just your mind’s way of protecting you from an imaginary fear or danger. Here’s the reality…
What you decide to do right now will have a much larger influence on where you are going to be tomorrow once you stop giving your past mistakes power over your life.
Am I saying it’s easy to learn your lessons and leave the negative emotions of your mistakes behind you? No, I’m not. However, there are techniques you can use to make it a lot easier.
Sure, you may have some habits that you need to replace with better habits. You may need to change your default strategies to get the results you really want.
The good news is, you can.
You can choose to create new habits. You can choose to focus on what you want instead of what you’ve gone through in the past. You can choose where you want to put your focus.
You can choose a better strategy.