As someone who has been through it myself I now work with and support people who get caught in the horror of having their lives and careers blow up in spectacular fashion. For some people this is more public than for others and the public piece is certainly an added trauma – this I know first hand.
There are two really different forms of shaming and trauma experiences. One is when a person gets targeted and bullied for things that really are out of their control – how they look, their family situation or having something they said taken completely out of context and turned into something it wasn’t. Those are really hard circumstances because the person is truly and fully a victim of our cultural mob-mentality.
The other type is a little different in that the person being targeted made a mistake that set the whole thing in motion and the response to that mistake is way overblown and out of proportion due to sensationalist media and anonymous cyber-bullying.
Because I have been through it and because I know how ugly and dishonest media coverage of these kinds of events can be I never weigh in on any of the attacks or accusations. However, some of these more public mistakes and bullying episodes offer valuable insight for any of us going through a life and career altering identity challenge.
In some of the recent celebrity fiascos I actually got a bit angry at the public relations teams advising the person in public hot water. Olympian Ryan Lochte and comedian Kathy Griffin are poignant examples. Both of these people wound up under public assault because they made human mistakes and then they quickly returned to the public stage without taking the time to genuinely address their mistakes. I suspect this only intensified and prolonged the trauma they were experiencing. It also backfired professionally.
And here’s what I want to stress for those of you facing something similar, whether its in the public arena, the arena of your community or even just among you and your family and friends, one of the most important steps in surviving and eventually thriving on the other side of a costly mistake is to take responsibility for it, for your own piece in the mess. This is important not only for saving your job, career, fan-base, etc., but also for coming through it more whole as a human being. It’s important for helping to heal those you harmed, including yourself.
Steps to doing this include:
- I always say when your life blows up big you are going to have to go through it. Period. You can’t control that. But you can control whether or not you “grow” through it. Evidence shows that people who choose to learn and grow from traumatic experiences usually heal faster and healthier than those who shy away from the inner work.
- Once you have a better understanding of yourself and why you made the mistake, apologize, genuinely, to those who were hurt by it.
- Finally, take responsibility but don’t beat yourself to death. We’re human. We make mistakes. The bigger risks you take the bigger and more spectacular your mistakes are likely to be. Give yourself credit for having the courage to risk.
In my own process of owning and understanding my mistake I had to face aspects of myself I wasn’t very proud of — it was tremendously uncomfortable and unsettling. However, as I moved through it I also found levels of self-forgiveness and appreciation I’d never known before. There is no easy way to handle it when our human mistakes cause big damage to ourselves and others. Those experiences hurt, a lot, and they also offer huge opportunities to grow, improve and become more effective people and professionals. That choice belongs to us.
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You can also download a free gift titled How to Breakthrough Instead of Breaking Down When Life Blows Up.