In the Doghouse

Heard anyone lately saying “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached”, “Only have myself to blame” or “Could have kicked myself”?  The last one is particularly sad; can you imagine if we responded to everyone else’s errors with physical aggression/violence in the course of a day?  How many of you hear equally harsh and damning negative self-talk inside your head when your self-imposed expectations are unmet?

23rd December, greeted by an excited 8 year old and a mountain of tasks, the day began at 04.30am well before sunrise.  Naturally early-risers, the time was not unusual for the 8 year old and me, though the pressure was on; only 48 hours left and  I was not at all “Ready for Christmas,” as the greeting on people’s lips goes the week leading up to the big day.  Supermarket by 5.00am, coffees in  our hands (hers a decaf); home by 7.15am with groceries, having stopped to chat with several early-bird friends, gym by 9.00am.  Everything going to plan, on track to meet a friend by 11.00am for a quick coffee – all part of the self-created trajectory, the tightly timetabled day I had set out for myself….. Still at the gym, with just 15mins to go before coffee, I realised I had forgotten a pair of tights and would need to dash home again!  Battling a double case of Achilles tendonitis, both ankles were strapped up in hot-pink sports tape – an amusing look with a dress and high heels! Home for tights, I still arrived in the nick of time for coffee with my friend. Instead of enjoying the success of not being late and satisfaction at how much I had accomplished at a superhuman pace since waking up, I felt cross with myself about the added detour. Less than a mile out of my way, only a 5 minute inconvenience – but that wasn’t the point!  The phrase my children use “epic fail” came to mind.

Weeks earlier, my high-speed pace had led to an even more entertaining fiasco transpiring.  In good time to catch an early domestic flight from Luton, I opened the car boot in the airport carpark at 6.15am to lift my suitcase out….and discovered NO suitcase.  I had absent-mindedly left it on the road behind my car outside our house.  And driven off.  An hour earlier.  And my laptop was in it.  Luckily it was still there in the dark frosty street when I frantically phoned home, upon realising the colossal error!  I drove back home, obviously I missed the flight so took a train instead, a slower journey.  My family were fantastic – empathetic and reassuring, trying gently to counter how much “trouble” they knew I was in with myself having done something so stupid.  My husband in an effort to lighten the situation, even tried to remind me how many people leave their takeaway coffee on the roof of their car and drive off.  A feeble comparison; and I was having none of it.  Completely in the doghouse – self-exiled, furious at having made such a stupid (and costly) mistake.  I stayed angry at myself most of the day, only able to move on when I realised that nothing would change in that space, and no one could move me out of it except myself.

It seems the greater the pressure one places on oneself  to “win”, to seek perfection in our days, to keep all the plates spinning, the greater the chance at landing oneself in their own doghouse if things go wrong, focussing on the negative, no matter how little and insignificant it may be.  Once arrived in the doghouse, the anger turned inward can continue to simmer, harming one’s self-worth and making it harder to see the way out of the damaging, self-critical mindset.  Do setting standards and being organised matter? Of course they do.  But life is dynamic and imperfect, and largely beyond our control much of the time.  So why is it we can find kindness, empathy and compassion for others’ mistakes, but if we get it wrong, some of us can be so unforgiving with ourselves?  After all, as the saying goes, “we all make mistakes.”


Having spent some time reflecting on all this recently, two things have floated to the top:

a)      We almost always have choices                              b)      Our energy can be channelled for good or for destruction.

Holding tight to self-resentment is a choice, as is opting for self-forgiveness.  To understand the concept of forgiveness as a choice, whether for self or towards others, I can recommend Marina Cantacuzino’s incredibly powerful and thought-provoking book The Forgiveness Project, and the website by the same name.  Indeed, I was only able to forgive myself the suitcase blunder when I decided to let go of the embarrassment of my error, start to share the story with others and begin to enjoy the comedy of it, laughing and letting go of the tension.  Interestingly, this invited them to share similar errors, helping me feel like “we’ve all done it.”  As well, we can choose what we do with our energy much of the time; held as anger and negativity, not much good can come of it, they can even have a paralysing effect instead.  Letting go, even by simply reframing an error to help us find a way to move beyond it, and using the energy generated to drive progress and create a new reality often has more positive, safer and more peaceful outcomes.

So the next time you find yourself half-way down the metaphorical garden, heading for the imaginary doghouse after sending yourself there for some (often slight, in the big picture) imperfection or mistake, stop for a minute on the garden path.  Can you see any choices, other than self-exile in The Doghouse?  What might your alternative options be…… and what might you choose instead?  

                        ………I think I will give it a try 🙂