The Freedom to Make Mistakes

09 May 2024

The Freedom to Make Mistakes

Where do you stand on the freedom to make mistakes? For most survivors of narcissistic abuse, making mistakes is a really big issue. For obvious reasons.  As you surely found out in your narcissistic relationships, the word “mistake” has no place in the Narcissist’s vocabulary – at least, as it relates to you.

This week, I have had a golden opportunity to review exactly where I stand on the topic of mistakes, having sent out, to all my contacts, a message destined for only a fraction of them.

Now, I know that for as long as I have been using email, whenever I have been on the receiving end of a stray email, I have rejoiced to see that the sender was fallible.

As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, it has always been good to know that – contrary to everything my abusive partner told me – it wasn’t just me. I treasured the proof that other people are human and make mistakes, too.

What’s more, they simply took those mistakes in their stride.

Mistakes and catastrophizing

The first few times that I mistakenly sent out a stray email, I had a major catastrophizing reaction. Theoretically, I was human, too. However, that old bugbear:

“What will they think of me?”

wrapped its tentacles around my mind and body. I could literally feel myself becoming chilled to the core.

And, boy, did my meaning-making reflex have a field day with the situation. It assured me that my “mistake” screeched my incompetence to the whole world. That reflex triggered my Impostor Syndrome quite spectacularly. It took out hours, even days of my life.

It told me that by making a mistake, I had proved that I did not deserve to have any quality of life.

That mistake cancelled what little worth I felt I had as a human being.

You learn, in a toxic relationship, that there are no innocent mistakes ever. At least when you are the person making the mistakes.

But, as ever, an entirely different set of rules apply to the Narcissist.

The Narcissist’s relationship with mistakes

Language itself expands its meaning to support the Narcissist who, we soon learn, has the monopoly on “mistakes” – especially “innocent mistakes”. In their mouths, the word “mistake” acquires an extraordinary elasticity. It can stretch, quite comfortably, to explain away their calculated attempts to harm you.

Sadly, even when, one way or another, the Narcissist exits your life, your patterned trauma response does not depart with them.

Instead, you have to make it your job to deactivate those old trauma responses.

Initially, that can be a painfully slow process.

Even when you know that a Narcissist is a consummate liar, you still find it difficult to understand the full reach of their lies and how their judgements have colored every aspect of your life.

Embrace the principle 

Until you can embrace the principle that mistakes do not undermine your human worth, you have to go through the process of rebuilding your sense of having some value after every single mistake that you make.

Now, this is not to suggest that you make a lot of mistakes. You probably make less than most people because you have become hypervigilant and would sooner do nothing than risk making one.

Still, making mistakes is part of the human condition, especially when a person is emotionally exhausted, stressed out and hyper anxious – in other words, trying to put their life back together after a narcissistic relationship.

So, how do you reclaim the freedom to make mistakes and still feel good about yourself?

Reclaim your freedom to make mistakes

There is a process that you need to follow. I say a “process” because for survivors of narcissistic abuse certain endowing words with their full meaning – as those words apply to themselves – is problematic.

Nobody has to explain to a survivor of narcissistic abuse how to validate other people or show kindness and empathy to them.

Yet learning to extend that same validation, kindness and empathy to themselves requires a major mind shift which does not happen overnight. Rather it tends to require time, support and being held accountable – in a duly kind, empathetic, validating manner. It is the kind of incremental shift that I can deliver both through my 1 on 1 coaching and the Break Free Membership.

The process of learning to relate to yourself in a radically different way takes time and repetition. But there is one thing that you can do to reset from catastrophizing to clarity when you succumb to a mistake. You can point out to yourself:

“But nobody died.”

Your mistake did not lead to tragic consequences. Most don’t, plus, mostly, you get a chance to rectify the initial mistake. And if nobody dies – which is the most likely outcome – you can rejoice in that knowledge and then learn what you might like to do better or change, going forward.

In most cases, you can turn the dreaded mistake into a win next time around by bringing your new insights to whatever scenario you have to face.

And you can give yourself the freedom to make mistakes safely, learn from the consequences, and choose to have as little as possible to do with the kind of people who turn all mistakes into a hangable offence.

The hanging judges of this world are not your people.

Reclaim your freedom to make mistakes and install boundaries to keep such people out of your physical space where possible, and incontrovertibly out of your headspace.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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