Coping Versus Solving - How To Handle Making Mistakes

There are two types of people in this world. People who have admitted to messing up... and liars. We are all guilty of falling short, making stupid mistakes, and handling situations poorly. Whether it be in a work setting or within our relationships, we’ve all done something wrong. Our natural, knee-jerk response tends to be to make excuses, profusely apologize or be in denial that we’ve even messed up in the first place. But in any version of these extreme responses, whether it be apology or denial, we are failing to address the situation with intention or insight. These responses are more so coping mechanisms than solutions.

‘Coping’ is how we deal with unpleasant situations. There are healthy coping skills and unhealthy coping skills. While ‘coping’ may often be used in a negative context, it may not always deserve its negative reputation. Sometimes coping is just our way of learning how to get through the day. Particularly in highly emotional events we need ways to deal with the intensity of the experience. This is often applicable in the context of grief, loss and stress. Coping is used when practical solutions just don’t make sense. When a person is grieving or stressed, or just generally experiencing intense emotions, there may not be any solution. Their goal may to be to just survive that day. But the fact that the person is experiencing these intense emotions means that they must cope with them in some way.

A solution is necessary when there is apparent conflict or a posed question that needs answering. A solution arises in a fix-it mentality. The need to find a solution is to resolve a situation, where as the need to cope comes when one needs to process emotion. When we let our partners down, or need to admit fault to a mistake at work, there is action that needs to follow after these events. While emotions may be running high, the appropriate response to doing so would be to resolve the issue, rather than just resort to coping mechanisms. Addressing the issue and letting the people involved know that you are making your best efforts to move forward from your mistake will save you from a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil. Not doing anything about the mistake, but dwelling on it and feeling poorly about yourself because of it will only cause negative rumination, sending oneself into ‘beat up mode’.

At some conscious or unconscious level, we all know that we are not perfect. However, this does not always stop the pursuit toward perfection. But perhaps what we’re aiming for is not necessarily to be perfect, but rather to seem perfect. I don’t believe that we do this to be deceptive. But when we inevitably make mistakes, we tend to either try to get rid of the guilt by blaming the mistake on something else, or become too quick to collapse into our feeling of failure. But what this does is make our reaction disproportionate to what actually happened. Hence why it makes sense to want to ‘seem’ a certain way. This strive toward our attempt at a perfect identity is an effort to manipulate the way people see us. This is a poor coping skill, not solving.

While apologizing in situations of messing up is important and often times necessary, resolving the issue requires insight to what actually happened. However, blaming and overly apologizing will only warp your perception of the situation. To approach a situation objectively can require removing emotions from the situation and looking at the mistake as just an event, rather than something good or bad. Believe me, this is difficult to do. But resolving a mistake should not be done purely with the intention of getting rid of guilt or the bad feeling. Conflict resolution should be used because it is a part of general maintenance of a relationship, whether it be professional or personal.

When we make a mistake involving somebody or something that we love, emotions naturally tend to get involved. We desperately want to repair what’s happened. Desperation is not helpful either. What it does is skews our perception of the event entirely and puts us in a position that generally tends to lower our self- esteem. When self esteem is lowered, we treat ourselves as if we are lesser-than. In that instance, acting as if you are undeserving of care or any form of good is detrimental to moving forward, and is in no way helpful to working toward a solution.

I don’t think I have ever met anybody who is naturally good approaching conflict resolution or finds it easy to admit mistakes. And I can see why - it’s extremely difficult. I believe conflict resolution is an act of intentional personal growth. It is an indication that one has insight to their own flaws and is making efforts to fix them. People appreciate humility in both professional and personal relationships, as it is relatable and comforting to be surrounded by people who are trying their best. It should also be remembered that owning up to mistakes and faults is a positive judgment of character. The desire to and the attempt to move forward is the first step in making in happen.