The question we are considering for our next few Wellness Wednesdays is: What happens to us in the moment of being wrong or failing and how does what happens in that moment impact our inner life (our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and future decisions)?

A powerful story relative to this question occurred when our friend Michael at the age of seven was asked to help his father who wanted to rewire his house. Needing to turn off the electricity in order to complete this task, Michael’s father wanted his son to shine a flashlight on the fuse box. Confused about the electrical work he was doing, his father said, “Michael, you’re not holding the flashlight right.”

Although the light was shining on the wires as his father had requested, Michael’s father got more frustrated and said, “Michael, you are good for nothing. You never do anything right.” As his father’s frustration with the wires grew, he became more enraged and swore at his son. Eventually he took off his belt and hit Michael.

This experience embedded in Michael four powerful lessons:

  1. “I can’t do anything right.” Nothing short of perfection was acceptable. Michael learned that he was not good enough.
  2. Confusion about mistakes. Michael didn’t make a mistake in this encounter with his father, but came to believe that things were mistakes even when they weren’t.
  3. Mistakes need to be feared and avoided. He learned to blame his siblings so he wouldn’t be the recipient of his father’s wrath.
  4. The lesson in any mistake comes through the punishment. As an adult, when his father was no longer present, Michael would dwell on his mistakes as a way of punishing himself.

As a result of this experience, Michael suffered from atelophobia, an obsessive fear of imperfection. Terrified of making mistakes, he avoided any situation where he might not succeed. His atelophobia lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

It wasn’t until Michael was 48 years old and heard another story that he realized there was another way of seeing mistakes that did not require a punishment. Tune in next week to hear  the Popcorn Story.

Reflection: Have you had any experience regarding mistakes or failure that has resulted in any bit of atelophobia? If so, what was that experience and how has atelophobia impacted your life?

From our team…Willow, Kevin, and Tom…who carry some of atelophobia’s scars.

Paul Bernabei
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