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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

How do you repair after messing up?

There are so many ways to mess up in relationship with other people... getting distracted and then backing into a parked motorcycle, excluding someone unintentionally and deepening their sense of disconnect from their community, or snapping in frustration when that thing-I-asked-you-to-do-didn't-get-done AGAIN.

Been there, done all of these. And a lot more...

Messing up is inevitable and unavoidable and because it can cause real harm to others, as well as to ourselves, it is worthy work to practice being aware and present so that we mess up as little as possible.

But, the real trick is not "how do I not mess up" as much as "how do I repair when I inevitably mess up?"

Most of us are not skilled at repair. We avoid it because it is uncomfortable; we move seamlessly into defending, deflecting or minimizing as a way to try to run from the itchy feelings ("You shouldn't have parked that damn motorcycle there to begin with! Why are you mad at me?"), or to add fuel to the grudge fire ("You've been a jerk as long as I have known you, there are reasons you aren't included."), or out of fear of feeling too vulnerable ("I wish you would just do what I ask when I ask it. Enough already! I don't have time for any of this.")

Or we get stuck in the mud, expecting the other person to make the first move. Sometimes we metaphorically cover up our eyes, pretending it is not there at all, hoping it will disappear.

Deep breath. And then another deep breath.

Repair is the medicine that nurtures our connection with people we care about - our children, our partners, our business associates, our friends, our community. It also deepens self-respect and relationship with ourselves.

The medicine asks us to turn towards, instead of away from - without requiring any particular outcome.

How do you repair after messing up?

Consider these four things...

Increase personal awareness, own it and then pause. Pay attention to what is happening internally and own it. Listen for the little "ping" in your gut that says "I am annoyed and am just about to say something I might regret in order to hurt them back." "I am angry and I am ready to explode to get them off my back." "I am about to go silent to punish them for being so mean and to protect myself." And then PAUSE. Put a pin in it and pause.

  • I'm so sorry I lashed out at you. I am feeling uncomfortable with this discussion and need a minute to pull my thoughts together - please give me a bit of time and then I'll get back in touch.

What is your intention? Really, what is your bottom line intention? Give yourself the gift of time to look underneath the interaction to decide on your own intention. Is your intention to make a deep crack in the friendship? Or harm the marriage? Or slice emotionally into the teenage child? Or is your higher mind intention to be seen and heard by the other person because, actually, you care about them?

  • I am so sorry I snapped in the car this morning, I care about our relationship and I want to show up as a really good mom. I feel disappointed in myself.

Hone your skills. Learn to identify your own needs - particularly around connection, learn to respond rather than react, pause often, do your own personal work instead of relying others to do theirs.

  • I am sorry I lost it this morning. When we don't agree, I feel vulnerable and disconnected from you and that is uncomfortable. I want to think about this more and try to get to the bottom of why I feel so strongly about it. Then let's talk again.

Be courageous. Stepping up and stepping in can feel scary and it is also deeply liberating. I own my behavior, I have control over what comes out of my mouth (no matter what comes out of yours), I can learn and deepen my skills, I courageously show up for what matters to me.

  • I am so mad right now and I don't want to blow up - I know that is harmful for you and for me and for us. I need to take some time to figure out why I feel so stirred up by this situation. It feels like my boundaries are being crossed and I want to be able to tell you what is happening for me. Let me take a breath and come back to you when I am calmer.

Consider how you repair after messing up. What role can it play in your life and why does it matter? I would love to hear about repair tools that matter to you. Write me.

Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.


Hello, I'm Ricka.

Ricka Kohnstamm Executive & Physician Coach Profile Photo

I'm a Nationally Board Certified (NBC-HWC) Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coach. I specialize in working with physician leaders, corporate leaders, non-profit executives and their families to navigate complex work and personal issues so they can strengthen their relationships, heal, and feel hopeful about the future again. 



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