Several weeks ago now, I heard Paul Kerensa contribute the Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans breakfast show. He spoke about the way he and his wife use the naughty step for their children when they’ve been naughty. Most parents are familiar with the concept of the naughty step: the child (don’t bother trying this with puppies, it doesn’t work) sits on the step for a few minutes and thinks about what they’ve done, they tell you they’re sorry, there’s a hug, and it’s all forgiven and forgotten: the slate is wiped clean.
Paul says that his children have started putting themselves on the naughty step: they’re starting to punish themselves. But once they’ve said sorry, and had a hug, it’s all forgiven and forgotten, and they can take themselves off the naughty step.
This got him to thinking about what we do as adults when we think we’ve done wrong. About how we put ourselves on the naughty step, and very often keep ourselves there for way longer than the requisite number of minutes. We say sorry, and then instead of forgiving ourselves and wiping the slate clean, we keep ourselves on the naughty step, either deliberately, or just because we forget to take ourselves off it.
I know myself, when I look back at my life so far, that there are numerous occasions when I’ve continued to punish myself way after I’ve said sorry.
Of course we don’t punish ourselves by sitting on a step: we punish ourselves with shame, and guilt, and in a myriad of unconscious ways: hiding from the world, missing opportunities, not doing our best work, shunning success, not promoting what we offer, not speaking our truth, staying in unhealthy relationships, working for people who don’t value us, not standing up for what we believe in.
We can spend half our lives beating ourselves up for what we have or haven’t done. Not recognising that every day we get a fresh chance to start again, to be the person we want to be, and to do the things we want to do in the world. To say we’re sorry, forgive ourselves, let ourselves off the naughty step, and wipe the slate clean. So that we stop carrying what we’ve done in the past into the present to poison our future.