ex·cuse n. (k-skys)
1. An explanation offered to justify or obtain forgiveness.
(from The Free Dictionary)
I have tended to be hard on myself when I catch myself offering excuses for my behavior. I think of excuses as attempts to justify bad behavior by refusing to take responsibility for my actions. I still catch myself doing that more often than I’d like, but I’m really working on trying to own up to my mistakes and accept responsibility for my choices and my actions. I think this is a good thing and a sign of continued growth and maturity.
But it also has a dark side.
As a perfectionist, refusing to accept any “excuses” can also become a way to beat myself up. I am loath to cut myself any slack for my mistakes or shortcomings. I accuse myself of just making excuses and not taking responsibility any time I try to give myself a break.
That’s not helpful.
There are times in my life when I was dealing with depression when it was actually rather remarkable that I managed to keep functioning at all. Depression is not an excuse for not being more productive (or kinder or more energetic or whatever I’m beating myself up for at the moment). It’s a reality that needs to be taken into account when assessing what I could realistically expect from myself during those times.
That’s a more obvious example, but there are many times when it is hard to tell in the moment when I am just making excuses for myself to try to justify bad behavior and when I cutting myself some slack for realistic limitations (including the fact that I am only human). I struggle to find the balance between taking responsibility for my actions and setting the bar so high that I’m always beating myself up.
The second half of the definition above felt like a little glimmer of grace set into this quandary. An “explanation offered to … obtain forgiveness” has a very different connotation to me than an “explanation offered to justify.” Those two different purposes may hold the key to my dilemma.
If I am offering excuses in order to justify myself, I probably need to drop the excuses and accept ownership and responsibility. If I did the best I could with the resources I had, and I’m offering that an explanation as part of a request for forgiveness (from myself or from another) because my best was imperfect, then it’s probably time to cut myself some slack, forgive myself for being human, and do what I can to increase the resources available to me in the future to allow my best to be better.
Both scenarios fall within this one sentence of definition, but I can feel in my body the difference between the two. And maybe that’s the best measure for me to listen to.
How do you deal with excuses in your life?
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