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If you're already convinced that you're a bad person, stop reading this article and go somewhere else on the Internet.
A terrible person would not be asking this question in the first place.
So, let's slow it down a bit.
It's time to answer your question with...questions.
"Am I a Bad Person?" First, Why Do You Think You're a Bad Person?
In other words, what evidence do you have?
Did someone tell you that?
Do you feel bad about yourself?
Are you ashamed of something you did?
Even if you have answers for all of those questions, does that actually make you a bad person?
Are You Embarrassed By Decisions You Made?
Welcome to the club.
Making bad decisions is part of being human.
If we didn't make bad decisions, we would have nothing to learn from.
Ok, you might be thinking:
But I've made some really bad decisions, decisions that have forever altered the course of my life.
First, I get it.
I thought that, too.
But again, I want to gently push back on you.
Is that true?
And how do you know that it's true?
Byron Katie has a mind-blowing and effective exercise designed to help people assess the stories they tell themselves.
It's called The Work.
If you're stuck in a story you're telling yourself, I highly encourage you to check out her site and do a few written worksheets.
We've all made mistakes.
But mistakes don't make you.
The way you respond to your mistakes does.
Relationships are so tricky, both the relationships you have with others and the one you have with yourself.
They are tricky because it's so easy to derive your identity from them.
If your parent (or parents!) tells you that you're a bad person, you're likely to believe it.
Because they're one of the most important role models you have in your life.
Even if they're a terrible role model, they're still a big role model for you.
But, once again, how can you know that what they tell you is true?
Is it true for them, or is true for you?
Does every experience you've ever had in your life demonstrate that you're a bad person?
Of course not.
That would be ridiculous.
When Children Are Involved
After all this, maybe you're still convinced you're a bad person.
What if you're responsible for caring for children in some capacity?
I've worked in the youth mental health field, and I've seen the horrible things that people can do to defenseless children.
I still don't think those people who do those awful things are necessarily bad people.
Because, in almost every single scenario, I learned about the parents' or caregivers' stories, and the way they treated others made sense given what they had been through themselves.
The same applied to patients I worked with in an inpatient mental health unit. They were often ashamed of things they had done, but they never considered what they had been through and how those experiences had shaped them.
Behaviors come from somewhere, and they tell a story.
All behaviors are learned somehow and serve purposes in life--it just might not be obvious at first what those purposes are.
What To Do Next: Always Come to Yourself When You're Feeling Like a Bad Person
If you've gotten this far, you clearly are not convinced that you're an awful person.
There is a shred of doubt, and that's something you can work with.
Like I said from the start, an awful person would not be curious.
Truly bad people, which is incredibly rare, would never ask questions to explore their doubt.
They would simply act without caring at all, destroying lives in the process.
And process your life.
Take your mistakes, the ones you think prove you are a person.
Write them down.
Doing so works a different part of your brain than keeping them in your head.
Once they are in front of you, write down questions about each one.
Ask Questions Like:
- Is this true?
- How do I know this is true?
- Who told me this is bad?
- Do I act this way in every situation?
- Is something always bad, or does it depend on the situation?
This might feel like a lot of busywork for something you want to get over and be done with right now.
But there is no free lunch, and you know that.
You need to mine your thoughts to understand your behaviors.
Neither one make you who you are--it's reflecting upon them that does.
Completing this process is worth the effort because it will unveil paths you haven't seen yet.
Thinking and believing you are a certain way prevents you from seeing other possibilities.
But when you take the time to consider your past behaviors with open eyes, you create new mental roads, an effort a truly bad person would never make.