This afternoon my stepmum asked me to help her cut our Puppy’s nails. She asked me to help her because I used to do a lot of volunteering work with animals, and one of my placements was at the local vets so I knew what we needed to do. It’s not complicated, however you do have to be careful because removing too much of the nail cuts into the ‘quick’ which is the nerve that supplies blood to the nail. I therefore knew to only snip a few millimetres in order to make sure not to get too close to the nerve.
Her front paws were fine and we were happy with the results, however when we got onto her hind legs my stepmum asked me to cut as much of the nail off as possible – more than I had previously been doing. I explained the need for us to be careful and the reason behind my vigilance, but ultimately was struggling to state my needs because I wanted to please her by doing the job the way she wanted me to.
So I risked catching the quick, and went ahead to remove a larger chunk of the nail. As soon as I did, ‘Puppy’ flinched and blood started gushing from her toenail, her tiny white paw becoming increasingly bloodied with my error.
I immediately went from being in a state of feeling confident in my abilities and animal-related knowledge, to a place of deep shame, guilt and self-criticism. I felt so awful for the mistake I had made and couldn’t stop dwelling on it for a while afterwards. As we sat with ‘Puppy’ holding a towel with gentle pressure to her bleeding toe, I continued to experience the internal bombardment of self-critical and punitive thoughts about what a ‘failure’ I thought I was. Despite the fact that it is a very easy mistake to be made, and one which I had seen the vet make many times too, I couldn’t forgive myself for ‘what I had done’. Furthermore, I knew I should have stuck with my instinct to only cut a few millimetres of the nail, so felt weak and pathetic for being unable to state this firmly enough with my stepmum – which added yet another layer of self-judgement.
In fact I ended up spending the next hour or so beating myself up, apologising profusely, and trying to seek reassurance from her that she wasn’t angry or upset with me for making (what in my head felt like) such a huge mistake.
She was so calm, even acknowledging the fact that she should have listened to me, and tried to reassure me that it was not in any way my fault. I was not convinced however, and the intensity of my inner-critic became ever-more apparent when my little sister saw the blood and started briefly freaking out. I could not apologise enough.
‘Puppy’ was absolutely fine after just a few minutes, but I was not! My brain was flooded with negative thoughts and I felt consumed by guilt, shame and very critical self-talk.
The one thing that I found very interesting was my ability to be aware of my emotional experience and really observe what was going on for me. It was helpful for me to see the series of events and my consequent emotional and mental reaction. I have to say I was not surprised by the extent to which my guilt chewed me up inside and the degree or length of time for which it took me over, as this is something I have struggled with since a very young age. It is very typical of me to react in this way to even the smallest or most accidental of mistakes. Shame is an emotion I struggle with intensely and can be evoked by pretty much anything.
I used a lot of Cheerleading Statements For Worry Thoughts to reassure myself that I was not the worst human being on the planet or the biggest failure in existence! Overall it was an intriguing experience triggered by a pretty minor event because it gave me further insight into the way my brain works, how I react to these things, and just how harsh and self-critical I can still be toward myself!