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Guidepost 2 - Cultivating Self-Compassion

The subtitle for this chapter is Letting Go of Perfection.  I have blogged about my challenges with perfectionista persona and my glaring lack of self-compassion.  I can excuse others for many things, but in therapy I used words like failure, incompetent, stupid and weak like a whack a mole hammer to beat myself down.  My therapist was always commenting that I was incredibly hard on myself.  I am not sure I ever agreed with her. 

Brené Brown writes that our attempts to be perfect are our attempts to avoid shame, blame and judgement from others. The problem is, the more we strive to be this unattainable perfect the more we have to keep it up--to do better--to avoid letting people see our true, flawed, vulnerable selves.

She says perfectionists are looking for approval and acceptance, not from themselves, but from others.  This is self-destructive because you cannot control the perceptions of others.  Continually striving to do so is exhausting.

Finally, perfectionism is addictive.  When we strive and do not achieve the results we wanted (approval, acknowledgement, acceptance) perfectionists feel like they have failed in some way and therefore not only beat themselves up, but try harder in attempts to achieve this impossible goal of pleasing everyone.  All.  The.  Time.

The antidote to perfectionism is self-compassion.  Accepting our flaws and being compassionate with
ourselves.  Self-improvement is not the same as perfectionism.  You can strive to be better at something as long as you acknowledge your flaws and make an intention to work toward some change with a loving, kind heart ---even when you flounder or fail.

The other piece is not to dwell on anything that does not go well.  Keep things in perspective--work through them---discuss them with a trusted friend.  The enemy of shame is sharing, so share your stories and struggles and you will find that when your compassion for yourself if running low, you can lean on someone else.  Listen to the words they use when they talk to you.  Remember them. Practise them. Even if it sounds fake at first, like anything else, compassionate self-talk and action requires practise....especially if you have been hard on yourself for years.

Yesterday I practiced this.  The Spouse was home from a week away and not feeling well.  He rested most of the day and I was out running errands (ok shopping at Value Village after meeting someone to sign papers for my oldest's RESP release).  The boys were playing together. 

When I am out though, it is like a snow day. No one remembers the things I reminded them are part of their household help for the day (which they later try to say is my fault for not reminding them again) and when I come home I flip the switch to army general and start ordering everyone around, clapping my hands; saying things like "hop to it", "get a move on".....etc.  I can clean at the speed of light --and of course no one moves as fast as me so I spend a lot of time saying "yes the cleaner IS under the sink---look again"; "Did you empty the vacuum after you were done?"; "You need to put clean garbage bags in when you take the dirty ones out."  So I have my own things to do as well as monitor the progress of others.  It exhausts me. 

So don't monitor them you say?  I am not saying I follow them around. I am saying I go to throw something out and there is no bag in the garbage can.  Can I put one in myself?  Sure!  Should I--or do I call down the child responsible and have them do it.  Same with the invisible cleaner under the sink.  I am learning to say "I am 100% sure it is there.  You will have to look again."  More often than not --I hear "found it!".  It is hard not to think they do this on purpose to make me crazy......

So yesterday I picked up fries from a fry truck, drove home, cooked burgers, got help with the prep work and we ate outside.  It was a bit harried and I had to remind the kids when they said "I need ketchup" that their legs functioned perfectly...but in a nice way.  After dinner on the way out the door The Spouse noticed a garbage bag that had been ripped open.  He went to put it in the can---but it was full of garbage--and writhing maggots.  He was having a bit of a hissy that there was NO LARGE GARBAGE BAG IN THE CAN.  I assured him there was, put on some gloves, went outside and with my oldest...collected the garbage in two bags and washed out the can, while telling him we would take care of it, and sending he and my youngest off to baseball practice.  I was calm --no eye rolling,  (It was gross by the way--but accepting the situation for what it was really, really helped!)

Then my oldest went to move the yard waste bag that had been sitting on the deck for 2 weeks.  The bottom was weak and it fell out.  Now I had him in my face with a hissy fit.  I sent him to look for more bags. There were none.  He was escalating to ridiculously angry (here is when I see my own reactions to things have primed my kids for how to react when things go wrong.  Woah......)  So I went to the shed and assembled a wire bag holder we bought 2 years ago.  Then I told my oldest he will practice his driving by taking me down to the store to buy more bags--which we did.  We had some trouble getting the bag in the stand (more frustration on his part---more curiosity on my part--which allowed me to recognize I had assembled it wrong, fix it, have it work properly).  Then some stomping around over not being able to find gloves (he hates to get his hands dirty?).  Finally, I could go to my little one's game.....but not until I found the keys to the car that my oldest put down somewhere he could not remember.

The game turned out to be a scrimmage when his team didn't have enough players (summer....) but on one of the last plays of the game, he cracked one to the outfield with bases loaded and the smile on his face was amazing to see.  Rounding third and headed for home the ball came in to the catcher. Jake skidded to a stop and fell.  He got up and back peddled to third....turned and ran.  The catcher was right behind him with the ball.  Jake slid.  Safe at third on a three run triple.  Everyone cheered --both teams--since it was just so cool to watch. 

I chose to go out shopping for 4 hours and I could have berated myself for enjoying myself at the expense of not getting housework done...but I was conscious of this I tried really hard not to be the army general when I got home.  The Spouse was I tried really hard not to be resentful that he didn't get the kids to do their chores and let them play video games toooooo long.  I managed dinner, maggots, yard waste bag dilemmas and was in a good place when I rolled into the baseball game 30 min late.  It was a humbling experience to see how I have modeled how to handle frustration for my oldest.  Maybe I can do a bit better with my youngest (who threw his batting helmet after striking out once.....hmmmmmmm). 

I will always struggle with being a perfectionista.....but I am getting better with anger.  I am learning to not dwell on things that are frustrating, but try to move to solution, even if the solution means taking an extra 30 minutes to get it done right.  I practiced self-compassion when I acknowledged I deserved some time for fun and shopping and it just meant that I would have to do a few more things later, scramble a bit perhaps, but not at the cost of seeing my son's ballgame. THAT is what is important--not laundry (which I folded later) and put away without feeling resentful that The Spouse went to bed right after we got home because he did not feel well.

As always, I am a Work in Progress


  1. I love the idea of "self compassion". It's such a loving approach to helping yourself be your best. I expect the best from myself. All. The. Time. And when I can't achieve that (which is almost always) I beat myself up over it. Loving and being kind to yourself even with all the flaws does far more in self-improvement than guilt and shame over not being perfect. And, I SO agree with your point on NOT dwelling on the things that don't go well. I do that all the time, and it is SO not helpful. A healthy and positive perspective and always looking forward is key to the struggle you and I both face.

    Thanks so much for this post, Brigid! I love how you wrote about what you are learning from Brene Brown and then wrote about how you are practicing it! Knowledge is nothing unless we live it out. :)


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