The still quiet moments of the early morning are now my favorite. I didn’t used to be this way. I love sleep. I revel in the feeling of full rejuvenation upon waking after a night of deep, unbridled sleep. Lately, finding restful sleep has been a problem. I wake earlier and earlier in the morning, and feel cheated, exhausted, and cranky. I needed that sleep to get through the full day of telehealth. The use of this new online forum in the midst of a pandemic uses up and exorbitant amount of extra energy. I needed that sleep, that store of energy to focus and track the nuances of human emotion, expression, and tone of voice. A source from which I draw compassion, empathy and connection to clients, family, friends, and self is painfully low. When that source energy dwindles, it seems everything from which flows tends to suffer. Obviously, sleep is a big deal for everyone a myriad of reasons, and for the time being, I’m learning to function with less. Maybe I can be okay with periods of time in which I function with fewer of the elements I dearly value. Inevitably I find something, another source, in the space left vacant by lack of sleep.
Here is what I’ve found. When I wake with a known sense that I will not be able to fall back to sleep, I get up, make a cup of coffee, and find a spot near an east facing window to watch the sun rise. I’ve become mindful of the sounds that arise in these early morning moments of stillness. First, the tick of the clock, the clink of my cup, the splash of poured coffee, the creek of the floorboards, the sound of my breath, the early morning symphony of birds. Cracking my window or stepping outside I hear the distant hum of freeway traffic, the subtle shift of air as it finds its way through the new spring leaves on the aspen trees, wind chimes, and even squirrel chatter (Why is it squirrels always sound like they’re yelling at somebody like a disgruntled neighbor, or maybe my inner critic?).
I’ve come to love these mornings because they allow a new window of time and space to softly let compassion into my heart. I realize now that the only way I am going to get through the day ahead, is very gently, step by step, and breath by breath. Am I at my peak performance as a human right now? No, and I’m not going to be for a while yet. My best looks different during this time, and that is okay. I can only do the next right thing, moment by moment, taking in the details. These simple yet nourishing details; the soft morning light, the cat’s purr, the sight of a new bird in the yard, the crunch of gravel underfoot, the warm sensation of sun on my face, the windchimes, catching the sound of a child’s laughter, an instrument being played in the distance.
I find a new source of quiet energy in the still, soft mornings of solitude, differing from our ongoing isolation. Solitude provides my introverted soul with a sense of solace and peace, nourishing my mind and heart in moments of exhaustion. I can choose to take these early mornings and turn them into a mindful practice of self-compassion, a comfort for the day ahead. Working from home, two kids trying to accomplish online school without being able to leave the house, and without the virtues of peer stimulation or structured exercise, is complicated business. I can’t blame the kids for their (may also my) noted regression, a neediness of sorts which often results in expression of more full contact emotions more frequently. Amid a pandemic, it can be a challenge to hold a partner’s worry, a friend’s grief, a client’s loss, children’s frustration, sadness, anguish, and fear. I am grateful to have my children with me. I am grateful for the way we have been able to show up for our little family unit with wholeheartedness. I try to embrace our imperfections as we gain more experience with this concept of circling back around to truly listen, empathize, and make amends.
And so, I circle back to the quiet moments of the morning. My respite, my gentle joy in solitude, and my thinking spot. I am tired, fatigued in a new and different way. I slow down, soften, and find my way. I soak in the sunrise, remind myself of my core values of courage and love, and renew my faith in the journey ahead.
Courage is not always grand gestures of heroism. It doesn’t always look like great feats of valor. Courage is not reserved only for war, physical battles, or terrible circumstances. Culturally, we have many misconceptions about courage; what it is, means, looks like, and how it behaves.
I believe courage comes often in small moments. Courage doesn’t have to come busting through with the strength to jump off buildings or move mountains. It isn’t fearless. True courage is often quiet. This nature of courage can be a misunderstood, overlooked, or undervalued virtue. Small moments of bravery may be labeled as simple expectations met.
As my daily journey of getting to know the nature of my fellow humans continues, one thing becomes abundantly clear: we have different skills and abilities, and we are not all starting or playing with the same “hand.” Each person has been dealt different cards in this life, and these are shifted and changed over time with the nature of upbringing, experiences, traumas, temperament and environment, to name a few variables. Courage for one person may look like gathering the strength to get out of bed in the morning to meet another day. Another may require little to no courage to meet their morning. For one, courage may look like reaching out and asking for needed help, risking or embracing the feeling of shame or judgment that may come as a result. For another, this ask is not a task that requires effort or fear. The varied level of courage required to do a job depends in part on our personal fears or insecurities. Judging a person’s level of courage by their level of ability or level of function is a mistake. Courage assessment requires something else; it requires purpose and heart.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage doesn’t require that one becomes a person with fewer fears. Courage is the thing that we do in the face of fear. We bring it along. Is courage really courageous in the absence of all fear? When people are described as fearless, I wonder if it’s true. Are they really fearless, or are they bringing that fear along for the ride and doing the scary thing anyway? Because, let’s face it, fear is part of our human experience-a natural emotion that does have positive intentions-like keeping us safe, even if sometimes it rises to unhealthy levels. Our experience of fear, as we continue on in our own courage cultivation journeys, tends to decrease as we practice. The interplay between courage and fear is deeply personal. One’s ability to healthily embrace uncertainty in a courageous way is likely to grow when fostered with empathy, kindness, and nonjudgment. Deep, meaningful connection and compassion will allow courage to bloom, whether it be in ourselves or those we love. It takes courage to be silly, to say “I love you,” to go on that interview, to have that difficult conversation, to jump into the race, to drop into the bowl, to slow down and take care of yourself, to stay engaged, to let go when it’s time, to take the test, try the treatment, to return the phone call, to acknowledge how you feel.
Sadly, courage can also take the form of standing up for what we believe, even if it means possible disconnection with those we love. The courage to speak truth in the face of unkindness may result in dissention or disconnection. Courage often involves risk and uncertain outcomes. It may mean getting laughed at, mocked, removed from a conversation, blocked, hurt, misunderstood, or rejected. Sometimes, communicating and holding healthy boundaries takes tremendous courage. Sometimes, making a mindful choice not to engage also takes courage.
Merriam-Webster defines cowardice as “a lack of courage or firmness of purpose.” Defining a word’s antonym merely as a lack of something is tricky. Apathy doesn’t take courage. It’s easy to say “I just don’t care” but I wonder, is it true? Is it due to a lack of firmness of purpose? Courage requires intention behind action, and often, with some degree of fear on board—while doing it anyway.
I’ve worked with a number of people who don’t see their own actions as courageous because they don’t believe they had a choice in the situation except to act. I believe this is another gross misconception. In any deeply challenging matter, we do have choices, even if that choice is to do nothing, or pretend we don’t care. Those who choose to respond, to act, to make meaning out of the situation—to care and to do something—absolutely have courage. Rising to the occasion of an ailing family member, takes courage. Finding out that something horrible has happened, and responding by trying to help, takes courage. Losing a job, and then choosing to take time to figure out next best steps, takes courage. Staying home with kids—takes a lot of courage. Surviving rejection, having somebody leave, and then making the best of the situation while picking up the pieces, takes courage. Essential workers going to work each day (even if the reason is because they can’t afford not to), takes courage. Falling flat on your face, and deciding to get back up again, takes courage. Knowing you must respond to a statement, even if it means crying—that ugly cry response takes courage. Living purposefully through a pandemic—takes a hell of a lot of courage.
Take heart, live with purpose, love your people fiercely, and give yourself credit for your tiny moments of courage.
These are uncertain times. We live in a world where certainty is very highly valued. We pay big bucks for policies which promise it, possibly delude ourselves based on general past history into thinking we have it, and avoid through innumerable distractions—the possibility that we can’t be certain about much of anything.
Now we are faced with it. I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, trying to wrap my mind around, well, the world today. I’ll admit I struggle with this level of vulnerability. Before writing I needed to rest, pause, and collect my thoughts…and maybe a few groceries and a roll of toilet paper, too. I’m sure there’s some witty post in the future about the Role of the Roll, but that will come later.
This post is based on the results of Dr. Brown’s research on vulnerability, and her work in Daring Greatly. She defines vulnerability in her book as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” We are in the throes of vulnerability. Generally, people get uncomfortable with the concept of vulnerability because we have begun to believe the myths of it that have been brought forth by Dr. Brown’s research on the subject. For more info. on these, I would highly recommend reading her book, Daring Greatly.
The truth is, as much as we would like, we can’t escape uncertainty. The good news is, learning how to “do vulnerability” is actually healthy. Learning how to embrace the unknown, accept the exposure that comes from getting very honest and real with each other about how we’re feeling, and find peace with the risk that comes with living our lives in the days, months, and years ahead, is a good thing. Okay fine it’s a very, very challenging thing-and I get a little lump in my throat when I think about it too long.
Lately, as I’ve begun converting my practice in phases to telehealth, as I’ve listened to concerns, I’ve found myself heavy. I don’t often find myself quite so quick to identify with stories in sessions, and it takes focused attention to both track the person and track my own internal barometer for holding enough of a boundary. This is a boundary or ‘semi-permeable membrane’ if you will, that allows me to take in enough of what a client is saying to be empathetic, attentive, and genuine, while also keeping in check my own capacity to engage without running into major compassion fatigue. Lately when I get home, I am very, very tired.
My recent thoughts have tended toward how I want to “be” in the midst of everything that is happening in our world today. How do I want to show up as a therapist, mom, wife, friend, daughter? I am gradually stepping out of what feels like a psychological quarantine as a plan begins to unfold in my mind and heart. Honestly, I’ve been crying a lot more than I have in a while. When at home it isn’t quite as easy to mindfully track how I am feeling from moment to moment, and I get sideswiped by big feelings which feel “out of nowhere.” I am now calling these moments “whack a mole” moments. We are living with a constant undercurrent of vulnerability. Remaining in vulnerability is hard and we can lose our tolerance for it, as is hard emotional work. We WILL have “pop ups” emotional “whack a mole” moments, that might include tears, frustrations, emotional outbursts, moments of big grief, sadness, or panic. I don’t really believe in “normal” but I would say this is likely par for the course for the time being.
One big way I want to show up for myself and my family during this time is to have compassion and allow space for myself and my/any people to have and express their ‘moments’ without judgment. Yah, I now, it’s a tall order. Misunderstandings will happen, let’s make room for them. Tears out of nowhere will happen, let’s not stigmatize it. We might have needs that seem unreasonable; these desires probably spark from a deep desire for certainty or comfort while we work hard on building up our tolerance to vulnerability.
I want to do my best to remain connected to myself and others. I find so much peace and comfort in moments of solitude, and taking time to myself with pay me back in units of energy and compassion that I can then dole out on my fellow humans. Reaching out to others from this place helps to forge and maintain genuine, heartfelt connections with others. I want to check in on my people. I want to hear how they are doing/feeling during this time. I can’t do that if I’m running on empty. Self-care may look a little different right now, but I can and will find it, and from this place I want to be a source of compassion that others can feel comfortable connecting with, vulnerably. We are all in it, we may as well embrace it, even though it sucks.
Dr. Brown talks about how our culture sees vulnerability as a bad thing, a weakness. Especially now, it’s important to dispel this myth. She talks about how anything brave requires vulnerability. I want to show up with courage in the midst of this pandemic. Accepting and embracing vulnerability as a means of courage may not look like what our culture promotes. I’m not talking about courage as if it means putting on a stoic face, and only making “It’ll be fine” statements when loved ones come and express their fears or concerns. The courage I’m talking about will involve honest transparency. I want to acknowledge my true feelings about it all. It is hard, it is scary, and I do worry, and we can do hard things. Having the courage to love wholeheartedly does not cast out all fear, but maybe it provides a place for it to go, a safe haven to be held, heard, contained and understood. It is from this place that our concerns can be calmed, and our fears may be assuaged. I believe it takes more courage to cry than it does to withhold any show of emotion. It takes more courage to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and things are uncertain, than to make generalized statements that “it’s no big deal.” Frankly, it is a big deal, it is hard, uncertain, and worrisome, and I do believe that we will move through this together.
I want to offer encouragement and validate concerns of my clients, kids, and family. I believe it is healthy for my kids to see me have human struggles, so that they can know it is okay to have a hard time. Parenting my kids, I want bravery to look like this, “Yes, things are going to be weird, and maybe harder, and it’s okay to have worries and be scared. I want you to know that I have your back. I am here for you, and am ready to listen to you. I will be honest with you. I have confidence in us, our family, our faith, and community to get through hard times. Yes, we’ve got this, even if sometimes we don’t really feel like we’ve got this. Even if we have moments where we feel like we’ve ‘totally NOT got this,’ I want you to know that I’ve got you! I’m doing what I need to do to take care of myself, so that I can take care of us. I will always do everything in my power to protect you. It isn’t your job to take care of me. It’s my job to take care of me. It’s your job to just be yourself and talk to me about stuff you’re worried about. It’s okay to have all the feels. None of your feelings are wrong. We are going to find some parts of this that might actually be awesome discoveries about ourselves. We might find strengths we didn’t realize we had. We’re going to make some sacrifices, but we are also going to make some memories that I’d bet we’ll never forget. We might hit weird bumps in the road as we go, but I promise that if I mess up, I will circle back around and do my best to try and make it right, and admit and apologize for my mistakes. I love you always. This will not change.”
Empathy and the Platinum Rule: We know the Golden Rule, right? Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Have you heard of the Platinum Rule? Treat others the way they want to be treated. When it comes to emotional, risky, uncertain times, people may want different things. Most people will try to just fix it. This isn’t an issue that can be fixed. Often the underlying reason we want to quickly “fix it” when one of our loved ones is really struggling, is that when we truly empathize with their pain, anguish, fear, etc., we have to make contact with our own experiences of those emotions. This is very uncomfortable. Especially when we are already making contact more often with our own challenging emotions, it can be so hard to feel the hurt of others’ pain. However, if we can make mindful contact with others through empathy, it can be an incredibly healing and connecting experience. Sympathy, “fix its” and general clique statements, sorry, they don’t really help. Instead, I offer up the platinum rule “treat others the way they want to be treated.” Taking much more effort, this rule makes it possible to connect with others in a way that THEY feel heard, felt, and understood. Maybe some of your people actually WOULD like to hear “that it’s all going to be just fine.” Great. Give them what they want. The thing is, you do have to check in with them about it to see what would be helpful. It involves more effort, and opening up to communicate in a more intimate, and vulnerable way. Personally, I don’t want to hear a fix it or a general positive statement when I am hurting or scared. I want someone to validate the emotion I’m feeling by trying to communicate it back to me, letting me having, not fixing it. When I get a match for my feeling, someone meeting me on my same level, I am much more able to just breathe into it and then let it go. It’s much more challenging for me to let it go if I feel like someone “gets it.” When someone is sharing something vulnerable with you, ask them about the kind of response that helps them most. Empathizing is not the same as enabling a negative emotional spiral. There’s no need to jump in and over identify, and no need to say anything that encourages the person to stay there. Sometimes it can be as simple a statement as “This is hard. It sounds scary, right? Yah, scary totally sucks. This is so not easy.” It’s more about relating with the feeling, not the behaviors associated. It might also help to ask “What would be most helpful right now?” and offer some options “Would it be best to have some space to be sad? Are you looking for a distraction or something funny? Want to just talk about it for a little while?”
Lastly, I want to show up with a lot of patience and compassion. We are learning heaps about ourselves right now. We all learn at different paces and have different capacities for hardships, emotions, and even the taking of advice and learning. We are going to gain understanding and insight best in an atmosphere of love and compassion. This too, takes tremendous courage.
In a quarantined nutshell, I think I have finally found the ways I want to show up in this pandemic. I want to be brave, and this is going to mean embracing vulnerability. I want to take good care of myself so that I can have as much compassion for and connection with others as possible. This will start with self-compassion, especially in the moments I mess up and need to turn around and make something right. I want to be genuine and real, while also modeling courage and stability for my family. I want to show true empathy by taking the time to learn about how others want to be treated in their moments of struggle. I want to show up with grace and patience as we figure this out together. I want to model love.
My self-talk when thinking about writing this post…for months: “As a recovering perfectionist who works in the arenas of mental health and shame resilience, I should write about this. After all, it’s something I’m very familiar with in my life and work. But wait, how can I call myself a recovering perfectionist?! I wasn’t even a ‘good enough’ perfectionist to even own that moniker. If anybody saw my sock drawer they would know that, but wanting to be more perfect does keep me from doing courageous things…actually, you’re also probably not ‘recovered’ enough from protectionism to call yourself a recovering perfectionist. OK, at least I can settle on the idea that I think my writing skills are decent enough for a blog, and I have good ideas. Yes, but none of my ideas will be completely new, they’ve been written about before, and probably better.”
Perfectionism is a problem.
I’d like to think of myself as a lifelong learner. After all, more insight and understanding are gained through learned experience and education over time. The problem is the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Fear-based justifications stop me in my tracks. “If I can know more about a topic later, I should wait till then to talk about it, and hopefully have more wisdom to share at that time. Tomorrow never seems to come, I only ever have today, and yet I hesitate, out of fear and worry that whatever I have to offer won’t be good enough. Based on Dr. Brené Brown’s research, shame and fear are at the roots of perfectionism. In Daring Greatly she writes, “When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun, and fear is that annoying back seat driver.” Here are a few examples of how perfection, shame, and fear come together as the trifecta of doom, to help keep us small, stuck, and caring way too much about what other people think, and then we’ll move into some healthy tips for keeping it at bay.
Shame is the voice telling me that whatever I do, it won’t be good enough. If I can move past the ‘not good enoughs’ I am hit from the other side with the intrusive voice that saying I have a pretty pompous, conceited, arrogant view of myself and I should just go ahead and take a seat in my place. It’s the voice that tells me if I can do something perfect enough, I will be loveable, acceptable, and worthy of belonging. Perfectionism tells me that whatever I’ve done, I didn’t get it quite right, and that I need to get it more perfect next time. It’s about managing what other people think of me. Fear of judgment (of others or myself) will stop me in my tracks and keep me from starting something, finishing something, creating something, or putting myself out there.
How perfectionism keeps us stuck:
It keeps us avoiding and procrastinating: If I can’t do it perfect (and I know I probably can’t) then why should I waste my time doing it at all?
It’s attached to shame with a constant feeling of “Not-Good-Enough-ness”
It keeps us trying, stumbling, self-deprecating, and unfulfilled
It keeps us hustling to manage the unwanted perceptions of others
It’s a creativity killer
Perfection results in avoidance, procrastination, poor time management, process addiction, fitting in instead of belonging, conditional self-worth, relentless management of others’ perceptions, and in general, a lack of joy, creativity, courage, compassion, fulfillment and wholehearted living.
How to Help with Healthy Striving:
One thing that actually helped me finally write this post, was getting sick. No really, unfortunately I mean it. Managing the hustle of what other people might think, and adding my own inner critic to the mix, takes a lot of energy. Quite frankly, I don’t have the energy for much right now. I started with giving myself permission to not be at my best. Knowing this, I allow myself to get more comfortable with the fact that I’m not going to be perfect at what I write, or do, and that is just going to have to be okay. If you can’t get to a place where you can allow this to be okay, maybe it might help to add “for now” until you can take that “for now” off. “For now, it’s going to have to be okay to not be perfect.” I don’t mean to recommend illness as a means of dropping perfectionism, but it did help with letting go, and finding acceptance with wherever I am with this process in this moment …right now. I’m working on removing the “right now” from the above statements. Remember you are good enough, right now, just as you are, and that personal worth, is not attached to what you do, but is inherent.
Stepping away from unhealthy perfectionism is about establishing healthy boundaries with myself and others. It allows me to say, “this is what I can offer” and letting go of the rest, even if this occasionally results in disappointment. It’s about managing personal expectations. I can work hard and expect quality work, and if I fall short, I can learn from this process. I remind myself that my value and worth was never on the table to be cut, even if it’s hard to hear criticism that something wasn’t perfect enough. I am enough. This statement leaves me with firm ground on which to continue to grow and learn. I’ll never be able to give someone better than my best, and learning to be comfortable with what I can offer, while continuing to learn and try in earnest, will have to be okay. Know your limits and practice working within those personal and interpersonal boundaries. We can truly only do our best, and that’s the best we can do. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room to grow, but rather that practicing healthy acceptance of “what is” promotes an environment for healthy striving and excellence.
Honestly, when you think about it, how many of the folks you love, do you love because they are absolutely perfect? No one is perfect, but those who seem to be, don’t often come off as all that authentic or inviting. I love my people for their quirks, the things that make them different. Their imperfections are what make them lovable, approachable, fun, and nurturing. When we unite in our imperfections, we connect on a deeper level, with courage and vulnerability. Make gratitude for imperfection a practice, acknowledge how our imperfections make us lovable, and communicate love and acceptance often.
Perfection is an idea that sounds nice, but is completely unattainable, and yet we/I fall into the trappings of the concept on a daily basis. Why do we do this? Our culture highly values perfection and flawlessness. Buying into the concept of perfectionism helps billion-dollar industries continue to grow. Perfection by way of materialism, image, status, beauty, power, sex, love, joy, health, family, career. Perfectionism separates and insulates, and in a time of great discord, this moves us away from courage, compassion and connection. Many companies are selling a false sense of belonging by way of telling consumers how ‘they too can fit in!” Just buy this product, wear these clothes, lose that weight, participate in this routine, join or club. When we can’t compete with these requirements, perfectionism whispers that if we can be perfect, maybe we can gain acceptance, maybe we can be worthy, maybe we will be accepted and have friends and not feel alone. Perfectionism is about putting all of our value in what other people will think, leaving us grasping for an unattainable outcome, possibly on a daily basis. Step away from perfectionist tendencies by striving for reachable outcomes, giving credit where it’s due for a job well done or effort well placed, and practicing self-compassion when the struggle gets real if we missed the mark. Remember, there is no failure, only feedback.
Much additional energy and time goes into that last 10% of any job to make it just, absolutely, ‘perfect’. If it means you are able to move forward and put your work into the world, or your sock drawer, maybe it’s okay to make “good enough” or 7/10 the goal at times, especially if it means dropping the exhausting hustle. Perfectionists might be thinking they are healthily trying to give 150%, but 150% doesn’t exist. How can one give more than they have? If 150% is the standard, maybe 70% of that is actually really great. Avoidance can take hold when we fear that whatever we do, it won’t be good enough, and avoidance provides an immediate reinforcement-reduced stress and anxiety. Avoidance does provide a temporary relief. I tend bump into perfectionism again with my distraction activity, and divert again, without the satisfaction of completing the thing I left behind, unfinished. I’ll admit this very post also comes with a certain avoidance of other necessary tasks, which today include clinical documentation and taxes, things I don’t enjoy, in part because I do care about the potential repercussions of an external audit (Eeek, audit!) and how I will feel about myself if my best isn’t good enough. Save the energy, drop the hustle, put it out there, put in a good effort, and let that be okay. Use that energy for something you enjoy, something that can result in fulfillment, or circle it back around to take care of yourself.
Moving away from perfectionism doesn’t mean moving away from healthy striving. Having an internal desire to do something well, to learn, to grow, and to achieve a level of excellence is healthy. There is a significant difference between perfectionism and healthy dedication to excellence. It becomes unhealthy when we start losing out on our quality of life because we can’t let go of some perception of perfection which—quite frankly—is completely unreachable. It’s unhealthy when it leave us feeling ashamed for not being better, and when we attach it to who we are, our identity. Perfectionism results in shame when we can’t be perfect enough, and therefore feel like a failure, bad, or unworthy of love or belonging. Do strive for excellence, be dedicated to hard work. Know that balance, rest, and self-care are all elements which actually promote excellence, instead of taking away from it.
Perfectionism as a creativity killer. If we get stuck caring what other people think, when in truth we have no way of managing their perceptions, it becomes impossible to create. Creativity is internally motivated and requires the courage to be vulnerable. We have to give ourselves permission to play in order to create. It requires a certain level of comfort to give uncomfortable and fail, trying things that come from our newly formed ideas. Creativity requires showing up and allowing our flawed selves to be on display. Rigid perfectionist tendencies destroy creativity with inflexibility. With perfectionism there is no permission to make mistakes and we must proverbially hold our breath, and make sure to color only inside the lines. There is no enchantment, imagination, or freedom. Cultivate creativity by letting go of worrying about what other people think of our creative endeavors. Step away from comparison, and give yourself permission to get curious. Try not to qualify your creative works with statements like “Well, it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped” or “I’m not as good as so-and-so could have done it” or “I know you probably won’t like it, but…”Remember that creativity does not require permission, or acceptance, it is a quality inherent in everyone, whether we let it out very often or not.
Self compassion is the antithesis of perfectionism. When perfectionism is a fearful, critical, and comparing voice, compassion moves with with warmth and kindness to offer another way of being with the exact same situation. Mindful self kindness requires paying attention to what is happening in the moment, and re-writing our internal script if need be, from one of critical negativity, to one that provides a gentle reminder that we are good enough, and our worth is not something that can be attached to how perfectly a task is completed.
I am borrowing from the research of Brené Brown as I work through my own process of cultivating courage and embracing vulnerability. Doing so, I can absolutely understand how perfectionism can keep us from trying, insisting that we are small and insignificant and won’t be able to do it right, and then if we are able to compassionately move through that tricky space, we are hit with the other end and slapped with self-talk that says we’ve become too big for our own britches and should go ahead and take a seat somewhere small, not out here with us truly courageous folks. Shame works as a vice that keeps us small and stuck. Again, Brené’s work, giving credit here, check out her stuff.
Somewhere in my life I ended up getting humility confused with thinking nothing of myself, or frankly, very poorly of myself, which doesn’t bode well for cultivating an adult sense of worth. I learned through years of struggle that it felt empowering to strive and achieve, but then I also confused this idea of worthiness, a thing conditional upon achievement and doing. I felt I was worthy of belonging because of the things I had achieved, my resilience based on actions, successes, accomplishments, degrees, jobs, titles, appearance, and image.
If there was one bit of wisdom that I could give my 20 or 30-year-old self, it would be a tender reminder that I am worthy of love and belonging simply by virtue of the fact that I am. I am enough, just as I am, without changing a damn thing. It is a practice to believe this. I still believe in the value of hard work and healthy striving, of accomplishments that are earned, but these things are built on top of worthiness that is already inherently present. I remind myself daily to soften into the concept and practice of compassion. Life will be unfair and it doesn’t owe me a thing…and I am worthy. Happiness and love are wonderful and can be fleeting or withdrawn, and I am still worthy. I will make mistakes by those I love, and I am worthy of love. I am genuinely doing the best I can, this will have to be enough, is enough, and I am enough. I often need help with disbelief, because there are days and times when I doubt this concept for myself, but am happy to preach it to clients and hold it true for everyone else. In these moments I try to remember again to soften, lean in, be gentle with myself. I then notice the outpouring of love and compassion to fiends, family, and clients flows more freely. This is true. This is a practice. I am often able to pay attention on purpose, it’s adding a sense of warmth and worth that can be challenging.
I wish you all a new year filled with love and compassion. Let’s practice together. I’d love to hear your stories and practices on developing and deepening your sense of worthiness.
“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say?… There are so many silences to be broken.” Audre Lorde
I hope this experiment in creativity, with a dash of humor, personal story and hopeful insight, will cultivate courage in the form of relatability. Minding the gap between my head and my heart by using my voice, I invite you to get curious with me.
I am a licensed professional counselor in private practice. My goal is to dabble with the concept of taking insights from life stories to create a relatable and therapeutic experience for the reader. Written as a practice of embracing vulnerability, and “walking my talk” so to speak, these stories are meant to be both personal and professional. Knowing life is messy and beautiful whether sitting in the therapist chair or client couch, growth and healing can occur when we voice our stories to forge human connection.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin