Hello fellow courage practitioners. Today’s focus is on guidepost #2 – Letting go of perfectionism and cultivating self-compassion.

Remember that idea you are always talking about but never really get down to doing anything about it? The marathon you were planning on running this year? The course you want to start? The blog you have been threatening to write? The move you have been postponing? I’m sure this sounds very familiar to most of us.

Perfectionism is BIG and powerful. It makes us think that we do not have and are not enough. That’s why we stay stuck because with all our faults and shortcomings we think that showing up like that is risky. So we sabotage ourselves and procrastinate, waiting for the day when we can feel perfect enough to “show up”. This is the culture that we are used to. A culture that says that if you are not perfect you must stay put. “I will never let them see me cry”. “I will not let them see me sweat”. “They will not see how vulnerable I feel”. These are the phrases we utter when we fear showing up as less than perfect, thinking that they make us strong. In reality these magnify our fears about showing up less than perfect in the world, and keep us safe under the radar, the last place we want to be.

The Oxford dictionary defines “perfectionism” as: “refusal to accept any standard short of perfectionism. A doctrine holding that perfection is attainable, especially the theory that human moral or spiritual perfection should be or has been attained.

Now none of us are capable of being perfect; we just avoid situations which expose us to being less than perfect. When one refuses to accept anything less than perfect, you are refusing to accept your fallible self. And because we are all fallible, seeking perfectionism means that you will not be forgiving of yourself and others in imperfect situations. Ever heard people say “I have never failed at anything?” Really now? We all have. But we all know what it is. These people have not found the courage to present themselves in situations where they were not guaranteed success. When they have felt vulnerable, they have chosen comfort and not courage. They fool themselves into believing that they are indeed perfect, but deep inside they know the fear of showing up, and believe things like “in this house we do not cry”. Imagine living life trying to run away from risk, from relationships and from daring greatly. A life where you are not worthy unless you show up “perfectly”. Not ideal.

Our best experiences are when we truly show up and connect with the world and ourselves. I remember my dad saying “….stop trying to be so perfect and to “win” everything. Nobody wants to be near a person who always makes them come second”. It did not make sense then but in essence it is a saying that when we only show up in the world during what appears to be moments of “perfection”, we deny ourselves the ability to connect with other people. We say of ourselves “we are only worthy of connecting when we are perfect, when we are not crying or failing”. Funny thing is that when other people show up regardless of their imperfections, we applaud their courage, but not ours in the same situations.

This is where self-compassion comes in. Self-compassion is “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Compassion happens when you notice that other people are suffering and you feel moved and respond to their pain. Having compassion means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly, because you recognise that this is part of the shared human experience. Self compassion is acting the same towards yourself in similar situations.

A friend told me one day when I was going through a really tough time to take stock and be kind to myself. She said “Lele, this happened to you. Allow yourself to feel the pain.” I was refusing to accept my pain because of the SHAME I was feeling about my situation during that time, and I wanted to show the world that I was coping. I was trying to prove to myself that I was bigger than the pain, but it was really my response when I experienced my situation as shame that I was so hard on myself, and so unforgiving. From that day onwards I started being kinder to myself. I had to accept that my situation was really difficult and ask “how can I find a way to comfort and take care of myself?” I started to change in ways which allowed me to be healthy and happy, and that included accepting my less than perfect self, and loving myself through it. I was able to say to those who had earned the right to hear the story, “I am not perfect, AND I am worthy, AND I am good enough. Thing is, those voices I spoke about in an earlier blogpost were so loud in my ear. I was told;

  • You thought you were so perfect.
  • You are nothing
  • How do you feel now that the princess bubble has burst?

blogimageSo I was living life to prove that these statements were not true. But they made me fear life and people. I showed up as tough as steel. And although I really AM resilient most times, I am not perfect. I feel pain and loss like anybody else. I feared that people will believe the voices the same way that I did, and they will judge me and say the same things. But people are inherently compassionate when they see another’s pain. And that is who I surrounded myself with. People who allowed me to be less than perfect, to be me, and praised my courageous efforts in my continued battle. They accepted me with my inadequacies and did not reject my imperfections.

“The reason that we are so hurt and shocked by (shame) is that shaming often comes at us unexpectedly. But we need to see that this common form of abuse usually comes from people with an issue, those with a damaged sense of self-worth. We don’t need to make our behaviour dependent on someone else’s. We can refuse to believe the lie that the other is trying to put on us, or to let the shaming stick. It may well still feel like a stomach punch, but we don’t need to crumple under it.” (Relating).

In life things will not always go the way you want them to. Because of the human condition, you will encounter frustrations, mistakes and losses. Sometimes you will not meet your ideals in a way you planned to. You are not alone. The more we accept that this is our reality, the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and others.

Feel free to leave some comments, or send me an email at lele@mpower-ps.co.za for a private conversation. Please note that it might take a while to get back to you, as I get swamped with emails every day. But I will respond. Welcome to Wholehearted Living.