Historically, I’ve been a stellar test taker. As long as I’m prepared, well studied, I generally kick ass on exams. It’s my thing. But when I took the self-compassion test Brené Brown recommends on Dr. Kristin Neff’s site a while ago, I quickly realized I hadn’t studied well enough. I hadn’t prepared. And I failed miserably.
This did not surprise me.
An overall score of 1-2.5 (out of a possible 5) indicates low self-compassion on this test. I rang in around 2. Somebody’s got work to do.
Other not surprising results: my self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification scores were much closer to the top end of that 1-5 scale. Resting around 4.25. Another sign that I need to lighten the feck up and be much kinder to myself.
To be fair, I took this test before I started down the path I’ve been on lately, so this was the older me, the me who definitely needed to see those results and get to work. I invite you to take the test too and see where you fall.
Hazarding a guess here, but I think we could all use a little more compassion in our lives. From without and within.
So How & Where Do We Find This Self-Compassion?
When we accept our-imperfect-selves, when we’re compassionate with that person who is not perfect and never will be, we fill ourselves with so much more room for others to be their-imperfect-selves right along with us.
But What Gets In The Way of All That Lovey-Dovey Feel-Goodery?
What is it that won’t let us off the hook when we make mistakes? For me, it all stems from my lifelong battle with perfectionism.
Brené explains that, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth…Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.”
For me, there’s a sizable element of control mixed in as well. Part of that came from living in a household as a child with an abusive alcoholic step-father where I had no control over anything.
You won’t be shocked to know that as a girl, I learned to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Not a difficult task, really. Just slather some PB&J on a couple slices of Wonder, slap them together and you’re good to go, right?
Oh, hell no.
In my world, that would not stand. I spent precious time creating that sandwich. Smoothing out the peanut butter on the bread, making sure it was all evenly administered. It had to completely cover the bread. No spot left unbuttered. Same for the jelly. Any clumps would be smoothed out or thrown into the trash. It had to perfectly cover the bread so each bite would be uniform and contain the same amounts of tasty goodness.
This is where I found control. Little things like making sandwiches.
Gaining approval and acceptance were partners in the genesis of my quest for perfecthood, but it began also with my need to take charge in some small way of what I perceived to be a life out of control.
So How Do The Gremlins Show Up & Spoil The Party?
About fifteen years ago when one of those Bill Gates is going to give you half his fortune if you forward this email to everyone you know hoaxes was going around, I forwarded the email to everyone I knew.
This was before I was terribly familiar with the interwebs or Snopes.com or common sense, clearly, but it seemed innocuous enough so I thought, why not? Maybe someone will make a dime.
There was no truth to it, of course. And one of my ‘friends’ from high school who was on my list made sure to yell from the rooftops about how much of an idiot I was for sending this out to my entire list – in a ranting email to my entire list.
I was mortified. And yes, if my memory serves me, he actually did use the word idiot.
He shamed me for not being savvy enough to know better (not his words – his were more like ‘how could you be so stupid?’ In the end, not my friend at all and never was.) and upset my sick aunt who was also a recipient of his ranting email. It was horrible.
But to make matters worse, I hopped on the blame and shame train right along with him. I beat myself up but good for that one. Instead of acknowledging that I’m human and I will make mistakes, I belittled and berated myself into a tiny black hole.
On the bright side, I deleted that
sanctimonious prick unhelpful non-friend and his email from my life. One kind thing I did for myself.
I also discovered Snopes.com, a website dedicated to checking the veracity of all manner of interwebs bullshittery, a handy tool to use before you share something with your entire list. Honestly, I learned a valuable lesson through that pain and don’t share anything with my entire list anymore. Happy to report I’ve become slightly more internet savvy since then.
Vive La Mistakes!
As with the hoax debacle, when I’d inevitably fail at achieving that high standard of sandwich making I set for myself early on in life, no matter how big or small the failure, I would be the first one in line to beat myself up for it. How could I be so stupid? What was I thinking? Who would do that? I’m such an idiot.
You get the point. No mistakes aloud.
Ha! In my first draft of this post, I corrected the spelling of that last word. But then I changed it back. Because here’s what: mistakes are allowed. Encouraged even. How else will I, will we, learn to let ourselves off the damn hook?
Striving to be our best is terrific and healthy, striving to be perfect and make no mistakes because of some underlying fear of not being good enough or not having enough control is a) impossible and b) destructive.
What’s Self-Talk Got To Do With It?
“Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism,” Brené says.
I still haven’t been able to shake my perfectionist tendencies for good, but I’m working to cultivate the essential self-compassion and good-enoughism to live a happier life as the me I am right now. Imperfect, ill-made sandwiches and all.
There are books and websites and videos and therapists galore that will give you all kinds of advice about how to improve your self-talk and help you work through your own fears, but I’d like to share one thing that’s helped me lately, something my last therapist suggested that stuck with me.
Whenever those ugly perfectionist voices get up in my grill with their nastiness about something I didn’t get perfectly right, I turn them down (these go to zero) by thinking about how I would talk to my five-year-old self if she did the same thing.
If she were standing in front of me in that moment, what would I say to her? It’s an incredibly powerful exercise for me to remember the little girl inside and treat her how she deserves to be treated. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that child within and be mindful of how we speak to them.
No one is harder on ourselves than we are. We must turn that around. Because when we don’t have compassion for ourselves, guess what? We won’t have any for anyone else either. We’ll be judgy, impatient, and intolerant of others and that just ain’t cool in my book.
One of my favorite quotes from Brené: “When we’re kind to ourselves, we create a reservoir of compassion that we can extend to others.”
I’m creating that reservoir one imperfect sandwich at a time. How ‘bout you?
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I tell you my stories here hoping they’ll help you if you’re having the same kinds of trouble in your own life. If you know someone who’s struggling with these issues too, please share this post with them using the buttons down yonder. ↓
Next time, I’m going to talk about Guidepost #3 from The Gifts of Imperfection – cultivating a resilient spirit. If you weren’t born with one or you lost yours along the way as happens sometimes in life, you’ll want to check in for that one.
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If you missed my previous posts and would like to go back to the beginning, start here with The Perils of Self-Doubt and #OurYearOfLivingBravely and you’ll find the other links in each post.
Meantime, be well, be brave, be awesome you!