#OurYearOfLivingBravely – Part 3 – Self-Compassion Is The New Black

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?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené writes, “The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.”


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.

For real, yo.

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.

Author Kelly Byrne shamed cat
I was like, ‘Goddamn, I am an 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?

Don’t forget to hashtag all your bravery with #ouryearoflivingbravely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when you share your victories there.

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.

If you want my posts to land in your inbox so you won’t miss a thing, please subscribe to my blog up on the top right of this page where it says, ‘DON’T MISS A POST!’

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!

Author Kelly Byrne Website

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Kelly Byrne
An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.


  1. OK, before I’d finished reading your post I went and took that quiz. And I was quite shocked at my overall number: 3.52. But like you, if I’d taken this “before” I would have scored a lot lower.

    I attribute that rather dubious score to three things: (1) the body-positive, no-dieting FB group I’ve been part of since May last year, (2) finally and for the most part (like 90.6%) forgiving myself for the most heinous mistake of my life (which I’ll tell you about some day) and (3) meditating.

    The first two were contingent on fostering an authentic belief that what I done and what I told myself about that were part of living in the culture and time in history I am, neither of which I have control over. And, like you, I did that through a lot of reading, which I think I just eventually assimilated, like beating a dead horse.

    [Side note: When I looked up “assimilate” in my dictionary cuz I’m a horrible speller, it gave “assclown” as a suggestion. Then my girl asked, “Was the definition ‘Donald Trump.?'” 🙂 ]

    The third one comes from trying to manage my ADHD symptoms (which has helped a LOT) and has taught me to immerse myself in the “right now,” like a lounging in warm bath…instead of taking a polar plunge in the past or future, which is excruciating and really stupid.

    Like you, I also think about how I’d talk to my 5-year-old self or my girl—if I wouldn’t say it to them, then I’m not going to say it to myself. Period.

    You need to re-take that quiz now and report back! You’re doing good work, my friend. Keep going!!

    1. Thanks so much, Kel. Wow, assclown, really? That’s hilarious and so weird. 😉 I’m glad you found things that worked for you too. I think it’s so important instead of living in that shame. And yes, someday, when you’re ready, I’m all ears and love – tell me what you’d like.

      I’m so glad meditating is helping with your ADHD. I’d like to feel like it’s helping me, but there are still days, like yesterday with my website debacle (which has yet to be fixed and I honestly don’t know if it will be) when I’m PMSing and I don’t think anything but a pint of Ben & Jerry’s could make me feel better. And of course that doesn’t really make me feel better. Oh those damn hormones! And now some other weird thing is happening with my comments box because the more I write, it just seems to extend and make the ‘post comment’ button go away so there’s no way for me to post my comment, so I’m going to end here. I think I may take a break from my site for a minute. This seems like a sign. Wit’s end right now with this business. 🙁

  2. WOW! Another great piece! I’m loving this course in bravery you are giving here.

    There is such incredible power in owning one’s (perceived) mistakes as you do here, that I really just want to stand up and applaud. I want to yell on the top of my voice: “YES! GO YOU! MISTAKES ALOUD! FOR ALL OF US!

    And boy can I relate! I have belittled myself into a black hole for past mistakes too. Then, even after years of soul searching where I came to a place of (more) self-forgiveness, I will slip back sometimes shaming myself for forgiving myself. There is this gremlin living in my head that says that if I forgive myself it is like saying it wasn’t bad or hurtful what I did (or didn’t do). Vicious gremlin. I now try to go all Byron Katie on myself and say: “sweetie, is that true?”

    I love that tip of talking to yourself like you would a 5 year old girl. I got the same tip from my coach. She gave me a link to a video of Matt Kahn who encourages us to think of our ego’s as a little child who just wants to be loved. Ego gets a bad rap (rep?, either way, mistakes allowed) and trying to get rid of your ego just invites more judgment, shame and negative self-talk and gremlins feast on that.

    Reading your post I realized that if I were to accept and approve of myself, it will serve to dial down the perfectionism. No need to try to earn approval and acceptance if you’ve already given that to yourself. Anyway, that’s a nice thought. Not there yet, but that’s okay.

    Love the post, love you and looking forward to the next installment of the course. XO

    1. Thank you, Yvon, for sharing your struggle with this too. And the back and forth that happens with the gremlins. It’s a brutal place, our heads, sometimes. And yes, that image of the child just wanting to be loved is, in fact, what I believe we all are. And so we’ll work on doing just that. Learning to approve of and accept yourself is the best way, because, as you said, if you’ve already done it, you don’t have to work for it from anyone else. It’s so important.

      Thanks so much for your unwavering support. I may take a little break from this series for a minute. I need, for my sanity, to step away from my suddenly whacked out and buggy website (all kinds of things going not right right now with it and I don’t know how to fix them) and concentrate on my fiction. Love you and I’ll see you on your blog. 🙂

  3. Oh Kelly, how I’m loving these installments and reminders and of course your beautiful and poingant stories. The PB&J sandwiches was something I can and do relate with…for so long I had a difficult time letting anything be good enough. I’ve made strides over the past two years but still have a long way to go. On another note, I hope you can fix the bugs on your site…just read your response to Yvon. I do know how the blog can take away precious writing time from your fiction…so we’ll all be here waiting for your next delicious and inspiring post. I haven’t responded to your other post yet, but i LOVED LOVED that clip of Brene with Oprah. WOWOWOWOW!!! Sending you much love and gratitude for all you bring to this world. xoxo

    1. Oh Susan, thank you. I’m sorry you can relate to my PB&J sandwich scenario, but I’m so glad you’re making strides. It’s important to keep moving forward. And yes, I think I’ve solved at least the one major bug with the site (though I still don’t know what’s up with the comments button disappearing as you post more and more of a comment, kooky), but I still do take it as a sign that I might need to take a bit of a break from these posts and concentrate on the fiction more right now.

      Writing about this journey is hard work! Not just the time it takes, but the emotional toll can be high at times. It’s good to regenerate when the batteries are low. So I’ll see you when I come back. Meantime, I’m so glad you enjoyed the Oprah/Brene interview. Brilliant stuff there. So inspiring. Big hugs to you, my friend. Thank you for your sweet words, your support, and being so always awesome. xoxo

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