A Perfectionist’s Surrender to Self-Compassion

September 17, 2018

Self-compassion is the antidote to so many negative feelings that we have toward ourselves. In my case, it was perfectionism.

“You’re so intense.”

“Slow down.”

“How do you keep up with yourself?”

“You have a ton of bandwidth.”

“Yikes! Calm down.”

I’ve heard it all many times—from my friends, my yoga teachers and my colleagues.

I once had someone compare me to a person who is afraid of heights but continues to climb the highest summit and dangle her feet off the edge. I push myself beyond my abilities and then wonder why I feel so overwhelmed.

Think there’s a pattern?  Should I get a clue?

Yes, I am an intense person and it works for me—until it doesn’t work for me.  I get a lot done and can juggle lots of things at the same time. I am also a perfectionist and don’t quit until it’s just right.  

In short: I am exhausting! To myself and to others.  

I have decided to check myself into intensity rehab, and now I am in recovery.

As they say in AA, “once an addict always an addict,” so my recovery is a forever, one-day-at-a-time process. I have come to realize that perfectionism is my drug, my habit—and intensity is my coping mechanism.  I remember sharing my challenge with a friend and all she did was shake her head and say, “you are going to have to go soft.” I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I’ve realized that if intensity and perfectionism are my “hard,” surrender and self-compassion would have to be my “soft.” I started softening up by doing a couple things.   

1. Slacking off on purpose.

My recovery started with the easier things like having a messy house on purpose, not making my bed and eating less-than-perfect dinners. Through this, I’ve come to realize that having a messy house is pretty easy. I love not making my bed and am OK with ordering pizza three nights in a row—but my inner critic can be debilitating! I realized that it’s not so much what I do or what I don’t do, but how I think about myself in light of my decisions that makes a difference.

That’s why I began practicing replacing negative self-talk with compassion toward myself.

2. Talking to myself like I would to my best friend or my child.

When I walk into my BFF’s house and she has dishes piled up and mud tracked across her floor from her dog, I love her no less. In fact, I begin to help her clean, encourage her and support her, congratulating her for focusing on more important things like rest and time with her daughter.

I need to tell myself the same.

I remember my Grammy used to tell me that “God don’t make no junk” and that it hurts His heart when I don’t love His creation—me.  The only way I can understand this is when I hear my own kids speak harshly to themselves. It pains me to hear them berate and put down their uniqueness and point out their slips.  It reminds me of God’s compassion for me and the reminder from my Grammy.

3. Practicing self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, says in order to have compassion, first you must notice the suffering of others and second, you must feel moved by others suffering so that your heart responds to their pain. And when these two things happen, you feel a desire to comfort and help.  It also means that you offer understanding and kindness rather than judgment when they fail or make a mistake. She says that self-compassion is when you feel that same way toward yourself.

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” -Dr. Kristin Neff

What does this look like for me?  It is about the words I speak to myself, reminding myself that failure and flaws are part of the human experience and that life can be tough sometimes. It is about offering myself grace and tenderness by placing my hand over my heart when I pray or meditate.

For me, it is about expecting less and letting that be enough.

For me, it is about doing nothing and letting that be enough.

It is about enough.

Do you ever struggle with self-criticism or critiquing? Oh dear one, let it go—and let being you be enough.

"Elle is an engaging and dynamic speaker! Her energy and positivity is infectious."

— Marlene Gordon, Senior Vice President and Global Chair of Bacardi's Women in Leadership- Bacardi USA

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