What is your first reaction when you’re having a bad day? What is your internal dialogue like when you screw something up badly and you can’t blame anyone else? What words pop into your mind or out of your mouth when you come back to the same old struggles again and again, when you thought you’d moved past them?
WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU
That’s my go to, I’m sad to say. (With a side of some curse words tbh 😬) And until I started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I didn’t realize just how bad I was at offering myself some compassion and kindness. I had a perfection driven view of how I was supposed to be and an unrealistic view of others as well. Those two go hand in hand – if you can’t offer yourself compassion, especially on your worst days, you won’t be able to offer it to others either. And the thing keeping you from self compassion? Perfectionism.
In January I found myself struggling to keep up with all the demands of having two kids under two, including potty training and a baby who could go 12+ hours without napping. I found myself under a cloud of anxiety, rage, and deep shame. “Why couldn’t I just get it together, why couldn’t I manage like everyone else,” I wondered. Simple tasks like house cleaning, cooking, and self care felt overwhelming and totally unmanageable. I found myself spiraling with terrible panic attacks, and eventually reached out to my doctor, public health nurse, and my therapist. I needed help, and I was drowning.
After addressing the obvious – I was extremely exhausted and hormonal, still recovering from a c -section and having 2 babies in 19 months – my support team all said the same thing: YOU HAVE A LOT GOING ON. You have two little kids, your baby is in the middle of the most difficult sleep regression (Darn you to heck, 4 month sleep regression!!!), and you’re potty training your 23 month old. Of course you’re struggling! Of course you’re anxious! Of course you feel like you can’t do it all! Girl, give yourself some credit AND a break!
The funny thing was, until someone reflected back to me my current situation, I wasn’t even able to realize that I had a lot going on. I also didn’t realize how skewed my expectations were for myself until I literally couldn’t function, couldn’t make it through the day without an overwhelming feeling of I AM FAILING. I would wake up in the morning already feeling like I was behind for the day. I had a lot going on, and I was expecting myself to handle it all perfectly.
So I put potty training on pause (or rather, my husband did this for me because I *refused* to admit “defeat”) for my sake, and the sake of my extremely stressed out daughter, I focused on survival when it came to sleep for the baby (i.e. letting go of my fear of co-sleeping for fear of forming bad sleep habits), and I let *everything else* go. I accepted that having a clean house, a home cooked supper, and all the time I needed to do all the things I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen. And that didn’t mean I was failing. It meant I was human.
As I started to let go of my expectations of perfection, of being able to do it all, my anxiety started to decrease. I went from berating myself with shame and an internal dialogue of “what’s wrong with you?! Get it together!” when I didn’t have all my to do list checked off at the end of the day – to not making a to do list at all (or if I did, it had things like “eat breakfast, play with kids” on it, stuff that I could actually accomplish) and offering myself kindness when I felt overwhelmed.
Was it easy? No.
Did I fall back into feeling I was a failure every time the dishes weren’t done or we ate a boxed pizza?
You bet I did.
But I kept trusting my support team and believing that not being able to do it all did not equal I am a failure.
And that’s what perfectionism does to you: it attaches your sense of self worth to what you can or can’t accomplish, or accomplish perfectly (hint: you literally can’t accomplish anything perfectly, perfection is a myth!).
Once I realized my perfectionism was causing my anxiety, I needed to work on developing some self compassion. Here are some practical ways that I’ve worked on developing self compassion in the last 6 months:
Talking to myself as I would my own child: If your child (or best friend) screws up majorly, or has a terrible day, what are you going to say to them? “Get it together, what’s wrong with you!” OR “It’s ok honey, everyone has hard days sometimes” ? Hopefully it’s option 1! So I have literally began talking myself through my hardest days (yes, out loud) as I would a child.
Being brutally honest with a therapist or counselor about my expectations for myself and others: Being totally honest with a therapist or counsellor is a great way to unearth those unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves and others. One way to do this on your own is to journal through some self-evaluating questions: What do I expect for myself as a mother, friend, employee, whatever area you’re really struggling with self-compassion? What do I think others expect from me? Are these expectations reasonable, true, or even attainable? Where do I find my worth as a person? What matters to me most, at the end of the day?
Learning mindfulness skills to deal with intense emotion: If you don’t follow Tiffany Roe on Instagram, get over there NOW. Her posts on emotional regulation and her super short podcast episodes are life changing (she’s a licensed therapist). If perfectionism and self-compassion are struggles for you, learning to sit with your emotions without judging them is especially a mindfulness skill you’ll need to work on, and Tiffany has some great resources for that.
Ravi Shah says, “If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others.” Why is self compassion important? Aside from self-compassion correlating with less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure – another reason it’s important is our relationships. Guess what? Chances are, if you can’t accept your own limitations and give yourself compassion for those limitations, you won’t be able to do that for others either. If you don’t know how to offer yourself kindness and the benefit of the doubt when you fall apart or have an off day, you won’t be able to offer anyone else that either. And I have really experienced the damage of perfectionism in my relationships, trust me. But! The more I practice believing the mantra “I am always doing my best” the more I am able to believe that for others too!
The mom in front of me in the grocery store check out who’s got a cart full of chicken fingers and pizza pops?
She’s doing her best.
The friend who’s house is never clean?
She’s doing her best.
The family member who can’t talk about anything but themselves?
They’re doing their best.
The co-worker who is critical and sarcastic?
He’s doing his best.
Does this mean we give up on having expectations for people or ourselves, or that we sit around in our own filth and never try to implement strategies for doing better? UM, NO. But it does mean that when we *do* try to work through our expectations of others or improve things in our own lives, we are able to offer COMPASSION when we or others inevitably make a mistake or hurt us. That is the power of offering yourself compassion: you can offer it to others in return.
The mantra “I am always doing my best” has been so important for me as I learnt to grow in self – compassion. Some days it’s all I can do to say it out loud just once, because when I make mistakes or fall back into old patterns of behavior, it’s so hard to believe. But at the heart of that mantra is the belief that I am loved *even when I don’t feel like I’m doing my best*, or when my best feels like it sucks. And the BEST way to get back to being your best self, is to offer yourself compassion when you feel like you’re failing.
And the more I do that for myself, the more I can do that for you, for my husband, for my kiddos. Because we are all doing our best ❤️
Be you, bodaciously.