Last month we focused on Brené Brown’s first guidepost for wholehearted living, “Cultivating Authenticity”. For the month of November, we transition to the second guidepost, “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism”.
Of all of the topics I have explored with clients over the years, the theme that continues to surface as a consistent, nagging torment is shame.. the antidote to which is arguably self-compassion. Self-compassion is that difficult, confusing task of being kind and gracious with ourselves. It’s the gift of responding towards ourselves with the same love and acceptance that we give to our cherished friends.
In her call towards cultivating self-compassion, Brené cites the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, author of “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”. Both of these women explore self-compassion in the light of challenging perfectionism and both of them highlight how ultimately ineffective and harmful perfectionism can be.
Even so, what I appreciate about Neff’s work on self-criticism and perfectionism is her acknowledgment that both of those tendencies derive from our own protective impulse. We hold ourselves to unrealistically high standards and criticize ourselves for not meeting them in order to protect ourselves from the anticipated judgment of others. In “Self-Compassion”, Neff writes, “this defensive posture stems from the natural desire not to be rejected and abandoned and makes sense in terms of our most basic survival instincts”. Of course we don’t want to be rejected and abandoned, and our souls (mind, will & emotions) do creative things to ensure that we’re not!
Unfortunately, what I see happen most often is that once people start to realize how hard they are on themselves, they begin to criticize themselves for their criticism, judge themselves for their judgment. Instead, if we are able to recognize the ways in which these behaviors have intended to protect and serve us, then perhaps we can have compassion and even appreciation for them and how they came to be. From that compassionate stance, we can begin to explore different ways to be in relation with ourselves that are more life-giving.
This November, team members and clients alike are invited to explore how they can cultivate more self-compassion, wherever they are on this journey. How can we each practice being kinder to, more gracious with, and more empathetic towards our flaws, our suffering, and ourselves?
Please join us in spreading lives of compassion, starting from within!
Nikki Holm, Chaplain, MA