Kindness, for the perfectionists

Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others. [Christopher Germer]

pexels-photo-25355Connection, compassion, courage, love. If you’re like me, you want these aspects to show up daily in your life. The existence of these is what makes the most mundane job speed past, it turns mountains into molehills, it makes the air smell sweeter and the winter sun feel warmer.

This is the story of my transformation, from being a perfectionist to acknowledging my imperfection. Or at least, acknowledging my addiction to perfection.

As a teenager, I kept my room perfectly organized: dirty clothes went in the hamper; clean clothes went in the dresser; hanging clothes were color coded and organized by sleeve length. First day of school meant new binders and ways of organizing office supplies; learning how to drive meant parallel parking like a pro, staying inside yellow dotted lines and following traffic rules.

On the other hand, I wore mismatched, “weird” clothes: polka dots with stripes, lime green flare pants, pop bottle belts and men’s ties. I dressed up in skirts when my classmates wore pajamas. I got dreadlocks in my 20s and shaved a portion of my head a few years later.

I was sarcastic. I pushed the boundaries. I was flippant.

I didn’t appear to take myself seriously. I embraced my weirdness, my imperfections, my quirks. Everyone could see it.

I even fooled myself. 

This morning I woke up and a line from Leonard Cohen’s son “Anthem” ran through my head:

Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

And, in my first bleary-eyed waking moments, reality sank in: I’m a perfectionist; I don’t embrace my imperfections. I never have.

Knowing there would be cracks, I attempted to control where they showed up in my life. Like the time I read a Judy Blume book and discovered that “normal” teenagers had disastrous bedrooms. And so I made a disaster of my bedroom: I deliberately laid clothes on my floor one-by-one until not an inch of carpet showed through. (This lasted all of 7 days.)

Perfectionism, Brené Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Perfectionism is really about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect and it’s addictive, because when we do invariably mess up, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Which leads to trying harder next time: please, perform, perfect.

Mindfulness and awareness are often enough to entice transformation. “Shine your light of awareness,” my 500-hour yoga teacher Scott Anderson of Blue Mounds, WI, instructs during asana (posture) practice. And, by shining my light of awareness on my left lung during a seated twist, I am in my body and I observe space. And by bringing awareness to my feet in Mountain Pose, I am grounded and feel safe.

I didn’t do anything, I simply became mindful.

Awareness may be all that is needed to let go of perfectionism.

However, no doubt a little self-compassion could go a long way to create an environment of warmth toward our perfectly imperfect selves too. As we soften our own expectations and cultivate a practice of compassion, not only will we be more gentle with ourselves but with our loved ones as well.

You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle,
but you are worthy of love and belonging.
[Brené Brown]

Leave a Reply