Do you set impossibly high standards for yourself? Do you expect yourself to be perfect? When we try to be perfect, we always end up stressed and disappointed because we’ve set a goal that’s impossible to achieve. The good news is that there’s another choice! My colleague Elizabeth Cush, LCPC wrote this post for you about how embracing imperfection and meeting our mistakes with self-compassion can tame perfectionism and reduce stress and anxiety.
Perfectionism creates stress and anxiety
Being perfect, never making mistakes or failing, would relieve a lot of stress! You could enter every task or challenge with the knowledge that you would succeed every time. How amazing would it be to let go of all those insecurities, worries, and anxieties when new, difficult life events happen? You could live your life with ease.
However, if everyone were perfect, life would be pretty boring. We wouldn’t learn or grow because we’d already know how to do everything. As cliché as it sounds, imperfections make us human and make life more interesting.
Unrealistic expectations lead to self-criticism
When we believe that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, and when we feel that other people are constantly judging us for those mistakes or difficulties, it can create a lot of anxiety. You can be your own worst enemy because the perception that you need to be perfect all the time or people will criticize you often sets off a firestorm of critical self-talk:
I’m so stupid!
I can’t believe I just made a mistake!
What is wrong with me? I can’t get this right!
Now everyone will know I don’t know what I’m doing!
I shouldn’t have even tried!
I’ll never do that again!
I’m an idiot!
I’m pretty sure that you’d never say to others the hurtful things you say to yourself. But when you feel vulnerable, the parts of you that want to protect and keep you safe from harm jump in and start yelling. They criticize. They ridicule. Those parts of you believe that if they can get your attention, they’ll save you from making another mistake in the future.
Those self-protective parts think that the self-criticism will keep you on your toes for next time, but they can also keep you from putting yourself out there, to stop you before you make the next mistake. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, the negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.
Self-compassion reduces stress and anxiety
So how do we break the cycle of beating ourselves up when we make mistakes? We do it through the practice of self-compassion.
If we can hold ourselves with the same compassion that we show to others, it can reduce stress and anxiety. When we allow ourselves to be imperfect, to embrace our imperfections, we’re able to approach life with more openness and ease.
Here are four steps to help bring more self-compassion into your life:
Start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, what prompted it. Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.
As you begin to recognize when you get triggered, and you become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I can be so hard on myself.”
Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing and try to say them to yourself. If you’ve been hard on yourself for a long time, this takes a lot of practice. You might start by imagining what your good friend might say to you if they knew you were having a hard time.
When times are tough, it can help to remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in awhile.” You can also place your hand on your heart and recite these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”
I hope these steps help you quiet your inner critic and bring more self-compassion into your life.
About the author:
Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC is a therapist and blogger in Annapolis, Md. In her private practice, Progression Counseling, she helps women who feel overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out find more connection with themselves and others, allowing them to live their lives with more ease, intention and purpose. Elizabeth was recently a featured guest on the Women In Depth podcast. She’s worked in the mental health field for over 10 years and is a certified clinical trauma professional. Elizabeth incorporates mindfulness and meditation into her psychotherapy work.
©2107 Elizabeth Cush. All rights reserved.