Woman who practices self-compassion through mindfulness

Embracing Imperfection: The Power of Self-Compassion

When we watch TV, scroll through social media, or see other people’s achievements in life, we can develop unrealistic standards of beauty, intelligence, and success. This can create a habit of constantly comparing ourselves to others, which can lead to harsh self-criticism.

Harsh self-criticism can have a negative impact on our mental and emotional health. A healthier way to deal with your imperfections is to recognize them without judgment and respond with self-compassion.

What is Self-Compassion? (And Its Importance)

Self-compassion is the act of treating yourself the same way you would treat other people who are having a difficult time. It is noticing your suffering, having the desire to care for yourself, and recognizing that your imperfection or struggle is a part of being human.

Dr. Kristin Neff, who pioneered the study of self-compassion, identified the three elements of self-compassion:

  • Self-Kindness. This involves being concerned and caring for your discomfort and distress. It’s being there for yourself when you find life difficult.
  • Common Humanity. This means that you recognize that facing challenges in life is an experience that all humans share, so you don’t feel alone in your struggles.
  • Mindfulness. To be mindful is to acknowledge your pain without overidentifying your negative thoughts and feelings. It takes a balanced approach that allows you to have the perspective to practice compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is important in today’s society because it can help you strike a balance between striving for excellence and accepting your limitations. This way, you can bounce back from setbacks, learn from your failures, and still have a positive outlook in life even in the face of challenges.

Understanding the Concept of Imperfection

Perfectionism can leave us constantly stressed, burnt out, and unhappy with our lives. Moreover, unrealistic expectations can lead to low self-esteem and negative self-talk.

Imperfections are qualities or characteristics of something or someone that deviate from a perfect or ideal standard. It might refer to physical imperfections, such as scars or blemishes. Or even academic imperfections, such as grades that are less than perfect.

Before we can practice self-compassion, we need to recognize that flaws are a part of life. When we recognize that humans are imperfect, then we can look at our shortcomings and avoid falling into feelings of self-loathing. It allows us to understand that it’s normal to make mistakes or accept that some things are out of our control.

The Detrimental Effects of Self-Judgment

Self-judgment involves looking at yourself, your characteristics, actions, and behaviors in a critical or often negative way. When you talk to yourself in a negative way, you can start to believe that everything your inner critic says is true. Additionally, it can fuel your perfectionism tendencies, which can lead to a constant fear of failure.

The Power of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion can reduce the pressure to be perfect because you can accept that you’re only human. You can better bounce back from setbacks and cope with challenges. Moreover, if you treat yourself with compassion, you can treat others with the same understanding.

Studies on Self-Compassion

The concept of self-compassion and its effects have been researched in various studies. According to a research, self-compassion can reduce people’s reactions to negative events. It can lessen the impact of negative self-feelings when imagining distressing events and receiving contradictory feedback. Moreover, it can also make people recognize their role in negative events without being overwhelmed.

Self-compassion has also been linked to improved emotional well-being. In a 2022 study, results showed a positive two-way connection between self-compassion and happiness. It was also found that mindfulness was a significant contributing factor that influences happiness.

Strategies for Embracing Imperfection

Practicing self-compassion is key to embracing your imperfections. Here are some strategies you can try:

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a key element of self-compassion. It’s taking a balanced approach to dealing with your negative thoughts and emotions, so you’re not avoiding or exaggerating your feelings. By being mindful, you are avoiding falling into the pitfall of rumination, which is the process of repetitive thinking or dwelling on your negative thoughts.

For example, if you catch yourself having a negative thought, take a moment to pause what you are doing. Acknowledge the thought as an impartial observer and label it as just a thought. Assess if your thoughts are helpful or useful. Recognize that you have the choice to let go of the thoughts if they’re not helpful to you.

Use positive affirmations

Affirmations are statements that you can use to challenge and replace negative thoughts about yourself. They can help you gain a more positive mindset.

Positive affirmations play an important role in practicing self-compassion because you’re promoting a kinder attitude toward yourself. They can help you challenge negative self-talk and break the cycle of harsh self-judgment.

Self-love affirmations can help promote body positivity, emotional well-being, self-compassion, personal growth, self-worth, and inner peace. For example, you can say, “I forgive myself for making mistakes. I believe in my ability to learn from them” or “I embrace my imperfections as a part of my unique and beautiful self.”

Accept and learn from mistakes

Instead of letting your failures defeat you, use them as opportunities for learning and growth.

First, acknowledge your mistake and recognize that it’s part of being human. The next step is to take responsibility for your actions and analyze the mistake to understand what went wrong. Ask yourself, what can you learn and what would you do differently next time.

If needed, you can take action to rectify the situation. You can also seek feedback from other people to gain another perspective. Then develop a plan so you can avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. Lastly, forgive yourself and let go of the self-blame so you can grow as a person.

Self-Compassion in Daily Life

Start your day mindfully by taking a few deep breaths and setting your intentions for the day ahead.

Then you can recite positive affirmations about yourself. Repeat these statements regularly multiple times a day so you can internalize them.

Try to practice self-kindness when you make mistakes or face challenges throughout the day. Replace negative self-talk (which is frequently done in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT) such as “I’m so stupid for making mistakes” with “It’s okay to make mistakes, I will learn from it and do better.” This can help you achieve a growth mindset while being compassionate towards yourself.

At the end of the day, you can also write in your journal to express your thoughts and feelings during difficult moments and reflect on your mistakes. Use self-compassionate language as much as possible. Don’t forget to list down things you’re grateful for and celebrate your progress as well!

Embrace Your Imperfections Through Self-Compassion

Remember that your flaws are what make you human, relatable, and unique. That’s why embracing your imperfections is a powerful act of self-love.

You can practice self-compassion by being kind to yourself just as you would to a friend. It might take time and effort to gain this skill, but it’s all worth it in the end.

Finding A Therapist To Support You

Managing your thinking mistakes – all or nothing and catastrophizing – will support you well in overcoming perfectionism. The same is true for learning how to be kinder with yourself through a self-compassion practice.

At Hillary Counseling, our therapists utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and mindfulness to reduce perfectionism. These types of therapy greatly help you change your mindset which is essential to become less perfectionistic.

Want to learn about embracing imperfection for 2024?  Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consultation with one of our Milwaukee therapists, info@hillarycouneling.com, or fill out our contact form.



Article By: Michael Vallejo, LCSW

children with emotional trauma

How Unhealed Childhood Wounds Wreak Havoc in Our Adult Lives

“The emotional wounds and negative patterns of childhood often manifest as mental conflicts, emotional drama, and unexplained pains in adulthood.” ~Unknown

I am a firm believer in making the unconscious conscious. We cannot influence what we don’t know about. We cannot fix when we don’t know what’s wrong.

I made many choices in my life that I wouldn’t have made had I recognized the unconscious motivation behind them, based on my childhood conditioning.

In the past, I beat myself up over my decisions countless times. Now I feel that I needed to make these choices and have these experiences so that the consequences would help me become aware of what I wasn’t aware of. Maybe, after all, that was the exact way it had to be.

In any case, I am now hugely aware of how we, unbeknownst to us, negatively impact our own lives.

As children, we form unconscious beliefs that motivate our choices, and come up with strategies for keeping ourselves safe. They’re usually effective for us as children; as adults, however, applying our childhood strategies can cause drama, distress, and damage. They simply no longer work. Instead, they wreak havoc in our lives.

One of my particular childhood wounds was that I felt alone. I felt too scared to talk to anyone in my family about my fears or my feelings. It didn’t seem like that was something anyone else did, and so I stayed quiet. There were times I feared I could no longer bear the crushing loneliness and would just die without anyone noticing.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness would strangle and threaten to suffocate me. I remember trying to hide my fear and panic. I remember screaming into my pillow late at night trying not to wake anyone. It was then that I decided that I never wanted anyone else to feel like me. This pain, I decided, was too much to bear, and I did not wish it on anyone.

As an adult, I sought out, whom I perceived as, people in need. When I saw someone being excluded, I’d be by their side even if it meant that I would miss out in some way. I’d sit with them, talk to them, be with them. I knew nothing about rescuing in those days. It just felt like the right thing to do: see someone alone and be with them so they wouldn’t feel lonely or excluded.

Looking back now, I was clearly trying to heal my childhood wound through other people. I tried to give them what I wish I’d had when I was younger: someone kind, encouraging, and supportive by my side. I tried to prevent them from feeling lonely. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s kind to recognize others in pain and try to be there for them.

The problem with my strategy was that I chose people who were alone for a reason: they behaved badly and no one wanted to be around them. I chose people healthy people would not choose to be with. People who treated others poorly and did not respect themselves, or anyone else for that matter. That included me.

And so I suffered. I suffered because I chose badly for myself. And I chose badly for myself because I followed unconscious motivations. I obediently followed my conditioning. I followed the rules I came up with as a child, but playing by those rules doesn’t work out very well in adulthood.

I never understood why I suffered. I couldn’t see that I had actively welcomed people into my life who simply were not good for me. It didn’t matter where I went or what I changed; for one reason or another, I’d always end up in the same kind of cycle, the same difficult situation.

At one point I realized that I was the common denominator. It then still took me years to figure out what was going on.

Eventually, my increasing self-awareness moved me from my passive victim position into a proactive role of empowered creator. Life has never been the same since. Thankfully. But it wasn’t easy.

I had to look deep within and see truths about myself that were, at first, difficult to bear. But once I was willing to face them and feel the harshness of the reality, the truth set me free. It no longer made sense to play by rules I had long outgrown. I didn’t realize that I had become the adult I had always craved as a child. But I was not responsible for rescuing other adults—that was their job.

I have since witnessed the same issue with everyone I meet and work with. One particular person, who had endured terrible abuse growing up, was constantly giving people the protection he had craved but never received as a child. He gave what he did not receive. And yet, in his adult life it caused nothing but heartache for him.

When he saw, what he perceived as, an injustice like someone being rude to someone else or a driver driving without consideration for others, he intervened. Unfortunately, he often got it wrong and most people didn’t want his input, which left him feeling rejected and led to him becoming verbally aggressive. Eventually, his ‘helping’—his anger and boundary crossing—landed him in prison.

He was not a bad person—far from it. He was simply run by his unconscious motivation to save his younger self. He projected and displaced this onto other people who did not need saving and never asked for his help. But his conditioning won every time and in the process wrecked his life.

What ends this cycle is awareness, understanding, and compassion.

We must learn to look at the consequences of our actions or inactions and then dig deep. We must ask ourselves: What patterns do I keep repeating? What must I believe about myself, others, and life in order to act this way? Why do I want what I want and why do I do what I do? And what would I do differently if I stopped acting on my childhood conditioning?

Beliefs fuel all of our choices. When we don’t like the consequences of our actions, we must turn inward to shine a light onto the unhelpful unconscious beliefs we formed as children. Only awareness can help us find and soothe them. Only understanding can help us make sense of them. And only compassion can help us forgive ourselves for the patterns we unknowingly perpetuated.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We couldn’t have made any different choices. But once we begin to see and understand how our minds work and how our conditioning drives everything we do, we grow more powerful than we ever thought possible.

It is then that we are able to make healthier, wiser, and more life-enhancing choices for ourselves. We can then break the cycles that previously kept us stuck in unfulfilling and often harmful situations and relationships.

There is always a different choice. We just have to begin to see it.

Article by: Marlena Tillhon-Haslam of Tiny Buddha

mental health

How Forgiving Yourself and Others Changes Your Brain

“Be quick to forgive, because we’re all walking wounded.” ~Anonymous

People often behave in ways that we find irritating, annoying, or worse. This can happen especially with people close to us.

They can speak with little consideration for the impact of their words. They can criticize us and pounce on our mistakes. Sometimes they do unfair things that seriously disadvantage or damage us. Or they let us down when we’re counting on them.

All these behaviors can lead to us feeling wounded. The scars can persist for years or even decades. The closer the offenders are to us, the greater the impact tends to be.

Most of us would like others to understand us, to act reliably, and to be approachable when things go wrong. We’d like them to be kind in dealing with our mistakes or offences. We’d like them to understand that we aren’t set in stone, that we aren’t just the sum total of our mistakes.

We deserve a chance to recover and show our better side. We’d like them to be more understanding and put a more favorable interpretation on what we did or failed to do.

However, it can be different when others behave badly. Often, we spend a lot of time and energy going over the way we were wronged, mistreated, disappointed, disrespected, or disregarded.

Dwelling on the perceived wrong kindles the fire of a grudge. The more we dwell on it, the bigger this fire grows.

Can this fire burn us?

When I was in high school, some of the coolest kids formed a band. Everyone wanted to be in that band. I played the piano, so I too wanted to be in it.

One of my closest friends also played the piano, but not as well. It became a bit of a tussle between us. I was chosen, to my delight.

When we started playing gigs, a piano was not always available. So I took to the melodica, a little instrument into which you blow. It has a keyboard.

We started playing gigs, with quite a good response from audiences. Everything was going well, until we were invited to play a gig in a venue right near my home.

The melodica was at the band leader’s house, because we rehearsed there. I asked for it to be brought to the gig.

On the evening of the gig, my bandmates turned up. Unfortunately, the melodica could not be found. Apparently, it had been brought to the venue by the band leader but had disappeared.

This was a bitter blow. I had so looked forward to strutting my stuff before a home crowd. I rushed around to various people who might have a melodica, but could not find one.

The gig happened without me. I was downcast.

Eventually, the real story came out.

The melodica had been brought to the venue. The close friend I mentioned, who also played the piano, had simply taken it away and hidden it.

I was outraged. I felt betrayed, violated, and angry. I felt ready to run my friend over with a large truck.

We didn’t speak for a couple of years. Then I got an apology of sorts. Somehow, things were never the same between us.

I went off to medical school and our paths have never crossed since.

What happens to your brain when you cling to a grudge?

The parts of your brain that specialize in criticism grow more active. They feed on your thoughts about the grudge. The neurons involved lay down more connections, strengthening this response.

The next time someone behaves in a way that you disapprove of, your brain more readily jumps to criticism and judgment.

All that is understandable, you’re not alone in practicing criticism. But there’s a price to pay for this practice.

The same parts of your brain that criticize others also criticize you. You tend to become more unforgiving about your own mistakes. Self-acceptance recedes. It becomes harder for you to like yourself.

Further, this can lead to a cycle of mutual criticism between you and people who matter to you. It tends to weaken the supportive relationships we all need.

A recent study among 5,475 men and 4,580 women aged over 50 showed that a single point increase in negative social support score resulted in a 31 percent rise in the risk of eventual dementia. Negative social support is where you experience a lot of critical, unreliable and annoying behaviors from others, especially people close to you.

What can you do to start breaking this downward spiral of mutual criticism and self-criticism?

First, ask what stresses or problems may have led to the undesirable behavior. Try to find explanations that weaken the impact of the “bad” behavior on your mind. This is as true for self-criticism as for criticizing others.

Perhaps there were circumstances that led to you acting in regrettable ways. If you regret it, don’t wallow in the regret. Find explanations to understand why you did what you did.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness, strengthen your resolve to do what is good and important going forward, then move on. This same gift of forgiveness may be given to others, recognizing that all human beings are vulnerable to errors or even terrible behavior.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation with the offender. Reconciliation is the re-establishment of mutual trust. That requires a further step as part of negotiation.

But forgiveness can proceed regardless of reconciliation and mutual trust.

The more you practice understanding and forgiveness, starting with yourself, the more you strengthen the self-reassuring parts of your brain. These are the same parts that show empathy and compassion to others. They make you more accepting of yourself, with all your flaws and stumbles.

We all have flaws and stumbles. That’s okay. It’s part of being human.

If I could go back to my youth and replay my friend’s apology, I hope I would respond with more understanding. After all, if our positions had been reversed and I’d been blinded by envy, who knows what I might have done.

For a better quality of life right now, with more self-acceptance, and for a lower risk of cognitive decline, try loosening your grip on grudges. And be gentle with yourself when you slip up in this effort. The steering wheel of your life often requires a little time, patience and practice before you can turn it reliably.

I’m still practicing. That’s okay.

Article by: Joel Almeida