The Power of Imperfection.

When people ask me about my disability, I am quick to tell them that it has afforded me many lessons, and that even if I could change it, I wouldn’t. But it wasn’t until last week, while I was sitting in a meeting with my supervisor, that she asked me to identify the specific lessons my disability has granted me. Up until that point, these lessons had remained undefined. They were abstract, yet they had a strong presence in my life, for I feel they had guided the many choices I have made. So, as I was sitting there, and as she waited intently on an answer, I stated “imperfection.” Imperfection, and the necessity of it in our lives, is one of the most profound lessons that living with a disability has taught me.

By definition, my body is imperfect. As much as I could try, I will never be able to hide the way I walk- my legs always have, and always will, move differently. My body will always be imperfect, and it was in the process of truly accepting this, that my lesson was found.

If you were to look for words synonymous with “imperfection” you would most likely find words like defect, deficiency, blemish, fault, weakness, limitation, and so on. Words slanted with negativity which tend inspire feelings of “not good enough,” shame, and self-judgement. Words and feelings that foster disconnection, separation, and which give strength to the fear that often makes us retreat and isolate. But here’s the thing: Imperfection comes with being human. We all have unique imperfections, visible or invisible. Imperfection is inexorably intertwined with the human experience. It is universal, shared, and normal, and it is by truly recognizing this, that the negativity we often associate with imperfection is dissolved, and it becomes devoid of its power to keep us small. Instead, imperfection becomes the basis of personal authenticity and connection- it becomes abundantly powerful.

When we recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong with our imperfections (because we all have them), we grant ourselves the freedom to love ourselves for our imperfections. We embrace ourselves fully and allow ourselves to just be, because we recognize that imperfection is the birthplace of beauty, unique perspective, and creativity. Fearlessness is inspired because we give up our preoccupation with “looking good.” Risks are taken, days are seized, and our lives are lived without hesitation.

Becoming fearlessly unapologetic about our imperfections also fosters connection. Being open and honest about our perceived “flaws” makes us relatable. When we are open about who we are, the mistakes we’ve made, and the struggles we’ve endured, we unconsciously give others permission to open themselves up too. It lets people know that they are not alone. Empathy thrives because we become aligned in our likeness. We feel unconditionally accepted and embraced for our imperfections, and true compassion is cultivated.

Imperfection isn’t to be denied or shamed, because there isn’t anything wrong with it. It is to be celebrated and embraced. So… give up the pursuit of perfection that confines you- it’s not attainable. Give yourself permission to accept yourself for your imperfections- they are what make you real, and it is what makes you real, that makes you loveable.

 

 

  

Shame, Perfectionism, and Sacred Protection.

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Shame. That all too familiar urge to hide, and retreat, to lash out and attack in an attempt to protect and defend yourself in response to a cutting comment or an excruciating experience. Feelings of unbearable exposure and fear ridden vulnerability take over. The sense that you are completely alone in this world seems like an irrefutable fact.  Thoughts of self-judgement arise. You begin to believe that you are unlovable. Not good enough. A failure. That you will never amount to anything. That you have nothing of value to contribute to this world. That you are a waste of space.

Shame is universal.
We all experience it at some point in our lives, under various guises. Shame is often masked, hidden, and seemingly undetectable. Perfectionism is one of those masks. It is a way of staying hidden. Staying guarded and impenetrable. It helps us to defend ourselves against exposing the parts of ourselves that we believe no one could truly love and accept. We become consumed by the need to look and behave perfectly at all times, never allowing ourselves to falter- for that would be far too risky. We begin to believe that perfection is the prerequisite for acceptance. That people expect certain things of us and that we must abide by these expectations to keep the connections we have. The possibility of true connection is taken off the table, because we begin to believe that we can’t show our true selves to the world, without having it be rejected. The belief in the need for perfectionism becomes stronger and stronger and we become increasingly isolated, but appearances won’t let anybody know that. We live in the space of “I’m good!” while we are really just trying to keep everything from falling apart. Loneliness sets in, and shame continues to build. Layer upon layer. We begin to feel trapped- perfectionism severely limits us. We start to feel as though we are confined in prison cell. We begin to believe that there is no hope for escape. But, here’s the thing: we hold the key, and it is in our power to choose if we are going to use that key. Using the key though requires a great deal of risk… it just seems too scary, for the key is imperfection in all its inherent vulnerability.

Liberation is found in the embrace and acknowledgement of imperfection.

 Liberation is found in speaking your imperfections. Owning them and embracing them and having them be met with relentless empathy. One person to get down with you on that level to say, “yeah, I’ve totally been there too.” One person who will meet you on that plane of vulnerability. One person who will lovingly sit alongside you to peel back the layers.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brene Brown


Empathy remedies shame. At the same time though, we must be careful about who we choose our “vulnerability running buddy” to be. Not everyone can hold our story. That is just a fact.  And so, we must use our discretion.We must protect our hearts, but not to the point where they become inaccessible. It’s about living from the space of sacred protection. Living from the knowing that our innermost “stuff” is the stuff of divinity. Immensely precious. Immensely sacred. Living from the knowing that you are immensely sacred. Living from the space of remembering your divinity.

Openness is not about letting it all “hang out” it’s about operating from a place of recognizing your value and sharing yourself with those who have proven themselves worthy of hearing your story. True, authentic, raw openness requires sacred protection grounded in unfaltering acceptance and big love.

 

 

 

 

 

Remember Your Humanness.

 




I’m a bit of a compassion junkie. If you have read anything that I have written, you likely have figured out that for me, compassion is my core guiding value. I want my life to be a reflection of it, infused in all that I do and  in all that I say. For me, the practice of compassion is transcendent. It allows me to feel connected to life in an inexpiable way, and functions as a constant reaffirmation of my connection to a greater source. As I have developed as a therapist over the last few years, my relationship to, and interest in the study of compassion has only grown stronger. I have piles of books dedicated to the subject sitting next to my bed, and read nightly to end my day with a little burst of inspiration. Most of the literature I have read speaks about compassion as a deep desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and it is my best guess that this is the definition that most people hold in their minds- compassion is a trait to be focused outward. This is the definition I subscribed to for many years as well, until I read a book titled Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. This book radically changed the way I relate to the concept of compassion. In her book, Neff asserts that while compassion is to be focused outward, it is also to be focused inward, toward ourselves.
 
Radical right?!
 
At first thought, the notion of directing compassion toward ourselves may seem and feel a bit uncomfortable- after all, the critic within each of us can give us a multitude of reasons why we don’t deserve it. It may tell us that the things we’ve done are far too shameful to warrant compassion- that although compassion is all well and good for those around us, we are the exception. That somehow, we should have known better. That we are disconnected, and separate from the rest. Welcome that all too familiar shame spiral born of self-judgement. Consequently, we often begin to believe that we must engage in self-judgement and self-criticism as a way to keep us from doing that (those) all too shameful thing(s) again. We become increasingly unhappy, fearful and emotionally paralyzed. We condemn ourselves to a life of discontentment because we begin to believe that that is all we are worthy of.
 
And so, here are my questions for you:
 
  •          What really makes you so different from everyone else?
  •          Have we not all made mistakes and done things we are not proud of?
  •          Could it be that you were doing the best that you could in that given moment?
  •          Could it be that you were simply trying to fill some underlying need or void? (i.e. a              need for belonging, acceptance, love, connection etc.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that self-compassion is a way to let yourself “off the hook.” Rather, I am saying that, yes, although you may have made mistakes, they do not define you. Imperfection is a part of being human, and past mistakes do not change your worth. Worthiness is to be claimed, not earned. It is a gift that comes with being human. It is unchangeable and constant. You are worthy of love, belonging, unconditional acceptance, compassion, happiness, connection etc. regardless of the things you have done or have not done. It is an irrefutable fact.
 
Self-compassion is a commitment to your long-term well-being, not short-term gratification.
 
The practice of self-compassion asks you to begin to relate to yourself with self-kindness when you have failed, made a mistake, feel inadequate and so on. It asks you to recognize imperfection and begin to speak to yourself more kindly.

Imagine a close friend of yours is going through the same thing you are. This friend has made a mistake, has failed at something, and is right in the depths of a shame spiral. 
 
  •          How would you speak to this friend?
  •          What would you say to this friend to comfort him or her?
Turn those words away from your friend and toward yourself, remembering that at your core, you are no different from your friend.
The practice of self-compassion also asks you to recognize the interconnectedness of all human beings. It operates on the core premise that we are fundamentally the same. Underneath all appearances, abilities and perceived differences, we are all looking for the same things in this life. We really are on this ride together. 
 
Finally, the practice of self-compassion asks you to be mindful of your feelings related to the various experiences you have had. It asks you to practice unconditional acceptance toward whatever feelings are coming up for you- even the ones that are immensely difficult and painful to feel, for it is in facing them that we allow them to dissipate.
 
 
How do you think your life would change if you were to treat yourself more compassionately? 

Release (Negative) Judgement: Honor the Uniqueness of the Journey.

 

 
We’re all guilty of it, and I’m more guilty of it than I’d like to admit… passing arbitrary, and often unfounded judgement on others. It usually goes something like this:
 
That rude customer service rep?  She’s a bitch.
 
That friend who seems to keep making the same mistakes again and again? She’s stupid, and should really know better by now.
 
That waiter who took “forever” to bring the meal to the table? He’s slow. Lazy. Clearly not suited for the job.
 
That employee who keeps making mistakes? She’s not smart enough.  
 
That guy who is quick to lose his cool? He’s an asshole.
 
And it goes on… the list is literally endless. To judge others, is part of the human experience. We all do it, for various reasons. We do it to make ourselves feel better, to prove that we’re right, to compensate for personal insecurity and sometimes, we judge in an effort to connect with and be accepted by others.
 
To pass judgement signals the creation of a hierarchy in which the individual making the judgement places him or herself above or apart from the individual being judged. It says “there is nothing about this person that I can identify or connect with.” At its root lies disconnection and the notion that we are inherently different from one another. It fails to recognize the commonalities of the human experience. It denies that fact that at the end of the day, we are all striving for the exact same thing: to feel loved, and accepted and to know that we matter.
 
The act of judgement is a failure to recognize our humanness. It is a failure to recognize that it all boils down to this:
 
We are all doing the best we can to make it through this beautiful mess called life, the best way we know how.

 
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
– Miller Williams


The truth is, none of us really know what we’re doing. We are all students of life, and none of us have the answers, and to believe that we do only serves to stunt our personal growth. To believe in the idea of absolutes is to shut ourselves off from the possibility of expansion, and novel insight. It hardens our hearts.

To adopt the stance of not knowing keeps us soft, open, and compassionate. It allows us to give others a break, because we recognize how often we need one too. From this standpoint, the question becomes “what gives me the right to judge if we are all on equal ground?”
 
That customer service rep? That friend? That waiter? That employee? That guy? They are just doing the best they can. They are on their own path colored by a myriad of unique experiences, some of which have been joyous and uplifting and others which have been immensely painful and heartbreaking.
 
Speak with love. Act compassionately. Give generously.
 
We are all in this together.