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.

 

 

  

Actually, There Isn’t Anything Wrong with You.

I have experienced two significant losses in my life- losses which effectively shattered my worldview, robbed me of my sense of security and normality and forced me to question everything I once oriented my life around. I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed as the reality of the finality of the deaths of those I love so deeply began to sink in. I felt as though I was in hole of hopelessness, helplessness, sadness and despair, and the prospect of ever being able to climb out seemed highly improbable. I was terrified- I was no longer the happy, outgoing person I was before they had died, and I was plagued by the worry that I would never be again. I felt lost. I tried to reach out, but the responses I received felt judgemental and unsympathetic. Each time I would try to speak about my experience, people would become visibly uncomfortable, oftentimes rushing me to another topic of conversation, or attempting to comfort me with “words of wisdom”, highlighting the positive rather than focusing on the reality of what was. I began to loathe phrases like “Be strong” and “Keep your chin up.” That was not what I needed to hear. I needed someone to validate my pain, not try to rush me to a resolution. I needed to hear that however I felt was okay and acceptable.

Grief is a natural response to loss, but it has been my experience that it is often framed as something to be fixed.  It is seen as problematic- it is to be treated, and done away with as quickly as possible. We live in a death denying culture, best exemplified through workplace bereavement leave policies that attempt to quantify and contain grief to 1 to 3 “bereavement days,” after which we are expected to “be strong and soldier on.” Following the allotted time, we are no longer given the implicit permission to express our grief publicly, and if we do, there is surely something wrong with us. And so, we often retreat- isolating ourselves, becoming fearful of reaching out to others due to the judgement we may receive. Furthermore, we become judgemental toward ourselves and thoughts like “Why do I keep dwelling on this? There is something wrong with me,” “It has been weeks/months/years, I shouldn’t be feeling like this anymore,” “I need to get closure, so I can move on,” etc. begin to manifest, and we consequently begin to avoid and deny our grief for the sake of looking like we have put our grief behind us and moved on. But the reality is, the pain is still there, waiting to be heard and felt.

Grieving is not a timed process, as pain of such deep magnitude simply cannot be confined to a number of days, weeks, months or years. You will be sitting in the pain of your loss for the rest of your life. Of course, the pain will transform the more you move toward healing through expressing it, but it will always be there, because your love for the one who has died will always be there.

The normal you once had can no longer be found, because it no longer exists. The focus of the grief journey therefore, is not resolution but integration. It is about integrating the reality of your loss into your life, not putting it behind you.

Rest assured that your grief is not a problem to be fixed. There nothing shameful about it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. However you feel is okay- today, tomorrow, and the countless days after that.

The Vulnerability Remedy.

A few months days ago, while having a conversation with a good friend of mine, I crossed a boundary. I used a story which wasn’t mine to share, to illustrate a point.  Although the story fit with the nature of the conversation we were having, as soon as the words left my mouth I felt utterly disgusting. I knew, based on the physical reaction I was experiencing that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately went into shame mode. Narratives akin to “I am a horrible person” started to swirl in my mind. I felt that what I had done was in such stark contrast to my core guiding value (fierce compassion) that I couldn’t take it. I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and hide. Huge, huge shame.

I let a few more minutes of conversation pass.

The thoughts kept going. “What is wrong with you?” “How could you have been so careless?”  “You are a bad person.”  On and on. And, I knew that these thoughts would continue for days. I would punish myself in this way for hours on end until I felt that I had paid for what I had done. Interrupted nights, and days spent in a bad mood to follow. This cycle was all too familiar to me.

I desperately didn’t want to go down that road. So, instead of condemning myself for days, I decided to purposely break the cycle: I called on my self-compassion. I instantly knew what I had to do. I had to bring this up. I had to get vulnerable. And so, I brought it up. I told my friend, that I was very uncomfortable with what I had said and that I was experiencing some heavy shame about it. I told her about the thoughts that I had been having in the last few minutes of our conversation.  She listened, and I immediately felt better. I told her that I was fearful of her judgment of me, and that what I had done was out of alignment with who I want to be. The more vulnerable I got, the better I felt. She responded with compassion, and assured me that we all make mistakes and that what I had done, she believed was not a reflection of my character.

And, there it was: my ticket to freedom. It was in her speaking those words that I knew that the next few days would not be colored by self-punishing thoughts.

Healing happens in the space of vulnerability.

Yes, vulnerability is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a reflection of courage, not weakness. But as uncomfortable as it may be, it comes with the greatest rewards life has to offer. It allows us to feel connected, reassured and united. Vulnerability is deeply empowering and enabling. It is the birthplace of freedom, because it is inherently risky, and what is risky is profoundly liberating.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Grief is Love by Another Name.

Bouts of yearning, sadness, fear, desperation, anguish, hopeless, anger and helplessness overwhelm you like a tidal wave. Your world has come crashing down around you, and the prospect of lifting your head off of the pillow as the sun rises to welcome a new day is looked upon as an insurmountable task. Everything which you once regarded as beautiful now has a shadow cast upon it. The things that were once meaningful to you, are now no longer so.

You struggle to orient yourself to the new world in which you now find yourself. You didn’t ask to be here, and you despise everything around you. You tried everything you could to avoid getting here, but to no avail. You’re lost, scared and alone. You desperately search for a map, but eventually come to realize that there isn’t one to be found. You realize that you must chart your own course, not knowing how long it will take you to walk the path. Every once in a while your path intersects with another, and you walk together for a while, but eventually you part, for they must walk by themselves again, and continue to chart their own course.

As you walk, you ponder the “big questions.” You meditate on the meaning of life, of purpose, and your sense of identity. You think about the future in this new world and wonder if you’ll ever be able to embrace it as feverishly as you did your future in the old world. You wonder if this new world will ever feel safe as the old one did.

This is grief.

It is blanketed in the unknown, and chalk full of fear as a result. Each loss is territory yet to be navigated. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” in grief. There is no such thing as “should” or “shouldn’t.” Grief is an intensely individual experience which takes a vastly different form for each who endures it. It simply does not adhere to a set of pre-determined stages, and it certainly does not abide by a pre-set timeline.

Grief simply cannot be measured in this way because it is a matter of the heart, and such matters cannot be quantified. Grief is enduring and lifelong because it is a matter of love. We grieve for those to whom we are deeply attached, and such attachments cannot be intercepted- even by death. They are infinite and eternal.

So, do away with the notion that you must “get over” and find closure to your grief. You simply cannot get closure to love, for it is far too powerful to be contained. Grieve as your heart guides you to, trusting that you know what you need in order to adjust to this new world in which you’ve been placed. Trust that this love will carry you and guide you to a new sense of meaning, purpose, and identity. It simply requires you to surrender.

 

 

Confronting Your Inner Critic.

 

 

We all have one. That inner voice that tends to judge, use put downs, and continually tell us that we are not good enough. That voice that tends to control us and severely impact our sense of self-esteem. It tells us that we have no right to “play big” or risk. That we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never make it. It latches onto our perceived flaws, weaknesses, limitations and keeps us stuck in a place of mental and emotional paralysis. It tells us that others are more favourable, that they are better- more talented, better looking, smarter etc. That they would never “mess up” the way we have. That they have it all together. It conjures up illusions of the “perfect other” and keeps us dormant.

Your inner critic typically sounds something like this:

  • “That was stupid!”
  • “You could have done that better.”
  • “You should have known better.”
  • “You’re such a disappointment.”
  • “I am so weak.”
  • “I’ll never be anything.”
  • “I knew I couldn’t do it.”
  • “You may as well give up.”
  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “Look how capable _______________ is.”

 

Shaming, degrading, discouraging, limiting, and usually, completely automatic. The inner critic can take some time to identify, as we are typically not even aware of the voice inside our minds and the profound impact it is having on our emotions and actions. The inner critic is also habitual, learned, and therefore changeable.

It’s in your power to change the critical voice which holds you, but it requires a dedicated willingness, persistence, patience and an abundance of self-compassion.

Imagine for a moment, a time when your critical voice took over. Bring yourself to that moment. Immerse yourself in the feelings of that moment, as difficult and as painful as it might be, remembering that you’re safe now, and grounded in this moment. If you can, however, try and reflect on the following questions:

  •   If your self-critical thoughts took on the appearance of a person, what would           this person look like?
  •          What is this person’s facial expression?
  •         Is this person big or small in comparison to you?
  •          What is this person’s tone of voice like?
  •         Is this person directing emotions your way? If so, what are they?
  •          Does he or she remind you of anyone?

(Welford, 2013, p. 40-41).

What have you discovered through reflecting on the questions above? Not surprisingly, the critic can often take on the appearance, stance, and tone of the person who was most critical toward you. We internalize their voice, until self-inflicted pain is all we know and the belief that criticism is all we are deserving of overwhelms us, making it all that more difficult to break the pattern. Plus, as odd as it may seem, there is comfort and security in the criticism for it is familiar, and solace usually comes from what we know, and what is predictable.

Welcome fear and hesitation around the prospect of ending your relationship with your critic. It’s natural. Be patient with yourself.

  •         What’s your greatest fear around giving up your self-criticism?
  •         What do you think might happen if you let it go?
  •         When reflecting on the emotions brought up by your self-critic do you think it          has your best interests at heart?
  •          Does it take joy in seeing you be happy and doing well?
  •          If your self-critic does have your best interests at heart, is it going about it the           right way?

(Welford, 2013, p. 42)

The thing about self-criticism is, it often makes us believe that we need it in order to grow, change and evolve. That without it we are destined to a life of mediocrity. That it is what motivates us to do better and be better. We begin to believe that achievement and criticism go hand in hand, because it is through being hard on ourselves that we are able to strive and succeed. And, this is all well and good…for a while at least. It’s all well and good until it begins to hinder our willingness to risk because we become fearful of the consequences we will surely endure if we fail.

Risk is the birth place of personal evolution.

The mere prospect of failure becomes crippling because we begin to feel that we would not be able handle the messages our internal critic would deliver to us should we not attain or achieve the outcome we desire. And so, we become stagnant, and mediocre.

Personal growth must come from a place of self-love.

Softness and gentleness are imperative mechanisms for change, because they allow us to give ourselves permission to falter and fail without condemning us to a feeling of complete and utter shame if the outcome is not that which we hoped for.

So, I encourage you to get cozy with your inner critic, as uncomfortable as it may be- for it is only through our awareness of its presence that we are able to eradicate it, and welcome the freedom found it unwavering self-love, for that is where your happiness, joy, and fulfillment rest.

 

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?