Self-compassion and Dealing with Perfectionism as an Ethical Living Enthusiast

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Self Compassion

Today is Valentine's Day, and I want to talk about love. Self-love to be exact. I am notoriously bad at self-love and self-compassion (a concept I've recently learned about in this ted-talk).

Like many people, I struggle with negative self-talk and fears of not being perfect or even perfect-adjacent. I've been a perfectionist as long as I can remember. I like to take on a lot of tasks, and I want to do each task completely, exactly the way I'd like to do them.

As someone who has made it a point to make individual lifestyle changes that diverge from the norm (and promote these lifestyle changes on social media), I feel like I must be a perfect representation of what it means to be a vegan and what it means to be zero waste. And when I fall short of the standards I've set for myself for whatever reasons, I beat myself up about it.

I talk myself down.

I feel like a fraud.

And who do these negative habits serve? No one.

Meanwhile, who do they hurt? Me.

I think a lot of people can relate to this experience, and this is where self-compassion becomes important.  Making mistakes and not always being able to be exactly who you want to be and do exactly what you want to do is a part of life. Instead of tearing myself down when I inevitably "under perform" or "disappoint," I aim to remind myself that I am a human being who is worthy of love, even in the moments when I don't feel like the best version of myself. 

If we, as people struggling with perfectionist tendencies, treated ourselves with compassion when we messed up, and encouraged ourselves when we fell short I think we might all be a bit more content.

I have this theory that presenting a perfectly curated life on social media and representing it as the everyday might do more harm than intended.

I could be wrong as I am going off nothing but my own experiences on this point, but for me seeing all of these amazing ethical bloggers, zero wasters, and vegan activists being "perfect" on social media is intimidating and, I fear, sometimes alienating.

This point brings me to the two things I do to deal with my perfectionism when it comes to feelings of inadequacy and negative self-talk surrounding my imperfect, non-linear journey to a more ethical life. 

  1. Honor, don't dwell.
  2. Practice imperfection.

honor, don't dwell

As I try to become a more mindful human being, I've learned that negative feelings are just a part of life. Shocker, right? I know it may seem pretty obvious to some people, but often times I forget that negative emotions and living are just a package deal. The goal is not to get rid of the negative feelings and/or thoughts that occur when you make a mistake, miss a deadline, or fall short of a goal. This, while it may sound ideal, is impractical. Negative thoughts happen, and it's okay to let them.

The goal is also not to dwell on these thoughts and compound the negativity. I think it's more clear to see why this is problematic. Ask yourself: who does your suffering serve?

For me, I've found that it's a lot more sustainable to honor my feelings, thoughts, and where I am in every present moment, and then let them be.

I try not to over think.

I try not to dwell.

And I try not to criticize myself for having negative emotions. 

For example, if I think: "You shouldn't have ordered that, it's gonna come wrapped in throw away plastics. Normal people are capable of cooking at home all the time. You could do it if you tried harder," I recognize that thought as negative, I allow myself to feel the way I feel, but I don't allow myself to linger on that thought.

I don't dig deeper into the thought. I realize that doing so wouldn't be valuable to me, so I try to let it run out of fuel and pass on its own. This necessitates being present and mindful.

When I first started my meditation practice using headspace (which is habit I'm still trying to get into the groove of... here I am, admitting my imperfection), they offered an analogy that I have found truly valuable. While I'm sure to state it much less elegantly, the premise was this: Imagine a clear blue sky. That is your mind when it is clear of everything unpleasant and at peace. Now imagine a gloomy, stormy day. The dark clouds are all the unpleasant emotions we feel. It's important to acknowledge and accept the stormy day for what it is and let the clouds roll on by, but it is equally (if not more important) to remember that above the storm clouds--existing simultaneously--is a bright, blue sky.

practice imperfection

Lastly, I practice imperfection. For me this doesn't mean actively not doing my best when it is completely feasible and fairly convenient for me to do so. This means that when it would cause me to suffer or neglect my wellbeing for the sake of perfection, I allow myself to be imperfect.

Again, I don't criticize myself for not always being perfect, I just make the best choices I can in the present moment. If I forget my reusable water bottle at home, but I am hopelessly thirsty and can not conceivably get my water bottle any time soon, I purchase a... gasp plastic water bottle, instead of staying dehydrated until I can get back home.

Do I feel a bit of guilt? Yes.

But I vow to recycle the bottle, I recognize that I am doing the best I can in the present moment, and I remind myself of all the positive changes I've made in my life that have made me a more thoughtful, compassionate person. Perhaps it might be of some value to you to do the same.

When it comes to ethical living in particular, every movement in a positive direction can feel monumental, and every step back can feel detrimental; However, linear progression is idealistic for most, and the best we can all do is try to make better choices when it is realistically feasible to do so. 

Until next time. xx