How does the song go …”It’s got to be perfect” ? Well actually no it doesn’t. And nothing really is, so that’s okay.
Last post was about that inner voice, Darth Critic, which we all have and within depression is so detrimental to our feeling of self-worth and mental well-being. This week it’s the other voice that for me was the self-critic’s Sith partner, the self-perfectionist or Darth Perfect.
There are lots of external pressures which can make many feel less than perfect. We live in a modern society where perfection is honoured and failure is , well a failure and often not to be tolerated. We are surrounded by consumer driven advertising. The car, the smartphone, the holiday you need to have a happy time. Even the shopping which will help you have THE best family meal. Adverts with perfect people having the perfect time. Our social media is often presenting the best view of ourselves to the world – pictures where everyone is smiling, the sun is forever shining, having the best party in the history of parties.
And while all of that does not help our mental well-being, that isn’t what I am referring to. It’s not about external comparison or validation, it’s the internal perfectionist. The kind of inner conversation which includes phrases like “There is always more to do”, “I could have done that better” or “I suppose that will have to do, if I had more time the Death Star would have had a less obvious name”. You see things as either perfect or a failure, Sith or Jedi. You have an expectation of what will be so good, so brilliantly visualised that the reality can never match, so you “fail”. Remember post 22 – expectation can be like a mountain and once you get to the top it’s not quite like how you imagined and so feels like a disappointment.
Being clear wanting to do your best is not a bad thing. Striving constantly for perfection is. What is perfect anyway? Here are two definitions:
- having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics
- make (something) completely free from faults or defects
See the problem? Having it all and no faults sound realistic? Aren’t our flaws what makes us human and unique ? If we were all perfect wouldn’t that be boring? We wouldn’t invent or discover new things and without mistakes we wouldn’t learn or innovate.
But depression doesn’t listen to that. It say’s no matter what you do It is NEVER, EVER good enough.
“If you look for perfection you’ll never be content” – Leo Tolstoy
So how does self-compassion help? In a similar way to the self- crictic it’s about looking at these thoughts with a kindness, to bring an awareness and realism to them. It’s realising that nothing is perfect and good is okay. By doing so you start to release the pressure you are placing upon yourself. It’s finding a pause, some space and using that encouraging, softer tone rather a harsh one. It’s about being able to say “I am struggling with this, can you help me?”. It’s about experiencing the process rather than the end result. It’s about being realistic.
Then, when you reach the point of having done something it’s congratulating what you have achieved. You can ask yourself – “Is there anything I could have done differently ?” and then either note it for the future or answer “This is the best that I could do in the time I had, with my knowledge and skills. I am proud of what I have achieved. I did this”.
It takes time, the rat of depression really doesn’t like this kind of self-care talking. The rat scuttles around telling you that not only do you think it’s a failure but so will others. So here is the thing – you cannot control what other people will think. They may not like what you have done, as they are seeing with their own critical and perfectionist voices talking to them. They aren’t you. When you accept you have done the best you could and accept the flaws you have then external validation, which can sometimes fuel the self-perfectionist voice, starts to become much less important.
“Ring the bells that can still ring, Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
So over the last 4 posts I have explored self-compassion and how it can help with mental well-being and self-care. I hope it’s helped to offer some things you may like to try or made you consider some thoughts differently. If you have tried any of the self-compassion hints and tips you may be discovering an added bonus.
In post 31 I posed a question about how compassionate you felt and what it meant. You may find the more compassion you show to yourself actually increases the compassion you show to and consider towards others. And that isn’t anecdotal – there is science and research that show this to be true. Compassion supports both re-connecting with yourself and the wider world. It brings a motivation to understand, accept and act to ease distress and pain, starting with you.
I am sometimes asked what has made the difference in starting to live with and manage depression. There isn’t one single thing. However I believe that taking a self-compassionate, mindful approach is making a huge difference. In fact probably the biggest. In future posts I will write about how that links into living with intentional value-led actions and acceptance of being me.
Let me leave you with this beautiful quote from Emma Seppälä and what it means to me:
” Self-care is a compassionate act. When you take care of yourself your best self comes out for everyone else. You become a gift to us all”
Doesn’t the world deserve that gift ? Simply you, with your imperfections, your flaws, your brilliance and your compassion. And don’t you deserve to be at peace with your mind, to be kinder to yourself. I can’t think of a better gift to give to myself.
I would love to hear if you have tried any of the hints and tips over the last few weeks and if they have helped. Be kind to yourself and each other.