It can happen to anyone. We make a mistake and we get down on ourselves. We say things like “I should have known better,” or worse yet, “I’m so stupid. I always make the worst decisions.” Regardless of the exact words we say to ourselves, making a mistake or not predicting a left turn in our lives can send us spiraling into self-doubt and self-criticism, and create or contribute to already existing depression and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if, instead of treating ourselves harsher than we treat others, we spoke to ourselves with compassion, like we often do to our friends? What if instead of saying, “You always goof up,” you pretended you were talking to a good friend and said something like, “You did the best you could” or “It’s normal to make a mistake.” How would that feel? Do you now have a little more energy to solve the problem instead of stewing in your own juices?
If talking more kindly to yourself seems impossible, you may want to consider joining a support group or seeing a therapist to help you figure out the blockage. A good general book on the subject of self-compassion is aptly named Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff.
Framing the issue of being hard on ourselves is a broader, societal issue of motherhood and perfectionism. Since even before we were aware of it, many of us were socialized to not just be a good mother, but to be a perfect one. Aside from the expectation of looking our best and never getting angry, we expect ourselves as mothers to always feed our children healthy food, provide them with the latest educational toys and classes, and be available 24/7 as willing and happy playmates. And the list goes on. So the next time you find yourself beating yourself up about a mistake, please try to remember that as women and mothers, we don’t have to perfect. Good enough is, well, good enough!
Common Mom Myths
A good mom likes and enjoys her children all the time.
A good mom bonds with her baby instantaneously.
Breastfeeding is easy.
Self-care is selfish.
There is one perfect way to parent.
Motherhood should be easy and natural.
I should have my body “back” by now.
I shouldn’t need help.
I should feel perfectly fulfilled by motherhood.
Resources on Perfectionism and Self-Compassion
The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown
I n The Gifts of Imperfection, Bren é Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living — a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, “What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?”
This important book is about the lifelong journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.”
The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, and Connection, Audio CD, by Brené Brown
We all know that perfect parenting does not exist, yet we still struggle with the social expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate. These messages are powerful and we end up spending precious time and energy managing perception and the carefully edited versions of the families we show to the world. On The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, Dr. Bren é Brown invites us on a journey to transform the lives of parents and children alike. Drawing on her 12 years of research on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame, she presents 10 guideposts to creating what she describes as “wholehearted” families where each of us can continually learn and grow as we reach our full potential.
Hands-Free Mama , by Rachel Macy Stafford
Hands Free Mama is the digital society ‘ s answer to finding balance in a media-saturated, perfection-obsessed world. It doesn ‘ t mean giving up all technology forever. It doesn ‘ t mean forgoing our jobs and responsibilities. What it does mean is seizing the little moments that life offers us to engage in real and meaningful interaction. It means looking our loved ones in the eye and giving them the gift of our undivided attention, leaving the laundry till later to dance with our kids in the rain, and living a present, authentic, and intentional life despite a world full of distractions.
Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind , by Kristin Neff
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., says that it ‘ s time to ” stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. ” Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind offers expert advice on how to limit self-criticism and offset its negative effects, enabling you to achieve your highest potential and a more contented, fulfilled life.
More and more, psychologists are turning away from an emphasis on self-esteem and moving toward self-compassion in the treatment of their patients. This book offers exercises and action plans for dealing with every emotionally debilitating struggle, be it parenting, weight loss, or any of the numerous trials of everyday living.
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive , by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer
Self-compassion is a powerful inner resource. More than a thousand research studies show the benefits of being a supportive friend to yourself, especially in times of need. This science-based workbook offers a step-by-step approach to breaking free of harsh self-judgments and impossible standards in order to cultivate emotional well-being. Every chapter includes guided meditations (with audio downloads); informal practices to do anytime, anywhere; exercises; examples of people using the techniques to address different types of challenges (relationship stress, weight and body image issues, health concerns, anxiety, and more); and empathic reflection questions. Working through the book, you can build essential skills for personal growth based on self-care–not self-criticism.
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion , By Christopher Germer
We all want to avoid pain, but letting it in–and responding compassionately to our own imperfections, without judgment or self-blame–are essential steps on the path to healing. This wise and eloquent book illuminates the power of self-compassion and offers creative, scientifically grounded strategies for putting it into action. Free audio downloads of the meditation exercises are available at the author’s website: www.chrisgermer.com.