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Self-image And Self-Compassion: The Deadly Pursuit of Perfection

Self-compassion quick test:

How do you deal with yourself after making a mistake, after failing, after feeling like you’re small, and after screwing up generally?

If you practice self-compassion, you’ll still feel bad but you’ll not give up on yourself. You’ll not feel worthless or useless. And more important, you’ll get up and do something about your situation.

That will contribute to the way you see yourself positively.

If you’re not practicing self-compassion, it’ll be totally different.

Firstly, you’ll beat yourself up. Beating one’s self up is one of the most destructive things that anyone can do to themselves. It signals a shame-motivated response. Not a constructive guilt but a deadly destructive cold feeling of shame.

Then finally you’re going to feel bad about yourself. You’re going to look down at yourself and give up on yourself. After all, you’re going too hard on yourself that you’ll eventually break it.

I’m a big fan of Brene Brown work. She talks a lot about shame and fear. And I strongly believe that shame is at the core of any poor self-image problem.

And when you beat yourself up, when you don’t practice self-compassion, feelings of shame will develop and hurt your self-image.

On the other hand, when you do practice self-compassion you’re going to move away from the feelings of shame that will destroy your sense of self-worth.

Self-compassion is crucial for your mental health. Not only will it help you with your self-image issues, but also it’ll keep you from falling and collapsing.

As a wise man once said, “Life is already hard. Don’t make it harder by going too hard on yourself. Don’t be you and the life against yourself.”

Let’s go deeper in this article and see what self-compassion is really is and how to practice it.

The following text is an excerpt from my book The Art of Change. When I wrote that, it was about a way to handle mistakes and failures better and raise from the bottom again.

Reading it again, I clearly see that what I described was nothing but practicing self-compassion.

So, here you go. It’s a practical description of self-compassion. It can be applied to any personal or professional situation.


The art of forgiving yourself: Always be honest with yourself, but always be kind to yourself as well

When you make mistakes, when you fail, when you disappoint yourself, and when you fail to keep your promises for yourself, you need to forgive yourself in order to be able to move forward again.

You should never allow your mistakes to make you give up on yourself. Let me help you break down this “motivational statement” and show you how to apply it in the real world.

I’m the best person who can teach you about failure. And, yeah, I’m very humble about it!

As a self-development blogger, I should be positive. I should spread positive thoughts and so on. I shouldn’t even talk about failure in the first place.

And, of course, I shouldn’t have told you that I’m the best person to teach you about failure.

After all, why would you want the person who tells you about self-development to grab your hand and talk to you about a negative thing such as failure?

This might affect my credibility. In the end, you want to hear about success and how to get there.

We all want happiness, a smooth life, confidence, and strength. We don’t want pain, hurt, and darkness. And self-development bloggers/gurus are supposed to tell you how to get more of the firsts and less, and preferably none, of the seconds, right?

But you know what? I’m sick of this!

I’m a reader before being a writer and a blogger. And I’m really sick of hearing nonsense advice that’s either too soft or too extreme.

I’m sick of the ideal image that some self-development gurus are trying to promote (disciplined, motivated, and optimistic). And I’m also sick of the submissive and “accepting” image other gurus are trying to promote as well (you know, kind of “you’re perfect the way you are!”).

And while intellectually this seems very logical, that we need something in the middle, still that’s not what we’re doing.

It’s very clear in our attitude and behavior when we fail and when we make mistakes.

In other words, the way we deal with failure tells a lot about our mentality, which is affected to some extent by the notions of different self-development schools.

Anyway, I don’t intend to make this into a rant about the way self-development works.

I want to share my thoughts about how messed up the way we deal with failure, and generally negative things, is. And then offer few solutions in order to be able to handle the unavoidable failure and forgive ourselves instead of being disappointed with ourselves.

Defining Failure

First things first, let’s start by defining what, exactly, we mean by failure.

Simply, failure means not getting your expectations/needs/wants met.

To your brain it means that you’re not where you need to be, you’re heading in the wrong direction or you’re at the wrong destination.

And when your brain notices that you’re not heading right, it sends you negative and painful emotions. (Remember what we talked about in Chapter 2).

So, when we’re talking about failure, we’re not only talking about the actual outcome and results. We’re also talking about an emotional experience. A painful emotional experience.

Dealing with failure means handling all those negative and painful emotions. Depression, frustration, lack of motivation, fear of getting rejected again, feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, to name but a few.

And this is where the real problem is.

We don’t really understand those painful and negative emotions. We don’t handle them correctly, which leads to more negative emotions and failures.

We try to deal with failure as a situation and an event instead of dealing with the emotions that rise with it. Think about this and let it sink. A perspective changer!

To solve this problem, we need to examine 3 things:

  • The way we handle the negative and painful emotions.
  • The ways we use to deal with failure and how ineffective they are.
  • The way we think life should be (sunshine and rainbows)!

After analyzing these 3 points, we can come up with a new strategy/mentality to handle failure much more effectively. To not allow it to destroy us and to rise from the ashes every time we’re burnt.

How Do We Handle Negative and Painful Emotions

Negative emotions are signals. They’re the messages that your brain sends you to notify you about something important.

Just like the pain you feel when you touch something hot, negative emotions are felt to tell you that what you’re doing is not good for you. It’s not painful physically, it’s painful psychologically.

With the physical pain, an action is required for this pain to go away. You need to take your hand away for the pain to stop. (Of course, you immediately do that because it’s a survival mechanism).

With the psychological pain, it’s also the same. An action is required for the pain (the negative emotion) to go away.

However, you have the choice to take that action or not. It’s not a survival mechanism and you need to be proactive and take that action by yourself.

The problem is that people fail to 1) Understand the purpose of those negative and bad emotions (they don’t realize that they’re messages and calls-to-action). 2) Take the necessary action that will make the emotion go away.

Instead, most people deal with their negative emotions as they’re dealing with an enemy!

Most of us try to numb them using all possible methods.

Trying to forget about them hoping that they’ll wake up tomorrow without them.

Not grasping the fact that those negative emotions are signs and guides. They’re telling them that they need to take a necessary action that will put them on the right track. (Awareness is needed in order to break this cycle.)

Usually, negative emotions come from problems. We have problems sucking the joy out of our lives.

Our smart brains try to motivate us to work on a solution using emotion. But we respond by ignoring them and even numbing them.

And, in reality, this stems from one major root reason: our inability, and unwillingness, to accept the fact that pain is part of life. And also consistently trying to feel good without actually doing anything to deserve good feelings. (Instant gratification and delayed gratification).

These negative emotions scare us. Pain scares us. So, we run away from them using different escapement methods.

But eventually, we reach the same destination: more negative emotions, bigger problems, dissatisfaction, and a low quality of life. All coming from the fact that we can’t stand pain and discomfort.

This is How Life Works

I bet you already know that life isn’t perfect.

And I bet you already know that life can get pretty nasty and painful sometimes. That it won’t always go the way you want it to go.

Those are known facts.

However, there are facts that we don’t really acknowledge. There are things about life that we don’t like to admit, or we weren’t raised to admit, because they’re painful, just as life itself sometimes.

The fact that you’re going to screw up.

The fact that you suck sometimes.

The fact that you’ll make mistakes and fall hard on your face.

Simply, the fact that you and I are not perfect, and we don’t live in a perfect world. And as a result, we’ll fail sometimes, we’ll act stupid, we’ll feel pain, we’ll taste the bitter taste.

And mistakes! We humans aren’t meant to live without making mistakes.

Mistakes aren’t beautiful. But they are, just like pain and discomfort, a necessary part of the process of our development and growth. And that’s a fact that we must accept about life.

Not to give up and surrender because of our mistakes but to realize that mistakes, and failure, are going to happen but they’re not going to stop us from being who we want to be.

In brief, mistakes, failures, painful situations, adversities, negative emotions are inevitable. And it’s OK. They play an important role as well. Discomfort, as nasty as it sounds, is a necessary part of the self-development journey.

Furthermore, trying to avoid mistakes, pain, and discomfort, and trying to always be comfortable and happy, is not only chasing an illusion, but also it’s painfully unrealistic and it will lead to even more discomfort, pain, and disappointment.

The Ineffective Ways We Use to Deal With Failure

We’re all different. But when it comes to dealing with failure, there are 2 famous methods that most of us use.

Those 2 methods are nothing but an application to 2 extreme notions people have about failure and success.

That is, we have an ineffective mentality and it’s translated into an ineffective strategy that we use over and over again to screw up ourselves.

Those ineffective strategies lead to more disappointment, depression and, needless to say, failure.

As you read them, you might tell yourself that you don’t use them to handle failures, mistakes, and disappointments. However, you might still need to honestly look at how failure affects you and how you bounce back from it as that tells more about what method you really use.

Actions speak louder than words.

Here are the methods:

1.Beating One’s Self Up:

I’ve been here for most of my life.

It’s when you punish yourself when you fail or when you make a mistake.

And, on the surface, it sounds really good (and smart). After all, you’ll be able to “teach yourself a lesson” to never do that again.

But actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Beating yourself up will just make things worse. You know the people who play the victim’s role? Well, they’re on the end of the spectrum and the people who beat themselves up are on the other side of the same spectrum!

One thing that’s fundamentally wrong about beating one’s self up is that it deludes you to think that there’s something wrong with you.

How is that?

Guilt and shame. When you sit there beating yourself up and telling yourself: why I always fail to keep up my promises? I’ll never be something else. I’m such a wimp, how could I ever do that??

That process, in and of itself, will lead you to feel guilty. And it won’t stop there, guilt will, eventually, turn into shame. Shame will screw up your self-esteem.

You know, feelings that you’re inadequate, that you’re the only person on earth who has this flaw/made this mistake/failed this way. Forgetting the fact that we all have our own imperfections, wounds, and ugly sides.

Of course beating one’s self up is a result of extreme self-development schools that promote the image of the super man/woman who never gets defeated.

When we fail to live up to these ridiculously high standards, we’ll beat ourselves up and feel painful shame. This shame will stop us from picking ourselves up again.

As you can see, being too harsh on yourself won’t help although it looks like it will.

I’ve been using this method for so long time (and I think I still use it sometimes). However, it’s one of the worst methods you can use to handle the dark and ugly aspects of yourself.

Let’s explore the other unhealthy method that most people use. After that, we’ll talk about a more healthy and realistic method that we can use instead of these insanely harmful ones.

2.Deluding One’s Self:

Yep, I’ve also been here. I told you, I’m the best person who can teach you about failure.

While beating yourself up isn’t good, also deluding yourself is just as harmful.

Beating yourself up is like assuming everything is under your control. Deluding yourself is assuming nothing is under your control. Two extreme approaches and two ends of a spectrum.

Deluding yourself includes many behaviors and mentalities such as the victim’s mentality. (Remember we’ve already covered being honest with yourself in Chapter 1.)

Here the person claims that he’s the victim. His failures and mistakes are because someone, or something, out there is preventing him from succeeding.

For instance, people who blame their parents for their own emotional problems. And while their parents might be responsible to some extent, it doesn’t help. Because the second you start playing the victim’s role, you become just that: a victim. And a victim is powerless and can’t change anything.

(Note: the same situation dealt with using the beating-yourself-up-method would look like this: a person feels guilty and ashamed of himself as a result of having emotional problems, beats himself up because he’s not like other people. And that is more destructive than the emotional problems that we all have, in a way or another).

(Another Note: both of these methods will make you lose the power that you need to have in order to take action and move on).

Now, let’s explore a better method that we can use to handle not only failure and mistakes, but also the painful, the ugly, and the dark aspects of our lives and personalities.

The Power of Taking Action

Here’s how I’ve been dealing with my own failure and mistakes recently. And it’s working pretty fine.

First I’ll show you the method and then explain to you why and how it works.

But let me warn you, it’s not a fancy method, most of the time it’s not so pretty, and it’s nothing new or revolutionary. It’s simple, hard sometimes, and it’s more realistic, practical, and applicable than the methods discussed above.

It saves your self-esteem, helps you bounce back from failure more efficiently. It’ll help you to learn to forgive yourself and move on.

Let’s go.

  • Avoid the 2 methods discussed above: don’t fall a prey to those extreme methods. They will only hold you back and ensure you never actually do anything about your situation.
  • Make sure you have no wings and that you can’t fly! I mean: acknowledge the fact that you’re only a human being. You sometimes become weak and make stupid decisions. We’re not meant to live without making mistakes. We’re meant to learn and grow from our success and, more important, from our failures too.
  • Make a reality check: life can get pretty messy. Painful it can get. Hard it can be. Unfair sometimes it is. But it’s life. You can’t always be happy, you can’t always avoid pain and discomfort. They’re a part of the game. This is probably the most important step here.
  • Time to fight back! I’ve learned that the best way to deal with failure is by taking action. Don’t expect that you’ll feel OK only by doing the previous steps alone (will explain why right now). This is what’s very realistic, and difficult, about this approach.
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