Self-Compassion & the Fear of Making Mistakes

Though I’ve always been aware of my perfectionist tendencies, I’m noticing lately just how much my desire for perfection affects my daily life. It terrifies me that I’m capable of making mistakes, especially ones that could have dire consequences, like the time I didn’t see a school bus that was unloading and almost didn’t stop.

So lately, my intrusive thoughts have centered around losing control and making a mistake that would seem so horrible to me, like, “what if I have a child, lose my temper, and hit the child?” or “what if I have an affair?” Though the chances of either of these things happening is very, very low, there’s still the slightest possibility, which makes me not even want to have children or get married. There’s an opportunity for failure so I might as well not even try, right? It’s a classic example of fear trying to hold us back from taking steps forward in life.

Since marriage and children are on my radar- and are both terrifying because there’s no way to control what will happen in the future- those are the fears that are popping up from my perfectionism. But it could be anything. If I was thinking about starting a new job, I’d probably find a way to scare myself so much that I convince myself I shouldn’t take the risk. Or buying a new house. Or whatever it is that puts you in a position of making a mistake and not being perfect.

My anxiety thrives off the fact that I am HUMAN; that I’ve made mistakes in the past; that I’m not perfect; that I’m capable of failing. So how do we come to terms with this humanness?

Being compassionate with ourselves. Self-compassion. Self-love. Forgiveness.

I’m beginning to recognize that it’s OKAY to make mistakes. I’m playing with the idea that, even if I make a BIG mistake, I would be able to offer myself love and acceptance. I would still be deserving of my own love, even so. I even imagined making a mistake so horrible that everyone in my life hated me. Would I still be able to offer myself forgiveness and kindness? That’s what I’m working toward.

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion, says, “Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”

How do you react to yourself when you make mistakes? Do you berate yourself and call yourself worthless? If so, I get it. I do that sometimes too. But now I’m catching myself more and more. I’m stopping and paying attention. I’m seeing my patterns of harshness and trying to instead, offer myself a moment of kindness.

Neff also says, “With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation.”

Maybe in these moments of difficulty, we place our hands on our heart and say, “I love you. I forgive you. You are worthy of love and acceptance.” Or maybe we just breathe into the deep feelings of fear and shame, noticing how those feelings manifest in the body, and then seeing if it’s okay to make space for them.

Kristin Neff has wonderful guided meditations for free. If you’ve been hard on yourself today, try out one of these practices.

How do you offer yourself kindness when you’re afraid of making mistakes?


Clothing/jewelry in photo: Everyday Ritual Co.
Photographer: Weston Carls

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