Have you ever met someone who exudes confidence, someone who’s so comfortable in their own skin that you can’t help but feel empowered when you’re around them? They don’t always know the right thing to say and you can bet they’ve made errors in judgment before. But their perceived self-worth isn’t diminished by evidence of their imperfections.
Close your eyes and think about what you might say to yourself when you make a mistake. Perhaps you’d degrade yourself for falling short or ruminate on all the things you could have done differently. Maybe you’d convince yourself that you’re worthless, incompetent, or weak. You might even go as far as to say that you don’t deserve love and compassion, at least not from yourself.
In the moments when we most need a little tenderness we quickly become our own worst enemies. Instead of recognizing and acknowledging our inherent goodness, we turn our words into weapons with messages of failure and defeat.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could instead treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we so readily show others? In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, leading researcher and storyteller Brené Brown examines what gets in the way of accepting ourselves as we are and living from a place of authenticity, gratitude, and whole-heartedness.
After years of studying our struggles with shame, the fear of being seen, and the desire to fit in, Brown discovered that among the trove of data there were men and women who had learned to embrace their imperfections and vulnerability. “These research participants trusted themselves,” she writes. “And they talked about authenticity and love and belonging in a way that was completely new to me.”
So what set these Wholehearted individuals apart from the rest? Their capacity to love themselves: not simply when they were having a good hair day or had just landed a promotion, but every day, including the bad and the ugly. “How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves,” Brown writes.
With her characteristic wit and wisdom, Brown candidly relays her own struggle to live authentically while harnessing the willingness and determination to see beyond the tales of unworthiness we so often tell ourselves. Setting forth ten guideposts illustrated with anecdotes, definitions, quotes, and daily practices, she captures what we must let go of in order to experience the courage, compassion, and connection of which we are all worthy. Let’s take a look at some:
1. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
To overcome perfectionism, Brown argues, we need to practice self-compassion. She distinguishes perfectionism – a preoccupation with what others think rooted in a desire for approval and acceptance – from healthy striving – a desire for self-improvement. She further asserts, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.” By practicing self-compassion, we can begin to loosen our grip on our need for our lives to be free of blemishes. Instead, we can look upon our imperfections with a sense of openness and allowance rather than shame and judgement.
2. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
Resilient individuals have several things in common: they’re resourceful and good problem-solvers; they’re more likely to seek help; they believe in their ability to do something to help manage their feelings and to cope; and they have available social support upon which they rely. In her research, Brown found that spirituality was a driving force behind the resilience of the Wholehearted individuals whom she interviewed. Here’s how she defines it: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” She identifies three additional patterns as being critical to resilience including, cultivating hope; practicing critical awareness; and letting go of numbing vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.
3. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
You might be surprised to learn that gratitude is more than an attitude: it’s a practice. It might entail keeping a gratitude journal, doing a daily gratitude meditation, or giving back to your community. Regularly exercising your gratitude muscle is strongly linked to joy, Brown notes: “Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.” She also notes that happiness is linked to external circumstances while joyfulness is associated with spirit and gratitude, and neither is constant. We need both, Brown says.
4. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
Entering into calm and stillness in the midst of anxiety is not easy, but in so doing, we can learn to better navigate the stresses that arise in each of our lives. Rather than letting such events define our days, we can derive meaning from how we respond to them. Brown defines calm as, “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.” We have to commit to practicing it, in big and small matters she argues. Stillness she describes as “an emotionally clutter-free space” where we can “feel and think and dream and question.” Rather than giving into the busy nature of our existence, we can grow comfortable with creating more pockets of peacefulness and use them as an opportunity to get to know ourselves in deeper ways.
5. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
Laughter, song, and dance are irreplaceable outlets for self-expression, communication, celebration, and community. They also serve another purpose: they remind us that we’re not alone. When we laugh until tears are streaming down our cheeks or belt out our favorite song at the top of our lungs, we confront our fear of vulnerability in a direct way. “The gremlins are constantly there to make sure that self-expression takes a backseat to self-protection and self-consciousness,” Brown writes. When we become laser-focused on being perceived as hip or cool, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to honor the unique facets of ourselves that unite us with those around us.
While it can be difficult to release the shame and fear that characterize so many of our exchanges, it’s also intrinsically rewarding. It is only through acknowledging and accepting our life’s imperfections that we can encounter the gifts they yield along the way.
Meet the author: emily rose barr, lgpc
A Midwest Native and Mid-Atlantic Transplant, Emily has called Charm City home since 2012, and has a hard time believing how many years it’s been since she parted with deep-dish pizza and subzero winters.
Emily enjoys working with young adults who are struggling with stress, depression, and anxiety; life transitions; low self-esteem or social anxiety; difficult relationships; and healthy identity formation. She firmly believes in the importance of befriending each of our parts and encourages her clients to reconnect with their inner selves while cultivating new ways of engaging with the world around them.
Emily is also a freelance writer, and publishes a monthly wellness and self-care column for Baltimore Style Magazine. When she’s not in the therapist or writer’s chair, Emily can be found chasing the sun, ticking books off her to-read list (often with a cup of tea in hand), playing with her sweet pup Lyla, and whipping up the best desserts. Emily is currently accepting new clients.