Perfectionism’s Antidote: Self-Compassion

Perfectionism is a common trait that many of us strive for, whether it be in our personal or professional lives. However, the pursuit of perfection can be exhausting, overwhelming, and ultimately lead to burnout. Instead of striving for perfection, we could choose to focus on cultivating self-compassion.

Perfectionism is the belief that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. It often involves setting unrealistic standards and expectations for ourselves and can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and failure when we inevitably fall short of those expectations. Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination and avoidance, as the fear of failure can be paralyzing. It can also cause people to be closed off or inflexible, which has a negative impact on almost all interpersonal relationships.

On the other hand, self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and empathy. It involves acknowledging that we are imperfect, and that making mistakes and experiencing setbacks is a natural part of the human experience. Self-compassion is not about excusing poor behavior or neglecting responsibility, but rather about responding to ourselves with the same kindness and support we would offer to a friend in need.

Research has shown that self-compassion can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. It has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression, increased resilience, and improved self-esteem. Self-compassion can also help us to be more motivated and productive, as we are less likely to give up or avoid challenges when we approach them with kindness and self-acceptance.

Three elements to self-compassion 

(taken directly from

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment – Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
  2. Common humanity vs. Isolation – Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.  Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification – Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.  This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

So how can we cultivate self-compassion? 

Here are some tips:

  1. Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism.
  2. Challenge negative self-talk: Replace critical self-talk with more supportive and encouraging statements.
  3. Take care of yourself: Practice self-care by engaging in activities that make you feel good, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
  4. Embrace imperfection: Recognize that mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of the learning process, and that they can provide valuable opportunities for growth.
  5. Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist for support and guidance.
  6. Kindness: treat yourself and others as you would a good friend.

Though perfectionism may seem like a desirable trait, it can lead to negative consequences for our mental health and well-being. Instead, we should strive to cultivate self-compassion by treating ourselves with kindness, empathy, and understanding. By doing so, we can create a more compassionate and supportive relationship with ourselves, and ultimately lead happier, healthier lives.

For more information on compassion, try these:

Compassion 101

Click here to find out how compassion can help you function better! 

World Friendship Day – on Kindness, Curiosity & Compassion

Managing perfectionism without getting overwhelmed

If you need help accessing self-compassion (as so many of us do!), reach out!