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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The Shame of Imperfection: A Way Out

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 22nd 2010

Recently Allan Schwartz, Ph.D. wrote A Plea for Imperfection and I thought it worthwhile to dovetail on this because it may just be one of the most important topics of our society. Whether we're struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, or any other form of trauma, a message often gets embedded in our brains that we are somehow defective or deficient. In other words, there is a sense of shame that we feel that is intolerable.

Zen Master Dogen Zenji said, "To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is not to have anxiety over imperfections."

I believe that's what Allan's post is pointing toward, to be at peace with our imperfections.

The question is, how do we do this?

Working with shame can be tricky as most of us are unaware that our struggle with our imperfections is about having a sense of unworthiness. Under thoughts of unworthiness is often the feeling of shame.

I'm a bit partial to Tara Brach's book on Radical Acceptance that goes over this in detail, giving a variety of practices that help guide us through ways to learn how to recognize and embrace this feeling rather than ignoring or hating it.

I often say to the people I work with, imagine that feeling is a little part of you, how is it feeling? The responses are usually something like, "insecure," "not well," or "hurt." Then I follow with, "If you had a good friend who was feeling any of those things how would hating or wanting to kick him or her out, be helpful toward their healing?"

The answer is often, "It would make them feel worse." So I follow with, "What would be helpful for this friend?" The answers that often follow are "taking care of her, being with her, holding her hand."

I then say, "That is exactly what your feeling needs."

Feelings often manifest in a physical way. If you're not feeling well emotionally, find where you experience that in the body and just see if you can acknowledge this feeling and imagine yourself either cradling it like a baby or holding its hand. In other words, just be with it, even if only for a few minutes.  

What does this do? This sends the message internally that you care enough about yourself to be with yourself, it also begins to prove to you through experience that you don't always have to run from your shame.

Through learning how to approach, be with, and even embrace the feeling you will transform it for tomorrow.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Ive never thought Id be this person - - Jun 24th 2010
I have a problem with lying, not just to other people but myself. I find myself finding so many problems sometimes it feels like solutions are much to easy to grasp so I just sit in confusion. I can't tell the difference from when I'm proud of myself to when I'm ashamed, and many of these convorsations end with me getting sick of my own voice. I've never been so incredibly alone in my life. This helped. I dont feel stupid holding my own hand or cuddling my own feeling.

Message is "Be with it" - Ash - Jun 23rd 2010

I agree. My counselor/therapist helped me work on one of my key issues through the same recommendation that Elisha makes here.. "Be with it". It has worked for me in a big way. It was an empowering method which helped me create a sel-support system.

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