(The) Gifts of Imperfection: #A-Z Challenge

“I don’t believe that compassion is our default response. I think our first response to pain–ours or someone else’s–is to self-protect. We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.”

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I wish I could say that Dr. Brown is wrong.

There’s a classic self-compassion exercise we can do when the stories we tell ourselves are harsh and judgmental. Just imagine a good friend in the same situation. What wisdom, support and compassion would we extend to that friend?

If what I’ve done is particularly stupid or embarrassing, imagining a friend doing the same thing leads to the same punitive, harping criticism that I heap on myself. Of course, I’d never say any of that to my friend. I would give all of the logical reasons why the situation is no big deal. I’d be a poster child for wisdom, support, and compassion. But inside? Inside I’d be a negative, squirming, judgmental mess.

Self-Compassion is Priority #1

Since we can’t genuinely offer to others what we won’t give ourselves, self-compassion is where we must begin.

Dr. Kristin Neff is the first researcher to empirically study self-compassion. She says that it has the same three components as compassion for others.

First, you have to notice that you are suffering.

Second, you need to be moved by your own suffering and want to comfort and take care of yourself.

And third, you need to recognize that everything you go through is part of our shared human experience. You are not the only person to have ever failed, embarrassed yourself, said or done something thoughtless.

Take the Self-Compassion Test

There’s an excellent 26 question test on Neff’s website. (Look for the purple box on the right under the image.) It took me about five minutes to complete, and gave me an overall self-compassion score of 3.13. Apparently I’m average in having a moderate level of self-compassion.

Sub-scores show that I have a problem with being kind to myself (2.20), am self-judgmental (4.20), and I over-identify with my negative qualities (4.00). No kidding.

On the positive side, I get it that everyone has these experiences (4.25), don’t believe I’m the only imperfect human (1.75), and am working hard at noticing or being mindful of how I talk to myself (4.25)

The test is followed by seven guided meditations and eight exercises you can try if you want to improve your level of self-compassion.

Is self-compassion an issue for you? If so, which of the three components is most challenging: noticing, wanting to help yourself, or recognizing that you’re not alone?


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  1. Very interesting! I know I’m hard on myself; I didn’t think of it as causing me to be hard on others, too! Funny that that alone makes me think it is something I should work harder to correct! Thanks, Karen!

  2. Thank you for this, Karen! In the past I tended to blame myself first, before I ever got around to blaming others (if I ever did) – even when it is obvious to everyone around me who was really “at fault”. Had excuses and compassion for everyone else’s behaviour but not mine. I’ve been working on changing that and think I’m making progress. I will take the test this weekend!


    1. I hope you find the test useful, Deb. It was an eye-opener for me. In particular, I was glad to learn that I’m not a complete bust at self-compassion – just in need of serious work in two of the three categories. 🙂

      1. Self-Kindness: 2.40
        Self-Judgment: 4.00
        Common Humanity: 2.00
        Isolation: 3.00
        Mindfulness: 2.75
        Over-Identification: 2.50
        Overall score: 2.61

        I’m definitely moving in the right direction! Self-judgment still needs work, though. 🙂

        1. Thanks for sharing your scores, Deb. I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I would have done in the past. I’m loving the shared vulnerability of our common humanity 🙂

  3. When I took the quiz this morning, my Overall Score was 3.31. I was feeling refreshed and positive when taking the test. It would be interesting to see the score difference if taking the test when I was in a more negative frame of mind. Thanks for sharing this, Karen. Very thought=provoking.

    1. That’s a good point, Donna. Mood shouldn’t make a huge difference if we consider the questions from the perspective of “how do you feel most of the time,” but that’s hard to do. We all have a tendency to be affected by most recent events.

  4. This is a very interesting point, Karen. It will be revealing for me to take the quiz again when I am feeling less rested, less positive, etc. I know that my present always influences my thoughts of the past and of the future. Richard, on the other hand, is always much more consistent on these type of predictions, regardless of his current state of mind.

  5. Okay, so I hopped over to the website and took the test; here are my scores:

    Self-Kindness: 2.80
    Self-Judgment: 4.40
    Common Humanity: 3.00
    Isolation: 4.50
    Mindfulness: 2.25
    Over-Identification: 4.00
    Overall score: 2.19

    I have more compassion for everyone else…make that ANYone else but really suck at cutting myself any slack. I see there is a lot of work to do on me yet to get my scores more in line with being compassionate to myself. Ah well, it is good to get a benchmark I suppose. Thanks for this Karen, it was interesting.

    1. As the title of one of my books proclaims, you have to Start Where They (you) Are. And to do that, you have to know where you are. Glad you’ve got a benchmark, Susan. It sounded from yesterday’s post as if you’re making great strides in changing your self-talk. That can’t help but ultimately alter your self-compassion quotient soon 🙂

      1. This is true, Karen…if I won’t let myself talk mean to, well, myself it does stand to reason that self-compassion quotient will soon be better. I suppose the very fact that I am reframing and altering my inner dialogue means I have some self- compassion to build on at least. 🙂 After all – we are all a work in progress! Right? 😉

  6. I am also too hard on myself and more compassionate to others. I honestly think women are raised this way, or used to be. I see so much of it in my mother, too. Maybe it’s different these days…?

    1. I don’t know, Jenny. I’d like to think that it’s different these days, but anxiety is at epidemic levels amongst young people. I don’t know the relationship between self-compassion and anxiety, but would guess that it’s tough to be self-compassionate when feeling anxious.

  7. Great post and a lot to think about. I think for those (like me) who judge ourselves harsher than others, it’s because I think that will have a better result. I’m stuck with me. If I don’t make Me work, I’ve nowhere else to turn.

    1. Good point, Jacqui, although maybe a bit self-defeating in that all of the research I’ve read shows hammering away at ourselves never results in lasting positive change.

  8. Wow, I feel pretty good about this.
    Self-Kindness: 2.80
    Self-Judgment: 2.80
    Common Humanity: 4.75
    Isolation: 1.75
    Mindfulness: 3.50
    Over-Identification: 2.00
    Overall score: 3.75

    I wouldn’t have always scored this well. I tolerated my ex-husband being very abusive to me for many years. I had no self-compassion. Then, one day I thought of my daughters, who were very young at the time. I imagined how I would feel if they were in my shoes. Then, I went home and changed the locks. It wasn’t the first time, but that ability to put someone else in my situation helped me to have the strength to never take him back. I still had a long road ahead of me, in terms of healing. I’m happy to say I now have very good judgment, stemming from this concept of self-compassion.

    This is an excellent post, Karen.

    1. Wow indeed, Heather. You’ve obviously done an enormous amount of work to have turned your life around to this extent, telling yourself new and much more accurate stories. When I look at the experiences you’ve been through and the strength you’ve displayed, I am inspired to step forward and take action in making my own positive changes. I have no excuse.
      Your daughters are happy, beautiful girls as evidenced by the photo on your site. That’s down to you, Heather.

  9. I’ve bookmarked the site! I think I’ll try a few of the exercises/meditations after my current meditation podcast session is done. I’m often very hard on myself- you’ve even pointed it out to me 🙂 So, practicing self-acceptance and self-kindness is part of my new learning space. This is so serendipitous!

  10. The most challenging component is “wanting to help myself”, by far. The rest is easy. Something in my (our) brain tells me I need to suffer (to achieve things). Weird how that works. Maybe I’m worried that if I ever allow myself to be happy, it will be a huge disappointment (and worry) to lose that again!

    I did the test, but as with all tests, I find it hard to answer the questions. So much depends on how I feel a particular day, or even if the sun shines, how my husband is feeling, what happened at his job…

    Anyway, I winged it and my average score is 3.

    Self-Kindness: 2.40
    Self-Judgment: 3.20
    Common Humanity: 4.50
    Isolation: 1.75
    Mindfulness: 2.00
    Over-Identification: 3.50
    Overall score: 3.07

    1. Hi Liesbet,
      I’ve read quite a bit about that whole “I can’t allow myself to be happy because it could be so easily taken away” feeling. I can’t for the moment think of where I’ve read it, but I will and when I do, I will share it. I have the same concern, the same belief that I need to strive and suffer and the info I read was really helpful in addressing that. If only I could remember who talked about it. Aargh.

      1. No worries, Karen. At some point it will come to you. And, to be honest, I know this is a feeling I only have when I feel down. I do know better! Happiness is important and, as one of our current home owner’s quotes around the house mentions: happiness doesn’t come in days, it comes in moments. Or, something like that. I’m too lazy and “saddle sore” to go and read that quote on my office right now. 🙂

  11. I think that I am much more self-compassionate than I was when I was younger. I’m also more forgiving/understanding of others. I found it hard to answer some of the questions (I get WAY too analytical about these things) since I don’t find myself in many of those situations very often… maybe especially now that I am retired and get to choose who I hang out with more 🙂

    1. I agree that retirement, and aging, make a big difference to both levels of self-compassion and often to test results. It can be difficult to think globally about a question rather than just consider the most immediate past. But that’s usually why there are several questions that get at the same thing, spread throughout the test so that we don’t get caught in a loop of giving the same limited response over and over.

  12. Karen,
    I’ve spent a good deal of life working on my issues with self-compassion — and I’m happy to say this quiz shows I’ve been successful. My score was near perfect — but that came after years of pain and working to find my voice…and constant, conscious practice.
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts and reminding me to keep working on it.

    1. I’m happy that the test was accurate, Janet! That’s reassuring to me. And I’m super impressed that you scored so well. That also reassures me that conscious awareness and practice can indeed make the difference.

  13. I think I’m capable of self-compassion once I deal with self-criticism. Self-criticism kicks in automatically, as if a default business. I’m working on changing the internal emotional settings, and some days are better than others. The shared-humanity aspect is a great way to look at it, Karen thank you. It’s a thought I have to give myself upon removal of self-critical thoughts, not sure if possible prior, yet, and maybe a practice that comes with time.
    Thank you for the reminder: treat ourselves better, maybe much better, than we treat and speak with anyone else. It’s time, no, past time, we cultivate our own garden, in order to be able to help others.

    1. That’s a nice image, Silvia – cultivating our own garden. And I’m the same – self-criticism is the first weed type to be pulled. Oh my gosh, there are a lot of that type and they are prickly.

  14. I love Brene Brown – she has taught me a LOT about giving up perfectionism (I hadn’t realized it was such an unhealthy focus) and about accepting myself at this age and stage of life. She is such a considered and considerate person – a great role model for a Midlife woman like me!

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    H for Hang on to your Dreams

  15. Did the quiz and scored 2.98, which puts me in the moderate range for self-compassion. I am happy about this, as in the past I was hard on myself if I was not perfect in every way, and confess that I did not think I was a very worthy person. I have been working on being more compassionate toward myself and others, and think that yoga, meditation, counselling, reading material like Brene Brown’s work, and retiring (reduced stress; more time for reflection) have all helped.


    1. Congratulations on the progress you’ve made in showing yourself greater compassion, Jude. All of the things you’ve described have undoubtedly made a significant difference, as you say. Dr. Neff’s activities and guided meditations on her site are additional options in the same vein you’ve described.

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