Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 33:
Worthiness, Perfectionism & Self Compassion
Hitting My Growth Edge
Once in a while an experience comes along which is just beyond what you ever imagined. It’s like you never really dreamed things would get this good. I don’t know if everyone has a growth ceiling, but I think most of us do. It’s the point that is the highest you thought you’d ever go in your life. It might be that you thoughtyou’d one day get married, but you hit your growth ceiling when you make plans to marry someone so wonderful, who seems so much better than the partner you thought you’d end up with. This can cause a lot of anxiety, because we are going past what our expectations were for ourselves. Another example – maybe you hoped you’d become a doctor, but you didn’t expect to attain the position of CEO of a huge medical organization.
Maybe you always fantasized about being a musician but you weren’t expecting to be invited to write all the songs for the next Broadway hit. For me, I always hoped to become a therapist (and there were many times I doubted I’d achieve that goal). I even thought one day I might go into private practice. I never imagined having a thriving full time private practice where I’d love going to work with the clients I most enjoy serving. I never expected to have a podcast and when I did begin podcasting I surely didn’t think I’d have the chance to interview so many wonderful guests. I really never even dreamed I’d be able to interview someone like Dr. Dan Siegel. I’d admired Dan Siegel’s work on the neuroscience of attachment for about 6 years when I made a contact who facilitated my opportunity to interview him. It was then that my feelings of scarcity began to show up and loudly make themselves known.
Scarcity Rears Its Ugly Head
As soon as I heard the news that Dan Siegel had agreed to be interviewed I was elated. I was literally screaming and jumping up and down. Yes, it was that big of a deal to me! It only took about a day for me to begin wondering what was going to happen to prevent this from happening because I knew it must be too good to be true. In Brené Brown’s work, she calls this “foreboding joy.” She talks about when she was on the plane to go be interviewed for the first time by Oprah and she was super excited, but a delay was announced. Immediately she realized the plane was likely to crash and she would never have her moment with Oprah. Every time the foreboding crept in as the day of my Dan Siegel interview drew closer, I reminded myself of that story.
When thoughts of “who am I to think I, a humble podcaster, am going to interview someone like Dan Siegel, a world famous expert on attachment, neuroscience and mindfulness?” crept into my head, I reminded myself of Brené Brown on her way to Oprah and told myself to stay in the moment. Just feel how excited I am, and stay with that. I’m a podcaster, and I have a platform to ask Dan Siegel some questions. There’s no reason the Universe (God, Source, whatever spiritual being fits for you) would think I don’t “deserve” to interview him. In fact, the Universe doesn’t think Dan Siegel is more worthy as a human being than I am, because to the Universe, we are all equally worthy. Here I used the three elements of Self Compassion identified by Dr. Kristin Neff: self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
Worthiness and Shame
Even as I used self compassion and mindfulness to help me remember that it’s okay to feel really excited about the amazing opportunity to interview someone I respect so highly on Therapy Chat, I struggled with scarcity. Here’s how I knew I was operating from a place of scarcity:
I didn’t want to tell my podcasting friends I was interviewing Dan Siegel. Why? I was secretly afraid it wouldn’t happen. I was secretly afraid they would snag him before me. I was secretly afraid something would happen to make them all see that I’m a fraud and a phony, and that I was a fool to think I could ever interview someone like that. I told a few trusted friends (only one was a podcaster – this person has a totally different podcast focus) and family. I’m hiding this exciting news like I’ve got a shameful secret. In truth I really doubted I was worthy. I was so starstruck! It was kind of ridiculous, looking back. For all of his accomplishments, Dan Siegel is just a person. A brilliant person, but still just a person.
So the day finally came. It was my big moment. I have never been so prepared. I checked and double checked everything. I made sure I didn’t schedule anything else that day except for dinner out with good friends and my husband afterwards. We had the interview. It was incredible. I felt like I was floating, I was so happy to be able to interview Dan Siegel. It was a fascinating conversation and when it was over I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I immediately checked the recording to make sure everything was okay.
Here’s where things get ugly. Everything wasn’t okay. When I listened to the recording, I only heard my voice. There was no Dan Siegel voice. I actually wondered whether I had hallucinated the whole thing. If so, I knew I was really losing it. I tried several things to see if I could get his voice to come up, and I couldn’t. I called a podcasting friend, Christy, to see if she could help me. She kindly and generously spent an hour on the phone with me trying everything to fix the recording. She never shamed me or made me feel stupid. But it was all for naught. It turned out I had a bad version of the recording software many of us use, and I never knew because before that day it had always worked great. Apparently after an update there was a compatibility issue with Skype, which I use to conduct my interviews.
How Self Compassion Saved Me!
But this is the crazy part. I wasn’t freaking out. After all that buildup, to find out the episode didn’t record, I would normally have gone into a shame spiral. I would have been so embarrassed, thinking, “I knew I was crazy to think this was going to happen for me!” I would have felt like I didn’t want anyone to know what happened. I would have wanted to hide. But I didn’t feel that way. Even though it didn’t record, the thoughts and feelings that made up about 95% of my conscious awareness were: wow, I just had such an amazing discussion with Dan Siegel. How lucky am I that I got to have that beautiful conversation. I even thought, “how can I be upset? I just got to spend an hour having a personal conversation with Dan Siegel that I will never forget, and I’m considering the nature of consciousness and the Universe...” Of course, I immediately reached out to his assistant, apologetically explaining there was a technology failure, and requesting to re-record if possible. In the past I would have been so afraid to let him know everything got screwed up and his time was wasted. But basically I felt that I hoped he would agree to re-record, and if he didn’t, then it would be okay. Not because I didn’t care, but because I was at peace. I can only attribute this sense of calm belief that everything would be okay to my self compassion practice.
I’m not going to pretend that I have this Zen lifestyle in which I meditate daily for an hour and nothing rattles me. But I have been practicing self compassion, through regular meditation, since September 2014 when I learned about it at Brené Brown’s Daring Way™ training. If you’re interested in doing this (developing a self compassion practice), you can find free Self Compassion guided meditations on Kristin Neff’s website, www.selfcompassion.org. I also highly recommend her book, Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
My self compassion practice saved me. After all of this, I had sent the e-mail to Dan Siegel’s assistant and then I went out to dinner with my husband and our friends, a therapist and her husband, a college professor. I told them all what happened and I wasn’t that horrified. Don’t get me wrong. I felt bad that Dan Siegel’s time was wasted. But other than that I was still feeling gratitude and some disbelief that I had such an amazing conversation with him. I just couldn’t find myself feeling devastated. And I didn’t want to hide. I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t blaming myself. This is different. The perfectionist in me would have fallen apart 2 years ago. It was incredible to observe myself and the difference my self compassion practice has made in my life, and I felt so grateful for that change! What a better way to feel.
My sense of worthiness remained intact; I told all of my friends who knew about it what happened. People were shocked, horrified, several friends said they had tears in their eyes imaging how they’d feel if that happened to them. They felt humiliated and ashamed for me! But I told them they didn’t need to worry about it, because I was okay. And late that evening I received a very kind and non-shaming e-mail from Dan Siegel’s assistant saying that they were sorry to hear about the technology failure and he was willing to re-record. I was so grateful, and I can’t wait for you to hear our interview in Episode 34, which will air next week. I even mentioned to Dan Siegel how I felt about it and how mindfulness helped when we re-recorded. I would never have been able to say that to him if I were operating from a place of shame – I would have hoped he’d forgotten and be afraid to mention it. It’d be the elephant in the room. You’ll hear how he reacted in Episode 34.
So that’s my story. I can’t recommend self compassion practice enough. It has truly changed my life, and this experience proved that to me. Please check out Episode 34 and if you like Therapy Chat, visit iTunes to leave a rating and review, download episodes and subscribe so you can hear the latest episodes as soon as they’re released. Thanks for listening!
You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now!). And for more of what I'm doing, please sign up for my newsletter. You can also sign up for information on my Daring Way™ offerings and other groups and workshops; sign up to receive the latest episodes of Therapy Chat when they're released; sign up to receive my latest blog posts when they are posted, and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram & Google+. If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting!
Laura Reagan, LCSW-C