Wholeheartedness: Practicing Self-Compassion When I Feel Like I’m Failing

Today I feel like I’m failing at life.

I’m not a very “together” person and honestly, I’ve never tried to pretend that I am. I don’t have a problem admitting that I mess things up sometimes. But lately it’s felt like all the time.

There are dozens of things I know I’m not very good at. I don’t like failing at those things, but in a way, my expectations of myself aren’t very high. I’m prepared to deal with these failures. It’s so much more discouraging to find you’ve failed at something you like to think you’re good at. And I’ve been failing like a boss.

You know how sometimes you pray for patience and then God gives you lots of trying circumstances as opportunities for you to practice? And (if you’re like me) you’re like, “Yeah, not cool, God. Not what I meant.” I feel like that’s what’s happened to me lately.

At the beginning of the year I said, “Ok, God, I want this year to be about learning wholeheartedness. I want to live with intention, to connect, to be compassionate, and to live a life that isn’t ruled by shame.” And I feel like God said, “Ok, well here’s some anxiety, and here’s some loneliness, and here’s a heaping spoonful of shame. Go ahead and practice wholeheartedness. Sucker.”

Yeah…Thanks, but no thanks.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience.” This is the ability to accept that you’ve made a mistake without letting it affect your sense of worthiness. It’s the ability to lean into those feelings of vulnerability and silence what Brown calls your “shame gremlins” by practicing self- compassion. This is how we can admit to our mistakes and learn from them without letting our mistakes define us.

I have been lonely lately. Not, “I have no one to hang out with” lonely. More like I don’t feel a strong sense of connectedness and belonging. This has made me self-focused and self-centered. I’ve spent more time feeling sorry for myself, thinking about what I wish I was getting from others instead of about what I could be giving. And this has led to some pretty epic fails on my part.

My shame gremlin sounds like a meaner version of Mushu from Mulan. (Hashtag Disney4Eva). “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow…” except more like, “This is why you’re lonely. Because you don’t deserve love and belonging. Because you suck.”


Yesterday I let my shame gremlin overwhelm me. It was one of those days when I went to bed at 8:00 simply because I couldn’t bear being conscious any longer. I woke up this morning feeling about the same and frankly, I don’t feel much better now, but I’m going to try to practice shame resilience. And I’m going to start by extending grace.

The thing about grace is, it’s always there for me if I just let myself receive it. The only thing standing between me and grace is my shame. I inked this word, “GRACE,” onto my body because I wanted it to mark me, but I still have trouble letting it pierce my heart.

When you’re not very good at something, the only way to get better is by practicing. So I’m practicing. I’m practicing extending grace. I’m saying, “It’s OK that you really messed up, here. You are already forgiven. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. You can grow and you can learn from it. This does not affect your value or your worth.”

I’m still feeling pretty crappy. But that gremlin sounds a little quieter now. He’s still talking, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen.


  1. Its funny that you put into a such nice craft what i had been dealing for the past two weeks…a failure boss..i had to look for that reference you are mentioning regarding shame gremlin..it is fitting though that it is a ling weekend here and i ill be havibg lots of time practicing that value


  2. I feel exactly the same thing, Lily. You’re not alone. I have had my moments in trying to always understand that every moment in my life are part of a big plan even though how confusing it is and how frustrating it can be. It’s hard to look at it in the bigger picture most of the time because these individual situations are valuable to our identity and thus becomes part of our life experiences. My loneliness does not come from my environment but from my internal emptiness, maybe this is a calling to do something that reflects more of who you are rather than what the societal standards say. We are our own best friends. 🙂

    I don’t want to assume that you’re feeling what I’m feeling but I just want to acknowledge your bravery in writing out these thoughts, I am pretty sure people, like me, appreciate your vulnerability. It’s hard but it’ll be worth it. 🙂 Good luck with everything & Keep writing! Stay strong.


    1. Thank you so much for your compassion and for your encouragement. I really appreciate it. Blessings to you as you work through similar feelings. I really appreciate your thoughts!


  3. I, too, have been struggling with feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. It pretty much always leads to self-pity and self-centredness. Thanks for articulating the way forward.


    1. It’s sucky, isn’t it? I think there’s such a balance to be struck between being in tune with your feelings and being able to ask for what you need and being overly concerned with yourself and with your needs. I feel like I’m constantly on one end of the pendulum swing. I think, “I’m being too selfish, let me focus on others.” and then I give and give and give until I get burned out and my tank is totally empty. And then I think, “Ok, what do I need?” and I end up getting so focused on that that it becomes all about me again. Sigh. Thanks for sharing – I’m really hope this was encouraging or helpful to you in some way.


  4. The words you’ve sculpted are precisely what I’ve been wanting someone else to feel so that I can relate. When I first started my blog, I followed yours first, and everyday since you have inspired me. Thank you, you will never be a failure in my eyes.


    1. Barb, that is so incredibly kind! Thank you so much. It means so much to me to hear that. I’m really glad you could relate to this. I hope it was helpful to you in some way. 🙂


  5. “This is why you’re lonely. Because you don’t deserve love and belonging. Because you suck.” Oh boy, do I know that mantra well! This was an incredibly brave and honest post. If only there were an elixir to silence those gremlins once and for all. Thank you for the reminder to be more selective in the voices I choose to listen to!


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Writing this was hard and pressing publish sent me into a bit of a panic, but ultimately I felt much better for doing it. I’m really glad this was meaningful for you. I think realizing that other people really do experience a lot of the same thoughts and emotions that we do makes it easier for us to connect with others and also easier for us to practice self-compassion. Thanks for your encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. i’m sitting here with tears running down my face because this is exactly how I feel. It’s like you took my ridiculously emotional email yesterday that i sent you and made it make sense.

    Thank you for sharing. I connect with this so much.


  7. Hi Lily – I’m sorry you’re going through a rough patch. It’s a horrible feeling when you’re sunk in the Slough of Despond. But Bunyan wrote about it for a reason.

    One thing struck me in particular as I read your words – looking at your life day by day can make it painfully hard to see the bigger, forward-moving picture. Not seeing the wood for the trees. Your intention means you must be inching forwards but if you’re measuring every day, or even every week to demonstrate your progress, you’re setting yourself up for sadness and disappointment. Human change is sometimes a two steps forward one step back process. It’s hard to be in the middle of the one-step-back part, but if you look back over your year so far, do you see shame or do you see wholeheartedness? Or a human mix of the two, with much more wholeheartedness than shame?

    I don’t mean to sound trite. I’m a lot, lot older than you and one thing you learn with age is to be kind to yourself. Which allows you to be kind to others. Your life, hopefully, will be a long journey. If you could 100% ‘sort’ your ability to live wholeheartedly in one short year, that would be miraculous. It’s a worthy intention and you’re living your intention to the best of your ability. As a human, with all the frailties of humanity. And that’s enough, more than enough. You’re moving forwards. There’s no shame in that.

    I’d also say, having lived abroad myself, that it’s much easier to feel like an ‘island’ when you’re isolated in a foreign culture. The friendships you form far from home are different – more intense but more shallow-rooted. You’re thrown back on yourself in a way that isn’t usual at home.

    I like your idea of not listening to your gremlins. A friend of mine, who’s a hypnotherapist, has her clients turn down the volume on the critical or guilt-inducing voices that pop into their heads uninvited. Not to waste energy fighting them, but to turn them down little by little, until, eventually, their voices fade into nothing. It’s like the long term weight-loss plan versus the crash diet.

    I hope you’re feeling better for writing and that you’re feeling even better for reading people’s kind words in response,

    All best wishes for your own Pilgrim’s Progress (remember that word – progress!)


    1. Elaine, thank you so much for your kind and wise words. I think it’s so wise to remember that progress is such a slow and gradual thing and that sometimes we can’t even see it until we look back on it later and realize that we’re not where we once were.
      It’s also good for me to remember that it’s not as if I’m going to arrive at the end of this year with trumpet blasts announcing I have officially arrived at wholeheartedness. 🙂 It will be something I work on my whole life. And hopefully this year will be a stepping stone on creating some patterns and habits that will lead to a more wholehearted way of living.
      You are also right that living abroad creates some unique situations in terms of relationships and connectedness and it’s good to remember that and also to remember that (in my case) this won’t be forever.
      I did find writing this to be very therapeutic. I felt much better after I had finished it.
      I always appreciate your thoughts and your insights. This was very encouraging to me. Thank you for taking the time to share. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lily, my absolute pleasure. I’m really glad it didn’t strike you as glib.

        I’m really glad you felt better after writing. Reading some of the comments under your post, you made a lot of other people feel better too. Writing is therapeutic, isn’t it? The very act of ordering your thoughts and getting them out of the dark corners of your head and onto paper/screen has something of a spring-clean feeling about it.

        Be kind to yourself – as kind as you would be to anyone else.

        All best wishes

        I think you’re wise to see this year as a stepping stone and to remember what value holding on to your intention to live wholeheartedly will bring you.


      2. No, it wasn’t glib. 🙂
        Writing has always been my best way of working out my feelings. Sometimes I can’t even figure out what my feelings are until I get to writing. I know I feel bad, but I don’t really know what’s bothering me. Somehow writing it helps me figure that out.
        I am practicing being kind to myself. I’m hopeful that the more I practice, the more natural it will become!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It is a hard balance….wanting to give of yourself, but to also receive the things you need from other people. We all need people in our lives, it is part of the human condition…..we are not meant to “live alone.” Therefore, we need connection for survival. However, sometimes we get a little off course with attempts to get our needs met and end up getting let down. We then leave door wide open for shame, blame and sadness.

    This is especially true, if we do not have our own confidence to fall back on. The voice in your mind that says….yes you are worthy!

    You is kind….you is smart….you is important! My favorite line from The Help….maybe this is good self-talk.

    By the way…Brené Brown is awesome.


    1. Yes, exactly – there is this real balance between being selfless and taking care of yourself/asking for what you need. And I love that line from The Help – that just melts my heart everytime I hear it. 🙂 Brené Brown is awesome. She has big ideas, but is also so practical about how to implement them. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for extending grace to me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hang in there, Lily! There are different seasons in life and they are ever changing. After reading your “Wholheartedness” post, I was inspired to write my own, with my main point being I couldn’t pick just one word, because different seasons in our lives require different words, and one word for the whole year felt like a lot of pressure to me. Maybe this season requires a different word for you, and when you are in a new season, wholeheartedness will be waiting for you. Sending you a big e-hug. Here’s my post if you want to read it, I meant to send it to you when I wrote it. https://prayersandpiazzas.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/on-life-lists-and-finding-my-word-2015/


    1. Thanks, Stacy. It’s true that seasons of life bring us different things, but I kind of think that wholeheartedness is probably what I need to thrive in this season of my life – it’s just that growth is painful and difficult sometimes. Thanks so much for your support and encouragement. And I enjoyed your post! I’m glad you were inspired to do that!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Lily. I too suffer from this malady of shame, and quite frankly a “resistance” to receiving grace. It’s like “I know better” as in when my parents would scold me as a child by saying, “What’s wrong with you? You should know better!” That mantra developed in my adult years into an intellectual superiority complex that has done nothing but continue to shame me any time I screwed up or failed to live as God would have me live. As a pastor I have been able to dole out bucket loads of grace, with all spiritual sincerity, upon every broken person I have encountered yet I was never willing to take a drop for myself, because “I knew better.” That is, I knew how to behave , I knew what God expected of me. I just had to redouble my efforts at perfecting myself so that I could honor God with my effort and results.

    It has only been since the beginning of 2015 that I have come to realize what hubris this was. That I could actually think that, having known better, I could achieve holiness (a noble goal), in my own strength (not Biblical) apart from Gods Grace was pure arrogance on my part. It was not righteousness! If God has created us, all of us, to be in this utterly dependent relationship with Him, who was I to tell Him “No thanks, I’ve got this.” I suddenly realized that this adult manifestation of my childhood shaming was killing me, leaving me feeling disconnected and alone, and isolated from every other person and God.

    So I too am learning to practice His presence in my daily life and my dependence upon Him for everything. And hopefully learning to cut myself some major slack!


    1. Hi, Rick. Thank you so much for sharing this. There is so much I can relate to here and I really appreciate hearing about your experience and your perspective. Your realization that not accepting God’s Grace was a form of arrogance for you was especially interesting to me – because that really is what we’re saying isn’t it – “God, your grace is good enough for everyone else, but it isn’t good enough for me.” Even when that’s coming from the perspective that I’m not worthy of that grace, there is still a measure of arrogance in saying that God’s gift isn’t big enough or extravagant enough to work for me. That’s a humbling thought. I’m glad you’ve been realizing these things and starting to make some progress in practicing God’s presence. Thanks so much for sharing!


  11. Thanks for both your honesty and your encouragement. I really dig the term “shame resilience”; I haven’t seen it before. I don’t just feel the shame of recent failures–my subconscious loves to excavate mistakes from months or even years ago and shove them into my face again despite all the protests of my conscious mind. It’s incredibly frustrating when I think I’ve moved past something to have it continue to tear down my self-worth. I think one reason my mind constantly returns to my failures is that I want to somehow make sense of them, to infuse some sort of meaning into the mess I created. But trying to order my own chaos is impossible. All that’s left is trust–handing the broken pieces to God, believing that He can somehow work all things together for good.

    Really beautiful post.


    1. “Shame Resilience” is Brene Brown’s term for it (I highly recommend her books and TED talks by the way). I’m the same way – whenever I start to feel shame over a recent failure, it immediately dredges up shame I’ve felt in the past over unrelated things. I really like your phrase “trust-handing.” That’s such a distinct and powerful image to me. Thanks so much for all of your encouragement. I’m really glad to know that someone else gets these feelings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Here’s to saying yes to our messy, imperfect lives and to embracing self forgiveness every day! What a lovely, honest piece of writing.


  13. Hey there! I remember reading that you were suffering from some anxiety… These things you are feeling, like the lack of a sense of connectedness and belonging, usually follow anxiety, and also becoming self-centered… it’s all part of it… I feel the same and it makes me feel very lonely, and I know that virtually nothing that people tell you can make you feel better…
    I’m sorry you have to go through this, but it is going to pass at some point, as everything. 🙂
    You are quickly becoming my favorite blogger!!!


    1. Ah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t made the connection, but that makes sense. I’ve mostly been feeling like nobody has time for me, everyone’s too busy with their own lives to care about me. Which in turn made me so focused on how no one was noticing me that I wasn’t able to notice when my friend needed me. Vicious circle. 😦 Thank you so much for your continued encouragement. It really means a lot to me!


      1. Yeah, it looks a lot like what I have been feeling, I’m starting to see the end of the tunnel now, even though it’s still far. It’s all connected… If you need a friend to talk to about this, I’m here and I have a contact page 😉


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