Self-compassion for our flaws creates connection

Dr Erin Bowe Psychologist

October 12, 2021

First up, if you want to listen to this week’s thoughts, you can do that on the Mum As You Are podcast HERE

I’ve recently had a few people ask me about visibility – how do you show up to be authentic without getting too personal? Without all the 1990s sleepover vibes where you just know that if you don’t join in the other girls will freeze your bra (just me?)

For me it comes down to this – we need to be communicating that we too are imperfect. Sharing your self-reflection is an empathy practice. You can’t lead effectively without being vulnerable and going first. We are flawed. Highlighting our own character flaws and what we’re still learning – this is where the gold is.

In communicating this, yes, we might receive some criticism, but you learn to ask “is this person in the arena? Are they too showing evidence of working on themselves and being a contributor instead of just a spectator?” This is especially important on social media.

As a student, I can barely recall a time when a supervisor EVER said to me that they made a mistake, let alone used their insights about their own character flaws to guide supervision. I simply decided that’s not how I wanted to do things.

The things that are my greatest strengths are, of course, my fatal flaws. Here’s just 5 of mine that I’m aware of:

1.    I focus well. If I say I will get a task done, I will generally stick to it, BUT I will laser focus to the point of forgetting to eat, drink water, move or to have fun. I will persist with a task out of stubbornness, or not wanting to go back on my word, even if EVERY sign points to it being futile or not the right time. Starting the year working on a book about parenting in the pandemic only to not follow through has been hard. I’ve learned that I can work as hard as I want, it’s still not the right time to write a reflective piece on this yet, even if it means I didn’t meet my goal (and let people down).

2.    I suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’ (hello, double Gemini). I will put everything into a project, but the second it gets tedious, monotonous or uncreative and stuffy (like formatting the 50 references for my second book) I might decide I’d be better off switching tasks to something else.

I once gave one of my masters students the completely wrong instructions for scoring an assessment because I was too interested in teaching her 5 other things. I had to go in the next day, tail between my legs, and say “yeah I stuffed up”. Despite beating myself up about it, oddly enough, it allowed so much more space for her to trust me and come to me with ANYTHING without fear of judgement.

3.    I’m prone to pushing myself to create or decide things out of scarcity. Especially in Spring when the weather is better, my energy is better and the last quarter of the year is looming. I’ve said ‘yes’ to jobs in my 20s that were completely unsuitable for me simply because I hated even one minute of being unemployed. Turns out, I also mostly hate having a boss! I’ve put up with unsuitable bosses, crappy pay and horrid work conditions (cue windowless office and no security in a job where I assessed people for psychopathy) simply because I thought “if there’s something better for me it would have showed up by now”.

Coming into the last quarter of the year where I’ve had to abandon projects and will not launch a single thing this year- it’s been hard to not make it mean something about my value as a person. Yet, coming out of this pandemic with my mental health in tact and (mostly) being present for my kids holds stronger value, and I constantly return to this centering thought.

4.    I choose the ‘difficult way’ hoping it will pay off. Sometimes it does, but often it doesn’t. That’s entrepreneur life!

At uni, I’d often choose the difficult, obscure option for an experiment or essay topic hoping to get ahead of the curve. I can think of maybe 3 times I got a close to perfect mark; but many more times I barely passed. Cue the time my cinema lecturer who demanded “how have you even seen this bloody movie?!!!”

Ah, Sweet Sixteen by Scottish director Ken Loach. It wasn’t out in Australia yet. Instead of choosing a film actually stocked in the Hobart video store, I thought I’d be really clever and import a DVD from Ireland for my contemporary cinema assignment. Yep, it totally didn’t pay off and now that film is in the Erin Bowe canon of movies I can’t watch – like Old Yeller, and anything in the Saw franchise.

5.    I’m really, really great at giving help, but I won’t ask for it unless I’m on basically on my deathbed.

It’s one of my many ancestral traumas I’ve recognized. It’s taken me until my late thirties to realise a pattern where asking for help feels, in my body, like a billion alarm bells going off.

It brings up feelings of shame, stupidity, and lack of safety. It shows up every time I spend 3 hours researching something rather than just ask someone a question (you know, in case I bother them). It showed up BIG time during my first breastfeeding experience.

It’s not even my trauma, but it’s very much a reaction wired into my DNA. An ancestry that dictates you must not show weakness, that you must be strong and self-sufficient. I’m yet to dig fully into the Scottish witch trials and where my ancestry and ancestral trauma responding fits, but it feels like it makes sense. I use a distancing technique by saying to myself “this is not Erin’s trauma. This is someone else’s trauma”

In short, someone has to go first, and I have to say, that it’s mostly served me well. It’s allowed me to develop relationships with my mentorees that have spanned years.

It’s what’s allowed me to cut through weeks of small talk to find people I actually want to connect with in my parenting journey.

Your truth is your truth. Allow people to take it or leave it. It is a precious thing for people to find the right people to help them quickly. Give people the chance to find you and keep coming back despite all your flaws.

Weekly whimsy

Lord help me, my three year old has confused the word ‘tentacles’ with the word ‘testicles’.

It has created some hilarious moments and, interestingly, I remember doing exactly the same thing at her age – and being shamed for it by a prudish stranger. Do you ever feel like the universe j
ust gives you a nod and says “let’s make this a better experience this time?”

Other resources

I’ve also released an additional blog post this week – “so, you want a career in perinatal or birth trauma?”. I finally got around to putting one of my most asked questions in a long form blog post. I hope it will be handy for anyone you know who might be contemplating this work.

Stay well,


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