Category Archives: Teaching

Be Nice to Yourself! Stopping Punitive Perfectionism

Last night, I heard someone, emphatically, declare, “don’t make promises you can’t keep.” My punitive alert monitor soared to harsh. I thought, so this person has never EVER broken a promise? He’s infallible? What happens when he or others make mistakes? ┬áNo mercy. He’s Punitive Peter. Punitive Patty for the females. People who regularly respond punitively when people mess up, fall short, or don’t measure up, lack empathy and compassion for themselves and others. They punish instead of being compassionate and patient. It takes on different forms: angry or cold stares, avoiding eye contact, harsh criticism, judging, being unforgiving.

The Vicious Cycle

The person experiencing the scorn feels worse and the punitive person feels better in a negatively perverse way. I was one of those people and at weak moments, still am. I had a cruel father that didn’t allow mistakes like spilled milk, laughing at the dinner table and challenging an order. We walked on eggshells and internalized a stringent, unattainable perfectionism encased in punitive pie crust. This bred lots of anxiety, fear of failure and being abandoned. In therapy, I have learned that I was cruel to myself and others when mistakes were made. I was not allowed to be, and hated being, human.

Impossible Perfectionism

Not everyone had this kind of home life but in my experience as a coach, teacher, and visual self-compassion-quoteartist, almost everyone I work with, young and mature, is hard on themselves and others. More and more, I teach people to be patient, kind and forgiving with themselves especially when learning something new and working with others. Impossible standards of perfectionism are created and when they are not met, the punishment, brutally verbal, begins. We get locked in a punitive cycle of perfectionism and punishment. That we’re hard on ourselves and others is not new but it seems more awareness has been created in this time of social media scrutiny and comparison.

Making Changes

Change begins with you. Examine your relationship with yourself. How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake? How you behave toward yourself is mirrored in your exchanges with others. Are you impatient? Do you call yourself names? I used to curse myself out for not finding my keys! Do you judge yourself harshly? Are you “supposed” to look and feel a certain way? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re punitive. You’re making life more anxious for you, loved ones and people you work with. You’re making yourself sick. Take a deep breath… and stop. Be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes because that’s what humans do. The world doesn’t hang, or end on, what you do. Let me know how things go.

Be Creative or Bust!

Think creativity is only for baristas or designated artists? Think again. It’s for you, your mom, uncle Vikram, the dedicated gift wrapper and condiment stylist. You don’t have to be “good” at it either. It’s not a contest. It’s about letting your spirit out, letting it soar and pushing your limits.

Acknowledge the Fear

Creatively, I was dormant for decades. A dear friend, dub poet Lillian Allen, suggested I get Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way and get “unblocked.” It worked wonders. I had to face a lot of childhood fears of rejection and losing love. For over a year now, with intermittent breaks, I have drawn, doodled, done Second City improv, painted and written. I don’t worry about making something “great,” because when I do, it takes all the joy. Public failure and vulnerability is still a challenge for me but I’m working on it.

The Benefits

Making pottery, sewing, cooking, building a bird feeder or coding, is engrossing, joyful, challenging and spiritual. It’s humbling. Not knowing where a sketch or colouring page ends up astounds and mystifies me each time. Most of all, creative expression comforts me positively. It’s an alternative to bad self parenting, like addiction, or too much sitting and computer time. It’s also great for calming and channeling anxious energy.

Do it with a Buddy

If you find it isolating, or a little intimidating, enlist a friend, family member or work colleague. Join the #100dayproject which runs from April 19th to July 27th. Follow elleluna on Instagram and the hashtag.

Lastly…focus on the process, not the end product. Revel in the exploration, sensory flow and the joy of play. Doodle like nobody’s watching!

Let me know how it goes ­čÖé


Writing: An Act of Self-Care, Love and Motivation

For the last few months I was anxious and abandoned most of my self care regime for different reasons. I stopped doing my Morning Pages and affirmations. I didn’t post anywhere. Didn’t eat too well and slept very little. I floundered.

write bravelySelf care, self-parenting, don’t come “natural” to me. With the help of my┬átherapist, I’ve been learning how to nurture myself, build confidence, in healthy ways. The cornerstone of this has been writing and when I choose not to write, I suffer. It’s that simple. It’s a form of neglect. Returning to writing this month, especially this week, delivered these revelations. Writing brings me clarity, truth, comfort, confidence, when I do it honestly. Honesty is the key. WHAT you write matters more than HOW you write, when it comes to self nurturing. When I write I know I’m taking care of and empowering myself, especially that emotionally neglected little girl in me.

I am writing this for you today or someone else you care about. If you have the courage, yes courage, to find out the truth about why you are sad, angry, lonely or scared, writing will deliver. Because it’s just you and the page. Now, instead of skimming through more social media posts, or checking how many likes you got, write a paragraph or two. Find out what you’re thinking and feeling. Empower yourself.

Thanks for reading,

What will you tell your children about the Boston Marathon bombings?

I take my work as a teacher very seriously especially in the aftermath of tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings. I answer pretty much every question students throw at me, like, “Why did Hitler hate Jews so much?”, “Is The Diary of Anne Frank a good book? and “Why did the U.S. bomb Japan and not Germany in World War II?” I really feel that it is my responsibility, as an adult, to respond honestly and openly to their questions because they need guidance. It is my goal to draw them into a complex yet understandable discussion and show them how to use reason to unpack very difficult issues.

This weekend, my first student, an 18-year-old, wanted to discuss the Boston Bombings. She was feeling sad and defeated by the hateful act. Like many of us often do, she focused solely on the two suspects and their single act, which is exactly what the bombers and their ilk want. They want you to despair, feel defeated and hopeless about humanity. Which is why they targeted the marathon, the quintessential life-affirming event. The attack was the ultimate anti-social, anti-life, anti-hopeful act. They wanted to destroy what they did not have. I told her to mourn the dead and the injured and to think about what they will have to endure but to also focus on the fact, that the majority of the people at the marathon, EVERYONE except for the two suspects, did good things! That, “the vast majority stands against that darkness,” Patton Oswalt posted.

Our children and students, of all ages, need to feel positive about people, safe and proactive. I gave my student an exercise. I asked her how would she discuss the Boston Marathon Bombing and similar events with an 8-year-old? We brainstormed and came up with the following discussion points: possible causes (anti-social behaviour, alienation, outmoded notions of masculinity) and prevention (rejecting constrictive notions of manhood, more mental health resources, family intervention, coping skills, group discussions at her Church) because make no mistake there are other young men on the cusp of making a similar hateful statement on an international stage. Our young men are still bottling up rage and feel justified in harming other people in great numbers.

At the end of today’s session I told her she can call or email me if she needed to talk about the attack and I told her father about our discussion, about how we all have to be concerned about our young men and he said it was a good idea. Those of us who want to understand why a person commits such a heinous act is not out to “make excuses for it” as Prime Minister Harper suggests. We just want to stop the next attack and make our children feel safe and positive. We want them to reject and denounce this ultimate act of hate. So, turn off the 24-7 media coverage but don’t avoid your children’s questions. They need your calming and thoughtful presence more than ever.