I recounted a story to my family recently about how my daughter was taking foreeeeeeeeeeeever to complete a homework assignment and my less than patient self was not taking well to the number of hours involved, nor the dramatic sighs and tears that came about because it wasn’t quite, drumroll please… “perfect.” The same scene played out in her attempt to start a drawing, intently following an online tutorial. What started off as a fun activity was soon marked by more dramatic sighs and huffs of frustration when she struggled to perfect a cartoon image of a crayon box. A crayon box, folks.
My brother laughed… ”I wonder where she gets that from!?” He was looking straight at me. It’s true, she comes by this fury honestly. In that moment, I sat within a flood of memories that mirrored the desperate energy my daughter had exuded… the need to make something “just so.” Her version of “just so” was to have her drawing look exactly like the artist’s she was copying and anything less would surely be shameful, worthy of judgment and end any need to pick up a pencil again. Now, I don’t know for sure if that was her internal dialogue, but here’s the thing: it would have been mine, and many others… those of us who strive for perfection in what we do and who we are.
Let’s quickly differentiate perfectionism from healthy striving, as these are very different experiences. Healthy striving is about improvement, achievement and even excellence and these efforts come from a place of empowerment and confidence. Perfectionism on the other hand is about acceptance and approval. It’s a way of living, acting and looking driven by our concern of other’s perceptions… including our own. Inflexible thinking, anxiety, guilt, comparison, unreasonable standards and self-criticism are all part of the game perfectionism plays. It has a way of trapping the whole of our identity and worth in what we do, how well we do it and how we’ll be thought of along the way. Therefore, we hustle to please and perform in our quest to perfect. It is stifling. It is exhausting. And it can be paralyzing.
Perfectionism has many faces but ultimately comes down to fear. Cut through the layers of our efforts to be the perfect partner, the perfect worker, the perfect student, the perfect hostess, the perfect athlete, the perfect parent and you will arguably find fear. Fear of what you ask? If you’re curious, consider this: What is it you don’t want to experience or be perceived as when you’re striving to… perfect the blog post, birthday party, presentation, figure/physique, home, business plan, grade point average, parenting strategy, meal, family image, performance? Whatever it is we’re avoiding… that is our fear.
As Brene Brown suggests, perfectionism comes down to a fear of the world seeing us for what and who we really are: vulnerable, imperfect, and human. In this way, perfectionism becomes a “20 tonne shield” that seemingly protects us from judgment, shame, failure, hurt, and disappointing others, but at what cost? While depression, anxiety, and stress are rightfully cited in research, perfectionism also robs us of engaging in life just… as… we… are .
We convince ourselves we must become smarter, thinner, holier, funnier, calmer, richer… and ultimately “better” before we take any risks. We get trapped in an ever evolving chase for an ideal (who defines what this is, anyways?!) and can’t celebrate what we have going for us in the moment. We get paralyzed in fear of doing anything less than perfect and then miss out on opportunities and experiences. We don’t pursue dreams because we’re afraid of failing. We avoid deep conversations because our vulnerabilities may show through but are then losing out on authentic relationships and intimate connection. We showcase our Pinterest inspired décor and beautifully groomed children, catering to how we’ll be perceived rather than sharing from a place of enjoyment and pride.
But guess what? We can put down this shield and call out the many lies perfectionism feeds us. We can step into our life and claim ourselves to be worthy, just… as… we… are, without the hustle.
This is not exhaustive, but here are a few perfection-busting strategies:
What are some ways you’ve overcome perfectionism?
Starting later this month, I’ll be co-facilitating a 5-week workshop for women who want to quit the hustle to perfection and bravely live life… beautifully and imperfectly. Contact us if you think that may be you!
Journeying with you,
“Judge less. Love more.”
A sentiment a friend posted recently that perfectly captured a theme so frequent in the therapeutic conversations had with clients. While her post was originally in context of how we treat others, the notion of “judging less, loving more” is also relevant to how we experience ourselves.
The critical voice that haunts our thoughts, taints our belief in self and doubts our worth is the epitome of judgment; self-judgment that is. And it’s a struggle woven into many of our stories.
“I’m not good enough.” “Everyone else has it all together, what’s wrong with ME?” “There are so many people who have it worse, I need to just suck this up.” “I’m an awful parent.” “I’m too this… I’m too that…”
This critical voice is harsh and slanderous, ripping ourselves away from the truth of who we are. Just as another’s judgmental words can hurt, so too can the judgments we direct inward. They cut. They sting. They trap us in a quiet yet powerful belief that we are somehow less than and that we are perhaps inherently defected.
I’d dare to put money on it that we don’t like it when others judge us. We might even react. We might get upset. We form widespread social movements in response to the judgments and oppressive actions from others. So why is it then that we endure our own judgment of self? How is it that we stand up for others while simultaneously attacking ourselves with scrutiny and criticism?
“Judge less. Love more.” A simple sounding response to the intricate battle described here. And yet it holds so much truth. So much opportunity. It’s a call to step off the battlefield with ourselves and tend to the hurt; to put down the weapons of comparison, perfectionism, name-calling, and “I should” and consider what it might mean to be our own ally. This isn’t about the overused notion of self-esteem or blindly focusing on our strengths. Choosing love is about acceptance. It’s about recognizing ourselves as someone worthy of care and kindness, and having compassion for the flaws and hurts we inevitably carry. This is the position of love. And we can take it up with ourselves.
Journeying with you,Laurie
Shhhhhh! Something I trust we’ve all been told at some point in our lives. Be quiet. Fall into line. Be good. Don’t say that . Consider those childhood times we’ve been told to sit still and be quiet and those adolescent days of being hushed in class. Sure, these may be normal life moments in which we are taught the importance of respect and safety. But when our personal experiences and our innermost being are, “shushed”… well, that’s a different story.
What do I mean be Shhhhh? It is that experience of being silenced, shut down in often devastating ways. Silencing occurs when others diminish, ignore, ridicule or powerfully override who we are and the voices, ideas and experiences we carry. The effect? We feel invisible and often less than. Anxieties and doubt get stirred up in big ways when we cannot be heard or seen for who we are. We may question anything we feel and experience, not believing it is in fact valid because others' responses tell us in some way they’re not. We may eventually silence ourselves… standing in the shadows of others or keeping our words within. When we are silenced, we are unable to live life as our best self. Let me be bold and say that living from this place is no fun at all. In fact, it's pretty awful.
History and world events reveal many populations being silenced through harsh oppression and violence. Silencing may not always be this explicit but it can nonetheless be toxic, within our relationships and to ourselves. What I highlight here are common tactics and relationship dynamics that can have a silencing effect:
· Being told your ideas and opinions are not important
· Pressure to stay quiet so not to rock the boat ie: “ yes, yes, I’m fine.”
· Eye rolls and the dismissive head shake
· Criticism and judgment
· Bullying and intimidation
· Offensive jokes and slurs
· Being directly told that things must not be spoken of
· Being indirectly shown that life experiences are to brushed under the rug and not to be acknowledged
· Having someone share an experience that one-ups whatever we have just shared (Not everything is a competition!)
· Negative reactions or the quick change in topic when discussing things that make others feel uncomfortable
· Having those feelings you just expressed being dismissed, ie: “Don’t be so sensitive” or "Get over it already."
· Being gaslighted: when someone twists information to make you question your understanding of reality, working to discredit and doubt your experience.
The tricky thing is that silencing can be very insidious, at times strategic and at other times, unintentional. The numerous stories I've heard (and experienced myself) that demonstrate this experience make me pause. Recognizing this list is not at all comprehensive, I write this in hopes of calling out those situations that trap us into crazy-making doubt.
If you are/have been silenced, identify this experience for what it is… and not a reflection of who you are. When you’re told in some way to “Shhhhh. Don’t speak that. Don’t show that. Don’t be that,” step back and create space to find your truth. Then Stand up. Speak out. And be you. Let your story be told. Let your truth be shared. Let yourself be heard. You’re undoubtedly worth this.Journeying with you,
Some time ago I had a personal epiphany I’d like to share
with you in the hopes my growth and learning could be of use, or that you might
find some of your truth in my own.
I have always really sucked at setting boundaries and not been entirely clear why that is. In most instances, boundary violations were small, like paper cuts, and never seemed worth the potential conflict to address them. So I would sit in my discomfort and resentment until those paper cuts grew to gaping wounds. From there I tended to respond in one of two ways: cut and run far far away from the relationship, or flip-out and come across as an irrational, crazy person. As you can imagine, neither of these responses have been particularly helpful for my personal growth or the development of healthy relationships.
Before I disclose much more, it might be helpful to share my definition of boundaries with you. It is:
The ability to set limits with people about what is and is not acceptable to protect the various dimensions of our lives including (but not limited to): our bodies, relationships, time, emotions, life stories, money, roles, physical space, and belongings. (I’m going to break this down those dimensions in more depth at the end of this post; you can read more about it if you’re interested.)
If you apply this definition to your own life, you might realize that in some of these dimensions, setting boundaries comes quite easily. You can say “no” at work to protect your home life, if someone borrows something of yours and wrecks it, you can ask them to replace it, no problem. However, you might also find that in particular dimensions of your life, or with particular people, setting boundaries invokes a whole lot of fear and discomfort. In my case, when people overstep my “role” boundary of being a mother, or in close personal relationships where I fear losing that connection, setting boundaries has been near impossible.
Reflecting on this dilemma brought forth a light bulb, life-changing epiphany.
For those of you who took Psych 101, you might recall learning about Cooley’s “looking glass self.” The general idea of this theory is that the way we perceive ourselves is based on the way others see us. Our perception of self is reflected back to us in the thoughts and feelings of others. Our brains are also wired to remember the bad and disregard the good, so typically those negative reflections stand out much more profoundly than the positive.
In my life, not only did those negative reflections stand out, but I believed them to be TRUTH . Not in every area of my life, but certainly in judgments about my motherhood, and certainly in close relationships with people who know me very well (notice these are the areas where I struggled the most with boundaries). Thus to maintain my sense of self, and sense of self-worth in these very vulnerable areas required ensuring the looking glass always reflected positive things about me. Otherwise I was flooded with shame, an emotion one typically tries to avoid at all costs. And that is a tiring dance, my friends, a dance that also gives away a lot of personal power. Plus, sometimes people just aren’t going to like you. I had to learn to stop giving these people the power to define who I was. I had to fix the broken looking glass so that at the end of the day, only my perception of self mattered.
This is how my story connects to boundaries: setting boundaries is nearly impossible if you lack a sense of self and self-worth. This is the foundation of boundaries, the first and most important step. If you have not developed a strong connection with self, the skills to self-validate, and the confidence to keep you rooted in who you are, you will struggle in this area.
My process of connection with self has been a slow one. It grew when I became a mom. It thrived when I found passion in education. It blossomed through meditation and connection to spirituality. It continues to flourish through passions and interests, and grows deeper and more rooted surrounded by a few good people who know and love all of me.
And I’m happy to report, boundaries aren’t so hard these days.
I hope some of my journey might illuminate some of your path as well.
Until next time,
* Read on below if you are interested in more information about boundaries