What is perfectionism costing you?

“We have more access to information, more books, and more good science – why are we struggling like never before? Because we do not talk about the things that get in the way of doing what we know is best for us, our children, our families, our organizations, and our communities.”  

— Excerpt from “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

Like many of you, when I read Brené’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I was captivated by her research and her languaging of what I have struggled with much of my life.

I remember reading through this book underlining paragraphs and writing personal thoughts in the margins all the while talking about with everyone I knew.

Parts of me led life through the lens of perfection believing this was the best way to live and do life. As destructive as all or nothing thinking is – it also provides a container of control and purpose to protect – giving the illusion this approach to life is sustainable. Until it isn’t.

I now know perfection is a fierce protector. Hustle. Numb out. Focus on the results. Or do not try at all. Perfection thinks it is the ultimate safety armor. And yet it also ends up wreaking havoc on faith, health, confidence, courage and creativity because the anxiety of perfection fuels both overfunctioning  and underfunctioning.

Perfectionism is often behind:

  • Missed social events + work
  • Loss of sleep
  • Physical symptoms (GI distress, panic attacks, appetite confusion)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Exhaustion
  • People pleasing and worries of letting people down
  • Dread of being misunderstood
  • Procrastination and missed deadlines
  • Constant feelings of failure and unworthiness
  • Panic and perseveration
  • Overwhelm + Obsession
  • Competition and comparison
  • Fears of being found out as a fraud

There is great cost to living a life led by perfectionism.

It is related to loss of revenue and professional opportunities scarcity mindset, relationship difficulties, physical and emotional health problems all the while crushing confidence, faith, calm, and clarity.

A life led by perfectionism costs us our sense of what it truly means to feel worthy – regardless of what we do or what others think. And it sure fights to keep status quo as it fears moving away from this lens will cause more pain and struggle. 

Reading Gifts of Imperfection shifted so much for so many. And years later, we are having brave and honest conversations about perfectionism. It has been powerful for me and many I know to have “Me, too.” conversations around this topic.

At the same time, all of the insight and awareness around perfectionism has created perfectionism around not being a perfectionist.

In essence, perfectionism can hijack the process of trying to move away from the perfectionism. It is an interesting beast, for sure.

Behind perfection is shame, anxiety and fear. There is nothing pretty about these emotions and the impact they have on our lives and the world around us. But the pain needs to be unburdened – not stuffed, minimized or camouflaged or they will keep hijacked what you desire most: connection, confidence and safe community. Which is why I am offering a workshop focused on the fierce protector so we can get curious about its intent and discover ways to shift away from a perfectionistic mindset without triggering feelings of overwhelm. 

If you say to yourself one or more of the following:

  • Why am I still struggling with____? You should have had things figured out by now…
  • No one can ever see me struggle.
  • Why try? It will not be good enough no matter what.
  • Everyone else has it all together but me…
  • I am obsessed with eating healthy – food is good or bad and my body is the enemy.
  • I can’t stop counting calories. If I do, I will lose control and not be desired.
  • You are the one who has to keep it all together. You can’t struggle.

…. then perfectionism is still trying to protect you the best way it knows how. 

And at the heart of these emotions lies trauma, betrayal, attachment injuries, rejection, loneliness, confusion.

If you try and fix perfectionism without digging deeper and doing the work to heal the root of the pain, you will only get temporary relief. And this work is not easy. But it can be so fruitful. It never ceases to amaze me what we learn about ourselves because we have the help of trusted support.

We can’t think ourselves through the pain – we have to feel our way through it. Perfection says fix it now and be done. Wisdom says this is a lifelong process.

My excitement about doing the work to (re) define perfection is in part selfish as I am doing this work continually myself. Safe community is a powerful space to continue to rumble with perfection and (re) define its role in your life.

If the pain of perfectionism resonates with you, I encourage you to consider joining us in San Diego on May 18-20 for (re) Define Perfection: Choosing Flexibility Over Rigidity – which is part of our summer mental health series for adults.  You’ll learn how to implement daily life practices to help build the resilience and courage needed to show up in life with both boundaries and an open heart. Learn More.

What do you rumble with this most? How is perfection costing you? I want to hear about your experiences with perfection and rigidity and how you are tackling this common issue.

With gratitude – Rebecca

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A Manifesto on Struggle and Respect + One Week Until Our Open House

 

At Potentia, we are dedicated to decreasing the stigma around mental health issues and those who ask for help when struggles arise. There are many mixed messages about daring to ask for help, especially from a therapist. We get it. Therapy has its own baggage as our field is often not portrayed in the best light in pop culture.

The therapists I work with – along with colleagues I know around the city and the globe – are doing their best to change the reputation of our field. By holding high professional standards and always learning, refining our professional skills and practicing personally what we encourage our clients – we strive to offer those we serve with the best clinical care.

There are so many ways to heal. EMDR Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Shame Resilience Theory, Interpersonal Neurobiology, Bowen and Structural Systems Therapy are many of the approaches we view how people change and heal.

Those seeking relief from trauma, loss, life transitions, eating disorders, addictions+compulsions, relationship tensions, depression, anxiety and more are some of the bravest people we know. The courage it takes to ask for help and commit to healing, improving, and growing never ceases to be inspiring and humbling to witness.

As we prepare for our 4th annual I Choose Respect effort to be showcased on our Facebook and Instagram feeds during the month of February, here are some thoughts on how we view struggle in the first I Choose Respect Manifesto.

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(re) Define Failure: Reckon, Rumble, Rise, Repeat

(re) Define Failure

Four years ago this week, I attended a conference where Brené Brown was speaking on a panel. When we met afterwards, I told her I listened to her first book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will Others Think’ to ‘I Am Enough’ while I ran my first half marathon. She knee slapped and about fell down laughing.

brene brown first mtg 2011
All smiles and a bit blurry…

I was so grateful to share space with a woman who cares passionately about family, faith, and making an impact on this planet through meaningful work in areas that I also care deeply about.

My respect for her research grew and a year later I would attend my first training in her work in San Antonio, TX. And four years after that first meeting, I found myself in Texas last week, yet again, sitting with my fellow The Daring Way™ Case Consultants getting trained in her latest research featured in her new book: Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. (This book is coming out August 25th – pre-order here so you can have it in your mailbox as soon as it releases! )

Rising Strong Training
Yes, I travel with sharpies!

Brené’s research calls you to do more than recite definitions and, what has become to some, trendy lingo. It inspires action… and sometimes some regret because there is no turning back from the learning process this work fosters.

Her integrity along with her talents as a communicator and leader have changed the international conversation on shame, authenticity and courage. Brené is so gifted in making complex concepts easy to understand.

But do not be fooled. Taking the insights from her research and putting them into action is nuanced, hard work and not comfortable. Not. At. All.

It takes time and effort. Addressing traumas, grief and loss are inevitable if you start the journey of developing a shame resilience practice. Facing failure, frustration and doubt is also inevitable in this work, too. Which is why the Rising Strong process so important.

I appreciate Brené clarifying in Rising Strong that her work is not a quick fix to healing but a guide to a life-long practice involving struggle, failure, fear and shame resilience – all based on the results of her research.

No matter what your brain is drawn too, there is no such thing as a quick fix to heal from pain, traumatic or distressing experiences, loss, transition, mood issues, eating disorders, and more. It just takes a life time commitment to curiosity, compassion and doing the work.

Workshops, therapy, books, programs can all be wonderful tools on the journey, but be wise as to who you invite to support you on your path. As I wrote in my last post on struggle, good marketing is just that, good marketing. Be an informed consumer of media, services and products.

Rising Strong will feel like a letter of encouragement to many of you who show up day in and day out – reckoning and rumbling with the stories you tell yourselves which are filled with inaccurate data –  validating your struggle and persistence to find a better way to engage in your life.

This work is subversive, gritty and painful at times as the message to (re) define failure pushes new edges. The rush of “Me, too!” is often followed by “What now?”. Which is why Rising Strong in such an important read.

Here are some of my favorite nuggets from Rising Strong and my training last week that are provocative conversation starters in your circles of influence:

  •  “The physics of vulnerability = If you are brave enough you will fall. Daring is saying, “I know I will eventually fail and I am all in.” p.5  If you dare to show up and be seen you will fall and fail. It is not an if, it is a when. Taking this posture challenges the stories you tell yourself about failing and instead normalizes failure as a part our. It also teases out very quickly where you have externalized your worth and value.
  • “Experience and success don’t give you easy passage through the middle space. They only grant you a little grace, a grace that whispers, This is part of the process. Stay the course.  p. 27/28 Grace, the undeserved gift from God flows deep with this work. Expertise is not the the savior in this journey, only God’s grace is what heals and offers oxygen when you feel like you are suffocating from your pain.
  • “Falling in the arena in the service of being brave is where our courage is forged.” You do not develop courage by studying it. You develop it by show up, falling and rising again. The struggle is hard as you fight to stop living from stories that are keeping you stuck.
  • “You cannot do anything brave or courageous without getting attacked. The alternative to avoiding the attack is silence – then you are complicit with the problem.” This is scary. But we are living in a time where we need less fear-based silence, less screaming, less critics and more respect+courage as we challenge harmful narratives that are taking lives and crushing souls.
  • When we go into struggle, our brain’s job is to make up a story about what is happening. The brain does not take into account the need for vulnerability and still classifies vulnerability as danger.” Building up the bandwidth to tolerate vulnerability – risk, uncertainty, emotional exposure – is a non-negotiable on the path to love and belonging (not fitting in where you are show up in life how you think others want you to be verses who you uniquely are.). That is why developing a shame resilience practice is crucial in this work.
  • “We get a dopamine rush when we find patterns that can fill in the beginning, middle and end of story” Even if the story is inaccurate, your brain wants to find a conclusion. So much so that you get a bit of a chemical boost when your brain writes an ending to a story. There is power in the stories we tell ourselves. Get curious about the stories you are telling yourself. Make sure these stories fuel bravery and courage instead of fear, shame and blame.
  • “Men and women who rise strong challenge conspiracies and confabulations (my new favorite word!) in the stories they are telling themselves.” A confabulation is when you tell a story you believe is true but it is not true. Conspiracies are based on some fact and also inaccurate data and assumptions.
  • “Sometimes we get so busy self-protecting we do not get curious… and then we protect at the expense of the other person.” Relationships are hard, messy and challenging. When you protect yourself in ways that are not reflective of your core values, through shame, silence, blame  – you often may end up hurting both yourself and someone you care about.
  • Our healing can never be dependent on our access to other people or the feedback from other people.” It is often helpful to engage with those who have hurt us in healing process but may not be possible or appropriate.
  • “Shaming someone else diminishes my humanity.” Shame is never a necessary ingredient in the healing process, though it often shows up. How we respond to shame when it surfaces can impact the trajectory of your healing process.
  • “When we allow ourselves to be defined by what everyone else thinks, we lose our capacity for courage. When we do not care what anyone thinks, we lose our capacity for connection.” These reminders are so powerful. And so you will find yourself in the grey zone of vulnerability as you turn away from the exhaustion of numbing out from caring what other people think or people pleasing and worrying what everyone else thinks.
  • “He or she who is the most willing to be uncool will gain the most from this work.” Being uncool is not about attention-seeking behavior. It is about tolerating the vulnerability of being seen and potentially misunderstood. Cool is overrated and sometimes exhausting. Laughter, song and dance fuel the freedom to (re) define cool.
  • “We tolerate physical discomfort but not emotional discomfort.” I am amazed at how so many people devalue emotional pain and see it as less-valid than physical pain. Your emotional pain deserves respect, care an attention – or it will start to run your life.
  • “Speak truth even when your voice shakes.” Speak up and inspire. Your voice is needed.
  • Trust, love, joy, creativity, innovation are all inaccessible without vulnerability. This leads to darkness.” When shame and perfection are the responses to feelings of risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure – tolerating vulnerability seems impossible and courage feels far away.

There is no room for perfection when we choose courage and normalize failure as part of the human experience. Mindy Kaling recently wrote an article in Glamour about confidence where she articulated the paradox of failure  ie: I feel better when you are failing and horrible when I am failing:

‘People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them… But when you’re winning, it makes them feel like they’re losing or, worse yet, that maybe they should’ve tried to do something too, but now it’s too late. And since they didn’t, they want to stop you. You can’t let them.”

When you are constantly thinking about what others will think if you fail – or succeed – than you are letting shame and fear drive your life while squelching your precious and unique story from being told and lived.

Yes, we are the brave and the brokenhearted. It is time to (re) Define Failure: Reckon. Rumble. Rise. Repeat.

Cheering you on –

Rebecca

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Struggle does not equal failure – and other thoughts on struggling.

struggle does not equal failure

Last spring I had the chance to give a talk on a topic that is near and dear to my heart: body and story shame. One of the slides I shared during my talk – featured at the top of this post – garnered the most feedback from participants. I was struck by how powerful this statement was to so many and what a relief people said they felt when they gave themselves permission to separate struggle from their worth and value.

This feedback echoed one of the most common frustrations I hear from people about their frustration with the presence of struggle in their lives and the suffering that often ensues.

Many of the men and women I have met over the years show up in my office feeling like a failure because they are struggling (or are frustrated because they are still struggling) believing “everyone else seems to go through life without struggles like mine.”

Comparison is a beast to reckon with when it shows up. Our brains think comparison is helping us get safe when in fact it just pushes us deeper into the tar pit of fear and frustration.

I have given witness to countless individuals who realized what they believed about struggle was fueling shame. They decided to take a leap of faith and reach out for support  – hoping a different approach to their struggles would offer much needed relief.

Some of the most common myths I hear about struggle are:

  • All struggle is bad.
  • Struggle means I am a failure.
  • I am always going to struggle.
  • A life without struggle is possible and if not achieved, you are doing something wrong.
  • Only weak people struggle.
  • There is no place for struggle at work or in relationships.
  • Struggle means it is all my/their fault.
  • I can’t handle struggle.
  • When something is achieved without struggle, it is not worthwhile or valued.

I believe struggle is crucial to healing and growth. My desire is to continue to grow, heal and learn for the rest of my life, so I know struggle will be a reluctant companion of mine for seasons. It is now important for me to reflect on how my struggle came to be and what has/has not been done to achieve change but also how I respond to the struggles I face.

Be wary of responding to struggle with perfectionism: look perfect, act perfect, be perfect, never let people see you struggle, never let anyone struggle or be disappointed. Perfectionism keeps us frozen in homeostasis, squelches faith, keeps us chasing the unattainable and robs us of the opportunity to build our bandwidth for struggle.

Also caution against responding to struggle with shaming, finger-wagging questions like, “Why did I do that again?”  or “Why do I not have this figured out by now?” or “I know better, why I am still struggling?”.

Taking a posture of curiosity and respect when looking at your struggles or those of your loved ones is crucial. Turning away from the seductive reactivity of judgement, blame, gossip and numbing when struggle arises is also important so not to devalue the pain and uncertainty struggles trigger.

Responding differently to struggle involves (re) redefining your struggle narrative. I believe wholeheartedly in the following:

Struggle is data not an identity.

Struggle is a place of refinement.

Struggle can help discern if it is time for an ending, a change of focus or direction.

Struggling refines and builds fortitude.

Struggle is opportunity to engage and move through the pain, uncertainty and fear.

Struggle is where discomfort and breakthrough meet.

Please note: While I believe struggle is a foundational ingredient to sustained change,  if struggle ever involves physical, emotional, spiritual abuse it is imperative you remove yourself from the situation and get safe along with the appropriate support.

While we are walking this planet there is not a guaranteed end to struggle – which makes all of us susceptible to believing offers of quick and easy ways to deal with the pain of struggle. I am very suspicious and often frustrated with people who offer quick fixes to pain.

These gimmicks feed on fear and exhaustion with well-written promises that are enticing by speaking to your pain points. Good marketing is just that  – good marketing. It even gets to me and causes me to challenge what I know to be true: there is no way around the pain of struggle except through it – taking one step at a time while using hope as a flashlight in the dark.

We also need to caution against equating the duration of our struggles with our worth.

We like the certainty of quantifiable data and there is indeed a good amount of information available which can provide perspective and frameworks on your expectations around struggle. There are many excellent resources available in books, blogs and courses to learn, grow and develop important practices which can revolutionize how you engage with life.

But one-size-fits-all formulas which fuel unrealistic expectations and offer a cure to our struggling are misguided.

To change the narrative around struggle, we need to improve our bandwidth and tolerance for struggle along with the messy and uncertain. Doing the work to address trauma and distressing life events in your story is an important place to begin or continue healing. We are big proponents of EMDR Therapy at Potentia because of its efficacy, the research behind it and the respect it offers when addressing the tender parts of a client’s story.

There is nothing tidy about being a human who desires to engage in a life full of meaning and purpose. Figuring out how to set and maintain boundaries (not walls), getting clear your core values (which help you set boundaries) and building a sustaining shame resilience practice are necessary components to the journey of being human.

The story you tell yourself about struggle can have a powerful impact on how you show up in your relationships and at work; how you pursue dreams, handle rejection and disappointment.

What is the story you are telling yourself about struggle?

Start by sharing your stories of struggle with people who have earned your trust. If you do feel like you have someone to trust with your unedited story, write it down and start wrestling with all aspects of your story of struggle with a posture of respect and curiosity.

It is my hope you view struggle not at something to erase or mask but instead a space where redemption and grace ooze and fill in the holes of pain, loneliness and shame.

For those of you in San Diego, there are some workshops coming up at Potentia where you can can more clarity on the story you are telling yourself about struggle. Register here for the following:

  • (re) Define Perfection: July 31, August 7th and August 14th from 9AM-12PM Cost: $197
  • (re) Define Courage One Day Redux Workshop: August 21, 2015 Cost: $247 Ministry, Student and Wellness Professional Rate: $197 RDC Alumni Rate: $100

And for those of you not in San Diego:

  • The (re) Define Body Image:Choosing Respect Over Body + Story Shame e-course will be launching again this fall on October 5th. It will be a pay-what-you-can fee, though the suggested rate is $97.

I am also going to be giving the (re) Define Body Image: Choosing Respect Over Body + Story Shame talk I referenced at the beginning of this post at San Diego First Church of the Nazarene on September 19th from 9AM-12PM. Email me at rebecca@potentiatherapy.com and I will send you the registration details when they become available.

Cheering you on as you seek to tell a different story about struggle –

Rebecca Bass-Ching, LMFT

 

 

 

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