Clinical psychologist, Joe Alberts talks to Leigh Hatcher about the difficulties many men have recognizing they need help, when they are conditioned to fixing things themselves.
Hi, my name is Alison and I am a perfectionist. Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Take it from me, the road to recovery from perfectionism is a long and difficult one. Why is perfectionism such a problem that warrants recovery and repair? Does this not mean that I’m a high achiever on the healthy pursuit of excellence, destined for greatness?
Well my friends I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but perfectionism does not in any way resemble the healthy pursuit of anything. It is not healthy. Fullstop. It is actually quite harmful. Perfectionism can seem like a positive trait. It can make you seem smarter, more switched on or driven to succeed in life. Yes, often the perfectionist can present this way. But there is another side to perfectionism that is far less enticing, less rewarding and far more damaging.
Let me take you behind the scenes on some of the core beliefs behind this insidious trait. As a perfectionist:
1. You are motivated by the fear of failure or a sense of duty.
2. You feel driven to be number one, but your accomplishments, however great, never really satisfy you.
3. You feel you must earn your self-esteem. You think you must be very ‘special’ or intelligent or successful to be loved and accepted by others.
4. You are TERRIFIED by failure. If you do not achieve an important goal, you feel like a failure as a human being.
5. You think you must always be strong and in control of your emotions. You are reluctant to share vulnerable feelings like sadness, insecurity or anger with others. You believe they would think less of you.
Basically, perfectionism hampers success. It can lead you on a path towards depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis (defined as all the opportunities you have missed out on due to fear of putting anything out there that is imperfect).
These beliefs are incredibly negative and self-deprecating in nature and are inherently different to a healthy mental structure for screening and perceiving information. On the opposite end of the spectrum to perfectionism is the healthy pursuit of excellence, and this is where:
1. You are motivated by enthusiasm and you find the creative process exhilarating.
2. Your efforts give you feelings of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, even if you aren’t always ‘the greatest’.
3. You enjoy a sense of unconditional self-esteem. You do not feel you have to earn love and friendship by impressing people with your intelligence or your success.
4. You are not afraid to fail because you realise that no one can be successful all the time. Although failure is disappointing, you see it as an opportunity for growth and learning.
5. You’re not afraid of being vulnerable or sharing your feelings with people you care about. This makes you feel closer to them.
Brene Brown, a well known author of the bestseller, The Gifts of Imperfection, states that the journey towards letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are starts with learning how to live a wholehearted life. Courage, compassion and connection, as the ‘gifts’ of imperfection, help you embrace your beautifully imperfect world and help you start to embrace worthiness. But don’t be fooled by these seemingly lofty ideas. The training in the use of these concepts involves practice. The art of repetition many times every single day. Not when you’ve gotten through your to-do list or when you have a spare few minutes (because let’s face it, you’re a perfectionist with a to-do list longer than you’re life span allows), but as a priority.
Here are some examples of how and what to practice.
1. Strive for a healthy outlook on life. Start and end each day with reading, watching or listening to something that inspires you.
2. Practice warmth and kindness towards yourself when you feel inadequate. Remember, imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders we are all in this together.
3. Tell yourself you are good enough just as you are. For example, at the start of your day say to yourself ‘Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough”.
4. Focus on forgiveness rather than bitterness. Be the ‘benefit’ finder rather than the ‘fault’ finder.
5. Work on stillness using mindfulness strategies at times when you feel vulnerable or fearful. By practicing mindfulness you will learn to roll with negative feelings so they stop having control over you. Your aim is not to be anxiety free, but to be anxiety aware.
6. Rather than being defensive, work on being open to suggestions. Embrace your flaws and learn to laugh at yourself by making your mistakes humorous and light-hearted.
7. When problems arise, focus on your sphere of influence. What is in your control to change? Move away from chronic worry that circles around in your head for days. Move into problem solving mode as quickly as you can.
8. Realise you can do one thing ‘perfect’ or many things well. Make a choice to let things go in order to increase your growth and learning.
It’s amazing how implementing such basic changes to your thinking and outlook can move you closer towards excellence from perfectionism. And if your perfectionistic brain thinks it’s not going to work so why bother, then I challenge you to challenge this faulty logic that keeps you stuck in ‘black and white’ or rigid thinking. For the richest, most beautiful and pleasing colour in the world my friends is ‘shades of grey’. That’s right. Shades of grey that go between the black and the white. This resembles flexibility and adaptability. By embracing flexibility, you have a chance to enjoy your life for what it is, in all its imperfect glory. In the words of Albert Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
So, I will keep going on my journey and I wish you all the best of luck on yours. Remember, we cannot cross the sea merely by staring at the water. Positive change is no accident. It comes from hard work, perseverance and a little bit of love.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. 2010.
The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. 1989.
The Pursuit of Perfect- How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by T. Ben-Shahar, 2009.
By: Alison Lenehan, Psychologist.
Written by Ivette Moutzouris
Probably not, but there are certainly some changes that you can make that can minimize persistent worrying.
At the core of worrying is the idea that I am not in control and therefore am afraid of the unknown. I was talking to a group of young adults recently about the fact that we have an innate desire to be in control. The reality is that we aren’t in control a lot of the time. We just have to watch the news to see that this is true on a global scale and look at our own lives to see that the hurt, disappointments, sadness, stress, anxiety and worry that we experience usually come from events that are out of our control.
Worry Free Living therefore has to begin with an acceptance and acknowledgement of what is the reality….that is that I can’t control everything and can’t predict what my future will hold. Once we get to this place there is a sense of peace as we become more accepting and hopefully learn to enjoy the ride of life with its ups and downs and twists and turns. Equally as important is a clear understanding of the things that I can control…..that is ‘I can control what I will do as a response’, ‘I can make goals’, ‘ I can choose to admit that I am wrong sometimes’, ‘I can choose to say yes or no’, ‘I can choose to try and move forward’, ‘I can choose to focus on my achievements whilst learning from my mistakes’, ‘I can choose to be the best me’, ‘I can choose to accept the things I can’t change’ . Understanding what I can control vs what I can’t is therefore very important and liberating. It helps us to be proactive when it’s needed but also accept the things we can’t change.
Simplify your life. We often try to do too much and sometimes this can contribute to increased levels of stress, anxiety and worry. Reexamine your commitments and what you are actually able to fit into your life. Ask yourself questions such as ‘Am I taking time out to take care of me?’, ‘Am I learning to find pleasure in the things I am committed to?’ or ‘Am I choosing to do too much at the detriment of my health and well- being?’. If the latter is true then it would be helpful to make some changes or to get some help.
Create a Worry and Problem Solving Time. This helps to break the habit of ruminating or persistently worrying about things all day and night. It enables you to create a special time so that you can problem solve and think through the problem clearly. It also helps to free up the rest of day to do things with a more focused approach but knowing you will attend to your problems/worries later. Remember that when you do this try to assess the things you can control vs what you can’t.
Nurture Yourself. This is important because ultimately you live in the ‘here and the now’. It is important to make goals for the future but it is also important to focus on what you are doing now and how you may want things to be different. For example you may realise that you are not taking proper care of yourself and need to make positive health changes in the form of a healthy diet, exercise and better sleep.
We cannot completely escape worrying but we can definitely learn to approach life’s challenges without carrying all the burdens on our shoulders and we can also learn to value and enjoy what we do have.
Forsyth, John., & Eifert, George (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Canada. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Bourne, Edmund., & Garano, Lorna. (2003). Coping With Anxiety. Oakland, C.A. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
This week’s blog by psychologist Hazel McKenzie offers a view into a world you may not know, or you may live there everyday.
In the beginning the sea was calm. The sun was shining. You set out with good intentions, some ‘you’ time. Time out. Self care. Self improvement. Getting back to your best. Everyone can benefit from that, right?
It felt so good, being alone on the ocean. No noise, no alarms, no bells. No accountability. No sense of time. You and the waves and the sun and your beloved boat. Going in whichever direction you pleased. It felt good. Nothing in the world to touch you out there, by yourself, in control. Steering your own ship. You forgot how good it was.
You didn’t see the storm on the horizon at first. Enjoying the relaxation of the day, you didn’t realise the time. No rush, nothing that couldn’t wait at home. The storm would pass, it was way out to the east. You were comfortable, your thoughts drifting away reassured by the motion of the boat as it rocked you to sleep. No harm in a nap, just a little one. The boat was safe, the air was warm, the waves rocking, soothing. You were feeling the benefits already, wishing you had done this earlier. You wake and it’s dark. How long has it been? It is raining. You reassure yourself though. Not far from land, plenty of time to get back to the harbour. Lifejackets on board – not that you’ll ever need them. The weather forecast assuring you that no big storms are predicted. Not tonight. You’ll be OK.
The rain gets heavier. Intuitively you realise that the storm is heading your way but you don’t trust your intuition, you trusted the weather channel instead. As you consider heading back into the harbour you suddenly realise you’ve drifted much further than you realised. You must have slept for hours. The storm is heading your way and there seems no way to avoid it now. You put on the lifejacket and with no radio signal you are totally alone. Ready to face the storm. The lifejacket offers you warmth, security and hope.
The storm hits with ferocity and the boat starts to fill with water. You try to empty bucketfuls back into the ocean, but you are one person with one back and the water just keeps coming in. It feels like a losing battle. You tire, feeling like the situation is hopeless after what seems like the millionth bucket. But your lifejacket is secure and if the worst happens it promises you will be OK. You can keep your head above water with the lifejacket on and you will live, even if the water gets too much for the little boat to carry anymore.
Inevitably, the boat sinks. The weight of the water rips it apart until it is no longer recognisable. Pieces of wood and debris you hardly recognise float around you. No comfort, this boat has not saved you from the storm, without the lifejacket you would surely have perished to the same watery graveyard below.
Hours pass. The storm passes. You are alive. The lifejacket your only saviour. Hours pass. The lifejacket now has you safely in its arms, carries you where it wants to go, sometimes this way, sometimes that. You have no control over the direction you drift in, your life literally now in the jacket’s hands. The sun beats down on you. The yellow plastic reflects the sun’s rays onto your face and they burn. The ragged edges of the plastic fray your neck like a rope. You are alive. The lifesaver has sustained you still, has not deflated, not let you down.
Two days pass. You are tired, the lifesaver has carried you with the current, away from the shore and the wreck of the boat. It is all you have now. Hope is fading but your lifejacket is here, trying to reignite your hope…it will be your saviour.
The sun rises and with the opening of your eyes for the first time you see land. You try to swim towards it but the current is going the other way and the lifejacket pulls you in the other direction. You fight, but you have little energy left.
It is then you realise that you have two options. You can continue to trust the lifejacket that has kept you afloat for days or you can take it off and try to swim for shore. The thought of removing the lifejacket terrifies you. It has given you security, hope, trust, it was there for you in your darkest hour. You doubt your ability to swim. You doubt yourself. What’s left of your logic tells you your limbs are not strong enough to swim the short distance to shore. If you take it off you will surely drown. Fear vs hope. Hope vs fear. The decision sits heavy. You are convinced that you cannot swim. Have lost the faith in yourself to know how to. In a moment of quiet you hear a voice. You are unsure if it has come from the shore or perhaps it is your voice. You barely recognise it. SWIM. Surely a trick of the sea? SWIM. You are barely conscious, not knowing the depth of the water, could be 200m could be 2m. SWIM. DROWN. The decision is overwhelming. Sink or swim. Float or drown.
SWIM. And don’t look back.
The above story was inspired by a metaphor used by Family Therapist and Mental Health Nurse Peta Marks. It hopes to give some insight into the journey that Anorexia Nervosa can take clients on, but it also can be applied to any fear or situation that starts off being helpful and healthy and then takes over your decision making. I dedicate this story to the clients who having made the decision to swim are now on dry land. What will your decision be? Will you let fear take you further downstream this week?
By Erin Patten
MPsych (Educational & Developmental)
Registered Psychologist @ Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre
I have had parents bring their anxious child to see me and say “but what does a child have to be worried about?” And the kids tell me – plenty! While their parents may not necessarily see the child’s fears as something to be scared of or worry about, the fear is real nonetheless to the child and giving them effective strategies to face their fear is really important.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience at times – and sometimes this can actually serve to keep us safe in a threatening situation. Think about our ancestors: did we evolve from people who were scared of bears and wolves and ran away – or did something else to keep themselves safe – when they saw them coming, or those who saw them coming and did nothing? (I’ll give you a hint: the second group of people got eaten by the bears and wolves!) However, in some children the degree of anxiety they experience in particular situations far outweighs the threat and means they can actually miss out on important childhood experiences such as trying new activities, making friends, or going to new places.
There are several different types of anxiety that may present in children including:
- Separation Anxiety: These children have difficulty separating from their parent/caregiver, and often worry that something bad will happen while they are apart.
- Social Anxiety: These children worry a lot about what other people think of them. They may have difficulty mixing in social situations and subsequently find it hard to make friends.
- Specific Phobias: These children are scared of one particular thing or situation, for example dogs, the dark, thunderstorms, spiders . . . and the list of possibilities goes on.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: These children repeat the same behaviour over and over again, fearing that something bad will happen if they don’t do it.
- Generalised Anxiety: These children worry about many different things, and may find it hard to try new things, seek constant reassurance, and often complain of physical symptoms such as a sore tummy or headache.
There are several things that parents can do in order to help their child with their particular fears or worries. As a parent, we all want to protect and reassure our children. However, for children with anxiety doing this too much can actually serve to increase their fears of the particular situation. If you are constantly protecting your child from the situations or things they are scared of or worried about, this only serves to affirm the message that they are not able to cope. Anxious children need to be encouraged to experience situations for themselves in order to attain the sense that, “I can do it!”
Validating your child’s fears is important, but be sure not to reassure them too much. For example, it is helpful to say, “I understand you are feeling worried about . . .” but focusing too much on the anxious behaviour only serves to reinforce it and means your child is less likely to overcome their fears.
It is important as a parent to expose your child to the things or situations that they are afraid of in order to help them reduce their fears. If you allow your child to avoid the thing they are fearful of this will reinforce the fear. Breaking fears down into more manageable steps is a helpful way to approach the anxiety. This is referred to as the ‘stepladder approach’, and this page http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/anxiety_stepladder_approach.html
has some great examples of stepladders. It is great if you are able to decide on the different steps with your child, and doing this means that they will feel more of a sense of control over what is happening. They may need to practice each stage of the stepladder several times before they feel confident to move on to the next step. Rewards can be incorporated into this process along the way too to encourage your child. It is important to remember that rewards do not necessarily have to be ‘stuff’: one of my favourite ways of rewarding my children is by doing a special activity with them (and it’s fun for me, too!).
Allowing your child to make mistakes is something that many parents find difficult. But this can be important in terms of helping your child to work out how to solve problems on their own. Although tempting, it is better not to jump in when you can see your child struggling. It gives them time to try a different strategy rather than reinforcing to them that you don’t think they can do it.
When you are tackling your child’s anxiety, staying calm and patient can be quite a challenge at times, but it is important to maintain this as much as possible. And of course, it’s a good opportunity to model your own emotional regulation strategies to your child! If at any stage you need help or support through the process, working with a psychologist is a great way to work through your child’s (or your own!) anxieties.
Erin Patten is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre. You can find out more about Erin here.
If you would like to make an appointment with Erin, please call (02) 9869 0377.