Mirror, Mirror On the Wall – Who is the Fairest Maiden of All?
Mirror, Mirror On the Wall – Who is the Fairest Maiden of All? You are, My Dear. You are the Fairest Maiden of All” I am a recovering perfectionist. It doesn't seem like much of an admission, however, it is actually very deep-rooted and penetrates every activity I participate in, is apart of every relationship of which I am a member, and then also oozes into the time during which I am alone. What is a “Perfectionist?” Being a Perfectionist is not the same as trying to do your best, or be the best you can be… we've all heard similar phrases describing our desire and/or ability to try our hardest to achieve a goal. Perfectionism is not this sense of well-meaning trying hard to reach your full potential. Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that feeds from this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. It’s not about being the best, or the “winner.” It’s ALL about being having a perfect self-image and feeling worthy. For me, this thought process is self-destructive because being “perfect” is impossible. It is unattainable. It does not exist. No human being is perfect. No matter how hard I try, I can never be “Perfect.” However, knowing this and believing this are too different things. I know “perfect” does not exist, and at some level even know it’s an irrational belief. However, this knowing doesn't mean I stop trying to be perfect! This “Perfectionistic” belief system is addictive because I invariably experience shame, judgment, and blame because I believe its because when something happens in my life it happened because I wasn't perfect enough, and I should try harder to be perfect. Rather, than stopping this roller coaster and questioning my faulty logic, I become more entrenched and committed to work harder with my quest to live, look, and do everything perfectly. Are you a Perfectionist? Can you identify a similar belief within yourself? To take it one step further, as I begin to feel shame, blame, or judgment (or even just fear that I may begin to feel these feelings), my desire to be perfect intensifies. And the circle goes round and round…. It’s my fault I feel like this; If I were perfect, this wouldn't be happening to me. To me, my friend, Madison (a made-up name) looks perfect and seems to have everything in perfect order in her life. She looks perfect at any hour of the day, with sleep or without sleep! Her kids are always highly recognized for their academic and sports achievements. Her husband is respected within his profession and the community. Therefore, she is perfect. She is accepted. She has nothing in her life to feel badly about. Her kids look and act perfect. What is her secret? I want to be like her. When I was younger, this desire to be perfect was described as “drive” or a “competitive spirit.” This desire to be perfect served me well. I was able to successfully climb the corporate ladder, break holes in the glass ceiling, and didn't feel a thing….so I thought. I thought getting to work early and staying late was accepted procedure. Its what everyone does to get ahead and be recognized. Reworking (over and over again) a paper or presentation until the early morning hours (and hardly sleeping) until it was perfect was also what everyone did. Even if it meant, changing direction completely and starting over from the beginning only hours before the presentation or paper was due. This seemed like normal behavior to me… So, I thought…. As a Perfectionist, I am never satisfied with who I am as I am. I constantly criticize myself for being me! The constant negative thinking about myself creates physical stress and tension within my body that may some day cause many possible serious chronic health conditions years. I should have seen the BIG RED Flag when I was the kindergarten mother in charge of the holiday party and was planning activities and a gift bag no one had ever seen the likes of before. As my children got older, I believed that their behavior was a direct reflection of my ability to parent…or at least I believed that everyone else would judge my ability to parent based on how perfect my children were perceived to be. If my children acted perfect, received perfect grades, looked perfect; they must be perfect and I must be a perfect parent. If my children were in the “right” extracurricular activities and held leadership roles within these activities, I felt proud because this reflected well toward me. My perception was life would be perfect. Can you see the clear and obvious flaws in my thought processes?? For starters, did I really think I could control my children’s every behavior?? Does anyone else really care if my children are perfect?? And most of all, finally realizing “Perfect” does not, can not, and will not exist, as humans we are not perfect. We are far from perfect. As I have gotten older, I have had to confront the roots of my perfectionism and realize the increased stress and physical tension of being a perfectionist has placed on me, and my family, and my friends. Consequently, I have had to take intentional steps to reduce the physical stress within my body. I have developed a meditation practice. I also have tried incorporating various “workout” routines, including walking regularly on the Prairie Path, yoga, and some spin classes. These particular workout routines provide me with an opportunity to be introspective during my workout. Previously, I would use this introspective time to compare myself to everyone else in the room, or play an earlier conversation over and over in my head. Even now, in these positive environments, I have to be careful that I do not internally compete to perform perfectly or begin to criticize myself because I perceive the person near me to be a better spinner, more flexible, and to look better in her workout clothes. Now, I use this introspective time to pray to God. I thank God for that day’s blessings, ask for his help and guidance, and pray for my family and friends. I have had to work hard to accept this belief to be truth: “I am not and never will be perfect, no matter how hard I try. It isn't that I think I am perfect, far from it. I believe I should be perfect and no matter what I try, I am never good enough, never perfect. I am not worthy of receiving love.” I have also learned to overcome perfectionism, I had to acknowledge my imperfections, and accept that I am not, and never will be perfect, no matter how hard I want to be or try to be perfect. I have learned that when I become more loving and compassionate with myself, I begin to embrace my imperfections and become resilient from feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. It is in this process of embracing my imperfections that I have discovered my true gifts: courage, compassion, and connection. My relationship with God has allowed me to come to terms with my perfectionistic belief, to embrace my imperfections and to ultimately, learn to love myself. Grasping the truth that “God loves me just the way I am” has been a tough belief for me to completely accept. While part of me hears these words and considers how wonderful this gift of unconditional love from God really is, another part of me is saying, “Really? You really believe God loves you just the way you are? You have to be kidding, why would he love you?” This internal battle occurs simultaneously. You can picture the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my left shoulder and my head is ping-ponging back-and-forth. It’s taken a lot of prayerful conversation between God and I for me to accept this truth. “God loves me for who I am, God created me and accepts my imperfections and loves me unconditionally.” Sometimes, I repeat these phrases while I am meditating or as breath prayers, “God loves me for who I am” “God created me” and “God loves me unconditionally.” Saying these phrases repeatedly, aloud helps me to actually think about and hear hear the words more clearly and let them sink into me. Believing God loves me for who I am has given me courage and confidence to believe in myself. Believing God loves me for who I am has helped me to be more compassionate with myself and accept myself for who I am. Believing God loves me for who I am has allowed me to become more connected to God because I am honest about myself with God. I can be authentic with God. One strategic change I have made within myself in order to accept this truth of God’s unconditional love and that I am worthy of God’s love is to change my self-talk. Let me re-state this part of the last sentence because its very significant…In order to accept that God loves for me for who I am and that I am worthy of God’s love as I am without completing my to-do list, losing 15 lbs, cleaning out my closets, being a better friend, spouse, mother and etc…. Before doing any of these things, and whether I ever do any of these things, God loves me unconditionally for who I am, NOW. The roots of wanting to be perfect lie entrenched in a belief that I am not worthy. My belief that God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me as I am for who I am has shattered the belief I am not worthy. My old belief has been replaced with a new belief that allows me to be authentic and accepted as I am for who I am, just the way I am. Self-talk is that little voice that nags you when you look in the mirror, the inner voice gets louder and more obnoxious with each time you reach for a piece of chocolate instead of an apple, makes you want to make excuses for how messy your house is when guests stop by unexpectedly, tells you to give your sleeveless tops and bathing suits to Good Will you will never look good in something like that, and clearly tells you repeatedly how inadequate you are and why. Learning the difference between perfectionism self-talk and healthy self-talk has allowed me to change my self-talk and has been critical in allowing me to recognize and overcome my perfectionism. Here are a couple of examples: Perfectionistic Self-Talk – “Nothing ever fits. Why do you try to go shopping? I’m fat. I look like my mother in the mirror. I look tired. I look old. I need to be different than I am right now to be worthy of love and belonging. I’m a lost cause!” Healthy Self-Talk – I want to feel better and healthier. I want to make some changes in my life for me; no one else’s approval is dictating these changes. The scale doesn't dictate how happy I am with myself. I want to invite new experiences into my life because I feel confident about myself. I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now along my life’s journey.” This shift in my self-talk has been life changing. This shift didn't occur overnight and I still struggle with my old Perfectionistic belief system. I've learned when my nagging perfectionistic self-talk is too loud that I need to honestly acknowledge my imperfections. I can regain my center by going to God in prayer and aloud naming the imperfections that are bothering me. Going to God in prayer, truthfully talking to God about my imperfections and how I feel about them has enabled me to become more deeply connected to God. God desires for each of us to be in an honest relationship with him. Being in an authentic relationship requires that we be honest and truthful. Since God can see through us and knows of all our imperfections whether we honestly label them or not…why not take the easy road and talk to God honestly and truthfully? If we try to hide our feelings about our imperfections from God, He knows; so what is the point of trying to hide our imperfections from God? Are you a Perfectionist? Are you struggling with feelings of shame, blame and judgment because you should look perfect, act perfect, and do everything perfectly?? Are you happy with who you are right now? Do you constantly compare yourself to other women? I encourage you to listen to your self-talk. What messages are you telling to yourself? How many times a day are you telling yourself these negative messages? Your brain responds to repeated messaging. This means after your brain receives the same message(s) repeatedly, your brain begins to believe the repeated messages are true and responds to these truths with other similar messages. Your brain adapts to messages received repeatedly, “You deserved that! Look at you, how did you let that happen? You look ugly! You are a real mess, nothing you do turns out right!” After receiving negative repeated messages, eventually, your brain believes these repeated messages to be true and responds with similar comments, “You really are worthless, aren't you? You should try harder to do this or that better, your friends can manage to work, parent and still workout why can’t you do it too? You might as well just give up, it is what it is and You are a LOSER!” And your self-esteem, direction in life, and feelings of purpose begin a slow downward spiral. The way to change your internal communications is through making tiny wording changes to your self-talk. When your self talk begins making excuses for you or pointing a negative finger at you. Notice your self talk, and reword it immediately. Instead of making excuses about how messy your house is when guests stop by unexpectedly, thank them for coming and ask them to come in and offer them something to drink. Don’t utter one word making excuses about the mess. When your self talk begins to compare you to every other woman in the room, notice your self talk. Reword your self talk by thanking God for creating you just the way you are and remind yourself of one of your many gifts. Remind yourself, “God loves me just the way I am, God created me, and God loves me unconditionally.” It is never too late to change your self-talk. Years of negative repeated messages can be re-circuited to produce a more positive, accepting self-perspective. Make positive changes in your self-talk by beginning your morning and ending your day by repeating these sentences: “God created me. God created me perfectly. God loves me as I am, for who I am. I want to feel compassion and love for myself.” The next time you look in the mirror, reword your self-talk and thank God for for creating you perfectly just as you are, and for being with you every step of your journey. “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” Christopher K. Germer, Author