Recently, I was the first person to show up at a friend’s for our monthly book club. I listened to her story of frantically cleaning her home the day last night after working overtime all week with her husband out of town. She felt guilty leaving the kids at daycare a bit longer a couple of days due to her busy job and barely had time to cook anything nutritious for the family. The laundry was piled up, the yard was a mess, and her children were not listening to her. To top things off, she was sure she was getting a cold. She wondered if it was due to staying up half the night cleaning then spending time lying on the bed with ruminating thoughts why she couldn’t lose weight, look younger, and get everything done like “other women”. Nothing much comes from this behavior except feelings of failure from not achieving perfectionism and chronic anxiety from trying so hard. Does this sound familiar?
In Marilyn Tam’s book The Happiness Choice, she states that women are unhappier than they were 40 years ago and this difference is controlled for race, age, socio-economic status, marital status or number of children. So, why are post-modern women sadder and ridden with anxiety? In a therapy practice working with all types of women, it seems that trying to be all things for all the people in our lives is bringing on a constant state of dissatisfaction and feelings of failure. In a culture that wants a perfect female specimen, inside and out, women are ridden with a sense of disappointment trying to achieve it. So what can we do to shed the superhero persona and just be content with ourselves as we are?
There are many healthy coping mechanisms that a person can do to manage the anxiety of trying to be all things to all people. First, you must make a decision that taking charge of perfectionism is a priority. If life feels out of control, then it is time to control the way you respond to it in the way that you think and act. Begin by realizing and accepting that one woman cannot be everything to everyone. To start a life of less perfectionistic thinking, follow these four steps to changing your thoughts and actions:
- Avoid needless tension. Not all tasks can be turned away from; however, learn what is a “should” or “must” on your list of what needs to be done. Try saying “no” and delegate tasks, for a change (let your husband feed the kids hot dogs instead of chicken).
- Amend situations that you are unable to turn away from. Deal with problems head on and change your behavior toward them. For example, learn to respectfully tell others about your emotions instead of blinding saying “OK” to be a perfect employee or perfect wife. Informing a coworker that you feel overburdened on a project may lead to you getting the help you need. In this way, you can avoid the guaranteed exhaustion and stress that comes from you taking on the world on your own.
- Adjust yourself to a situation. There are plenty of times that we are faced with challenges in life that are unchangeable, but we can change how we react to them. Instead of focusing on the fact that you are not at the job of your dreams, try thinking of the two coworkers you laugh with at lunch a few times a month & the boss that you enjoy working for.
- Acknowledge and accept yourself as imperfect. Sometimes railing against a particular set of conditions such as being behind on housekeeping or not being able to go back to school, is like beating your head against a brick wall. It does nothing but leave you with a headache and blood in your new hairdo. Learn to accept imperfection in yourself. In fact, if you can...EMBRACE it! It can be the perfect catalyst for growth once you accept that mistakes will be made and can be learning opportunities!
Of course, these steps seem simple and need to be tackled one change at a time. If you find that even small changes like these are impossible, it could be time for help from a professional counselor who is ideally trained in handling anxiety brought on by stress and feelings of not living up to one’s potential. Often a trained professional can get to the root of dysfunctional thinking, opening the door to self-acceptance, and eliminating the negative pressure of the constant pursuit of perfectionism. Read More...
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