Category Archives: vulnerability

Inside the experience

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about mental health – my recovery process in particular. I think that is because my tendency towards perfectionism (be the perfect child, be the perfect friend, be the perfect employee) has meant I have also wanted to be perfect in my recovery. However, that is not the case.

Writing is a therapeutic tool for me and though what I am sharing in today’s post is a deeply vulnerable topic for me, I feel it is important to share. I know many of my followers and readers are people who struggle with similar mental health challenges and, like me, when you look to the online community for articles and stories to help you, they are few and far between. So I write this post not just for me, but for you too.


I recently got refitted for a bra and was politely informed my boobs had shrunk a full cup size. For a “barely B” you can imagine how horrified I was at the realization my body was reverting back to its preteen years. I mean seriously guys, MY BOOBS ARE SHRINKING. The same day, I reached my lowest weight of 114 lbs and though I didn’t make the connection at the time, it’s fairly obvious the shrinking boob epidemic is the result of losing weight.

More disturbingly, I failed to recognize that my weight was even an issue. The recommended weight for someone of my height is 120-155 lbs. From all outward appearances, I look normal and healthy even though the scale shows I am underweight. But if there is anything I’ve learned in working with my therapist over the last month on the whole ‘WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MY BODY’ thing, it’s that appearances can be deceiving, especially for people who struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders.

There were two frightening moments I encountered recently that made me pause and question my behavior and one revelation that prompted me to open up to my therapist about the extent of my disordered eating.

One of the frightening moments happened a few weeks ago when I weighed myself and saw the scale jump from 114 lbs to 117 lbs (the result of indulging in Irish food and Guinness). I had gained 3 lbs. You would have thought the world was ending. I was disgusted with myself and immediately put into action a plan to lose the weight, despite the fact I was still below the recommended weight range.

The second frightening moment happened just the other day when I got home from a three-hour workout and refused to eat because I had two cookies earlier in the day (it didn’t matter I had just burned 700 calories). My body was starving and screaming at me I NEED FOOD, I NEED FOOD yet I ignored those cries for nourishment and took a sleeping pill, hoping to sleep off the hunger.

At this moment, I knew my behavior and thinking was irrational. I was obsessively counting calories, restricting my diet, and over exercising. I kept telling myself to just stop it. Yet, I couldn’t. It was around that time I also began noticing that I was picking out my eyebrows more frequently – a habit I engage in when I feel anxious. It’s a disorder called trichotillomania, which leaves bald patches in my eyebrows. I’ve had it since I was about 14 years old and despite therapy it hasn’t ever gone away. With years of experience in dealing with the disorder, I know that when I engage in this behavior it’s a way of me dealing with stress. Having that understanding often makes me step back and look at why I’m anxious. And, this is where the big revelation occurred.

The source of my anxiety – and thus the eyebrow picking – was food.

It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. During the day, I count down the hours and minutes until the next “snack” because I can’t eat a minute sooner. Every night, I plan out my meals for the following day, record the calories, and determine how much I need to exercise to stay at just 900 calories a day. I take in 1200-1300 calories and burn between 500-700 calories. Any deviation from that plan immediately makes me anxious.

For example, on my coworker’s last day in the office we went to our favorite burger joint. I couldn’t not go so I made a deal with myself. I would order a cheeseburger but I would absolutely not eat the bun AND I would work out an extra 30 minutes on the elliptical that evening. To counteract the fries I would eat, I decided I would only have vegetables for dinner that way I could still remain within my daily caloric goal. The entire time I ate, I only thought of the calories I was putting into my mouth. I didn’t even savor the food. I stuck to my end of the deal, though, and my anxiety quickly subsided.

I described similar scenarios to my therapist (like the fact I skipped out on a happy hour last week because I knew I would drink a beer full of empty calories) and all I wanted to know is WHY the hell my mind was thinking this way. She drew me this:

FullSizeRender

Food is my trigger. When I have to eat, my anxiety skyrockets. The eating disorder yells at me and says things like, “What are you doing!? You’re going to get fat if you eat that!” or, “That’s disgusting! Stop eating!” So, I make a deal with the eating disorder. If I eat this cookie, I will do XX amount of additional exercise. Or, if I eat this burger I won’t eat dinner. The eating disorder says OK and my anxiety plummets. Thus, “the deal” becomes a powerful reinforcer for the eating disorder to continue. It’s the coping mechanism for my anxiety.

I have not been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Partly because the primary diagnostic tool used is whether or not your period has gone away. I have an IUD, which means I don’t have my period at all. But I do have disordered eating, which is dangerous because it can easily lead into an eating disorder – whether that’s anorexia or bulimia. Not everyone who has disordered eating will develop an eating disorder, but everyone who has had an eating disorder started with disordered eating. This scares me and I do not want that to happen.

The most important thing to me right now is recognizing I need help and getting it before it gets out of control. I am going in for weekly metabolic screenings. I have scheduled more frequent therapy visits. I’m working with my psychiatrist to re-address my medications. We’ve made goals to incrementally decrease the amount of exercise I do and increase my calories to at least 1500 a day. I know it won’t be easy, especially since I’m already fighting it.

To the family and friends I have talked about this struggle with, it’s difficult to grasp. As they say, I’m the sanest person they know and when I feel that kind of anxiety, it doesn’t visibly show to them. They don’t know I need help because I hide it well. Though I may look healthy on the outside, my thinking and behavior to maintain that image is not.

Of course, there are deeper seated issues behind the behavior besides anxiety. As my therapist pointed out, the emotional and mental abuse I went through in the last four years by the hands of someone else seems to have been replaced with emotional and mental abuse at my own hands. I have a lot to work through still. Thus is the wild ride of recovery for me.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under anxiety, depression, eating disorder, Food, health, mental health, mental illness, pefectionism, recovery, therapy, vulnerability

Too damaged to love?

It is difficult to look at someone who seemingly has it all on the outside and imagine they are damaged and broken on the inside. These are the people who expertly hide their realities; the ones who quietly suffer from life experiences of abandonment and disappointment from the most important relationships in their lives.

I find myself seeking these people out. I suppose it is because I find an odd beauty in something that seems so wrecked. Perhaps that is because I see a mirror image of myself in them.

I know that I am screwed up and that I am damaged and broken from past relationships. Someone shattered my heart to pieces. My spirit was destroyed. There was a fundamental shift in my soul. After that experience I never thought I could open my heart to another. I was perfectly content to walk this earth alone. So when I met someone I found myself sharing a deep connection with it completely caught me off guard.

Sometimes, the emotions are so intense I feel the internal struggle of wanting to build an impenetrable wall and surrendering myself to genuine love. It is difficult to ask myself to be open to the possibility of loving someone again. It is even more difficult to ask another individual who is equally (or perhaps more so) damaged and broken to let themselves love me.

When we reach that point in a relationship, there are a myriad of thoughts running through our minds. If I couldn’t make it with the last person I dated, then who can I make it with? Am I the right person for them? Am I the right person for anyone? I know I will never be able to give them what they want and I never want to be the cause of hurt or disappointment in their lives.

It is unfortunate that we let our past experiences dictate the value we believe we can bring to a relationship. We do not desire to hurt someone else or disappoint them but that is an impossible expectation. No matter how hard we try to be the perfect version of ourselves we are bound to disappoint. Will we fail in our attempts at love? It’s possible, sure. Even likely. But if you continue to doubt your ability to be in a successful relationship and to give it your best effort you will never succeed.

I believe people come in and out of our lives at the right times. Whether it is to teach us something about ourselves or for us to help them heal. We cannot predict how it will turn out in the end. I know for me, though, that the relationship I am building now is exactly what I need at this moment in time, even if it is just to show me that I am capable of loving again.

The lesson I have learned in all this is that we are all damaged. There is not a human on this earth who has not hurt or has not felt pain. We don’t hurt in the same way, of course. I look at myself and the people I have met in my life. Some of the traumas they have experienced in their lives are hard to fathom. It is understandable why they feel broken. Why they feel like their presence in someone else’s life can only bring sorrow and disappointment. The danger, though, is in letting it dictate our future and in letting it close ourselves off to the possibility of finding a forever with someone. The only thing it really does is give us the permission we need to stay single.

We are given one life to live and if we can experience a minute of genuine, pure love – the kind of love without any expectation of something in return – then it is worth any amount of pain we may feel in the future.

Leave a comment

Filed under lessons learned, love, relationships, vulnerability

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability

How to be more vulnerable in relationships

Warning: this post is really long.

Whew! It’s been a few weeks since writing in here but I’ve been knee-deep in finishing the last school paper I will ever write. Because guess what? I’m graduating with my Masters degree in THREE WEEKS (can I get a whoop whoop?!?). Obviously, words cannot describe how excited I am because it has been  such a struggle working full-time, attending school part-time, and dealing with the tumultuous and traumatizing events over the last year (well, really the past three years).

Having spent weeks in economics theory and how it can be applied to environmental science policy I definitely needed a reprieve because if I had to write one more thing about particulate matter emissions I was going to explode. So I took a break from all that and started working on something far more interesting to me. And that’s where the rest of this post comes in!

As some of you may know, a few months ago I was approached by Ambiance Matchmaking (based out of Chicago) to be a contributing writer on their blog on all things dating/relationships. I was pleasantly surprised because I hardly feel like an expert on the subject. I mean, I am the girl who is queen of first date fuck-ups. The worst being that I set up two first dates in one day (don’t do that). I got drunk on the first one and by the second one I was puking. You wouldn’t think I’d be asked out on a second date, but I was. So somehow my winning personality must have beat out the most embarrassing moment of my life. Or maybe they just pitied me. But I digress.

Last month my editor asked me to write an article on how to be vulnerable since many of her clients have mentioned they struggle with vulnerability in their relationships. It took me a month to write this because every time I sat down to do it my mind was blank. I’ve certainly taken a lot of opportunities to be vulnerable in the last couple of months but I’m definitely no Brene Brown. I struggle with being vulnerable so who am I to offer advice on the subject? Well, it turns out I actually did have something to say. After nearly a month it’s finally finished and will be posted to Ambiance Matchmaking’s dating blog (check it out!) sometime this week. Here’s a peek! 

In the exciting but sometimes disastrous world of dating I often ask myself why it’s so hard for me to be vulnerable in a relationship. I imagine most of you have asked yourself this same question too.

Sharing our vulnerabilities isn’t always easy to do, especially at the point when you and your partner decide to take casual dating to the next level. This stems largely out of fear. Fear that if we share the most authentic versions of ourselves – those things we keep hidden like our insecurities or the guilt, denial, and shame we may hold about what we’ve done to someone or what they did to us – then we will be rejected, judged, labeled, even misunderstood.

Out of this fear we tend to portray only the perfect parts of ourselves – the parts that make us fun, lively, and enjoyable to be around. But to truly be vulnerable means to reveal those parts of ourselves we keep hidden. Why don’t we do that?

Well, I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our past relationships when we bared our soul to someone we thought would protect our vulnerabilities and they didn’t. When we love with reckless abandon and fall into those kinds of people quickly and relentlessly they mess with those vulnerabilities. They find ways to abuse them and sometimes they abuse them in the most cruel of ways. We realize that rabid dogs can take human form.

In order to protect our hearts from future hurt we build walls so high that they are impenetrable. We wear a suit of armor as if our lives depended on it. We suppress the scary, beautiful, tender side of our love because the idea of letting someone else in – even for the right sort of person – seems impossible.

But despite how scary it is to open ourselves up to someone we still yearn for connection and intimacy. Intuitively, I think we all know that true emotional intimacy requires vulnerability and that to be vulnerable requires strength and courage and authenticity. It requires us to be brave. It requires us to stop suppressing our deepest vulnerabilities because without letting your guard down it’s very likely your relationship will fizzle out.

In reality sharing our deepest vulnerabilities is easier said than done. After all, our first instincts when we feel shame, hurt, indignation, or disappointment towards ourselves or our partner is to mask those feelings, likely because we fear that expressing any sort of negative emotion makes us weak.

We may even fear how our partners will react. Maybe they’ll think I’m needy. Maybe they won’t want to date me anymore. And if they don’t want to date me because of these vulnerabilities then who will?

In all honesty (and for the sake of being vulnerable with my audience) I will tell you these things may very well happen.

Being vulnerable in a relationship will not always mean your significant other will share the same sentiments. If you open your heart to them and they view it as a weakness or they belittle your feelings or they refuse to show you their heart in return, you are with the wrong person.

In fact, run. Because despite our fantasies of being the rescuer – the one that finally changes them – they will not change. Even knowing this we may very well find ourselves staying, which probably stems from our fears. In return we become trapped in emotional turmoil. We become the source of destructive habits. Our happiness wanes and we unnecessarily suffer.

The truth is that the only people we can truly change is ourselves. We can choose to be someone who expresses their love. We can choose not to close ourselves off. We can choose to love ourselves despite our faults. We can choose to walk away from someone who abuses our vulnerabilities.

In that same regard, be kind and walk away if your partner shares their heart with you and exposes their deepest vulnerabilities yet you deny them the same sort of consideration. Do not exploit their vulnerabilities or make them feel small or judge them for sharing who they truly are. Because if you do, then you are not the right person for them.

Despite the rationality of this advice, I will admit that I am no expert in actually being vulnerable. In fact, I am more likely to sabotage a relationship than I am to be the one that puts myself out there. Certainly this stems from three years of emotional abuse from someone I loved – someone who I desperately wanted to love me back. It also stems from my fear of rejection and the stigma I hold about having a mental illness (although I hate admitting that because I am also an advocate for mental health). Yet in the last year I have been determined to practice being vulnerable despite how damaged I feel. And I’ve found endless opportunities to do so.

The obvious question then is if you see an opportunity to be vulnerable, how do you do it? Although I admitted to not being an expert, I will share what I’ve learned and what has worked for me since taking those opportunities. I hope these tips will help you too.

 

Love all of you
I am very open to sharing my personal journey of dealing with bipolar disorder to strangers, friends, and family, although I sometimes find myself attempting to hide that part of my life to someone I like or want to date. Inevitably, though, it is a part of who I am and until I was diagnosed, educated myself about bipolar disorder, and started attending support groups, I didn’t understand why I acted the way I did. I couldn’t help but be angry and irritable a lot of the time. I spent more time depressed and crying than I did being happy. There were moments when I was reckless and did things that were destructive to my life.

It was difficult to accept my illness at first and I drowned myself in denial, guilt, and shame, but when I resolved to sharing my story it helped me realize I was not alone – that many people had similar experiences and what I felt wasn’t abnormal.

After publishing my stories, many people reached out to me sharing their own. They talked about how sharing mine inspired them to be open about their own struggles. They realized they too could be a vehicle for change, fighting the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

Despite how absolutely terrifying it was to be brutally honest about my breakdown and the time I spent in a psychiatric ward, I am stronger because of it. Seeing these strangers and my family and friends love me unconditionally and offer up compassion allowed me to begin creating a space where I accepted that part of me. I am actually grateful to have gone through such tumultuous and traumatizing events leading up to my diagnosis because those experiences finally revealed my true self. And I love my true self.

By creating space for self-love in my life it meant there was less space for fear. When we stand in that space of love we reach self-acceptance. This is where the true power of vulnerability lies because when we accept ourselves – faults and all – we pave a path to finding true happiness.

 

Be willing to try, even if you fail
Those suits of armor we wear are hard to take off. While there is no magical pill for the hurt and pain we – or others – may feel or have felt, we inevitably survive it. Our lives do go on. By practicing vulnerability, we open ourselves up to finding the right sort of person (even if you come across rabid dogs along the way).

Although we may ultimately fail in our attempt at being vulnerable we can recognize where we were successful and where we made mistakes. We can carry those lessons with us into future relationships and ultimately become better versions of ourselves. Really, the only important thing is that you try because that in and of itself is the very definition of being vulnerable. Maybe you didn’t shred your suit of armor to pieces but I bet that just trying resulted in a helmet or glove coming off. Baby steps, my friends.

 

Vulnerability isn’t just about you
When we suffer we turn to those we care about seeking comfort and understanding. We expect them to be there for us. But ask yourself this: are you willing to be with someone who is suffering? Are you willing to be compassionate and kind and understanding towards them despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel? When someone exposes their vulnerabilities to you, you can practice being vulnerable just by sharing their emotional space. You can listen to them, feel their emotions without judgement, and offer up compassion whether you can relate to the situation or not. By doing all that you help them create their own space for love and self-acceptance. It is humbling and inspiring to witness that kind of transformation.

 

Say what you really feel
In my last relationship I learned quickly not to share any of my feelings because what came afterwards was blame, yelling, and the threat of “well maybe we shouldn’t be together.” I became afraid of speaking my mind because I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I valued how he felt and what his needs were so much that I stopped considering my own.

I imagine many of us have, at some point in our lives, fallen into this trap and that we’ve let it impact how we communicate in the relationships that followed. When hiding what you really feel becomes a habit it can be difficult to break. But being vulnerable means being truthful. It means honoring what you feel, what the other person feels, and being brave enough to address those circumstances together. If you’re scared, say so. If you’re hurt or angry because you felt they were inconsiderate, say so. Don’t hide your emotions. You have every right to feel what you are feeling.

I myself have struggled with doing this and I’ve ruined some relationships along the way, which I deeply regret. But I’ve made significant strides and now I’m so much more open about how I feel that people probably want me to stop sharing. Don’t stop sharing.

Vulnerability has so much to offer and although it opens us up to rejection and pain and hurt it will be worth it (maybe not right away, but eventually) because without vulnerability we cannot distinguish the wrong person from the right person, just like we would never know good until we’ve known bad.

I don’t believe there is any right way to be vulnerable and what works for me may not work for you. But I do have faith you will succeed in however you approach your journey and I wish you all the joy and happiness that comes with taking such a giant leap of faith because you definitely deserve it.

4 Comments

Filed under advice, Ambiance Matchmaking, authenticity, bipolar II, compassion, fear, lessons learned, love, relationships, self-love, vulnerability

The pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability

I wanted to switch gears from writing about mental health to share some thoughts on the pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability.

A friend and I have been talking about this subject for a few weeks so when I woke up last Saturday morning to a Facebook newsfeed full of anti-Valentine’s Day statuses (ones like, “This holiday is stupid!” and “It sucks to be single!” and “Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday invented by Hallmark”) I got kind of irritated.

On a day meant for celebrating love we instead find ourselves focusing on how much we hate it. Behind all that cynicism, though, is an expression of our desire for love. When we find it we are boastful and happy. When we lose it we are devastated and full of despair. When we are single we begrudge others who have it.

I find this topic intriguing because it seems as if we base the existence of love in our lives upon some public display of attachment. An attachment built on wanting, clinging, neediness, lust, and self-interest – none of which are true expressions of love.

Moreover, we believe love is limited to our romantic relationships. We fail to acknowledge that love exists in other aspects of our lives. It exists in our relationships with our family and friends. It exists in our social relationships with co-workers. It even exists in our daily interactions with strangers.

It isn’t surprising we maintain such a limited view of love though. Just like we’ve learned how to tie our shoes or ride a bike or cook a meal, we’ve learned that love will eventually “find” us. This kind of mentality sets us up for failure because it leaves love to chance. Love is thus confined and limited from flourishing in our lives. Really, there are so many ways to love and to be loved in return. So why not pursue all kinds of love instead of waiting for it to manifest in our lives in the form of romanticism?

You may ask, though, what exactly does it mean to pursue love? To pursue love means to act with intention and purposefulness. It means to love for the sake of loving, with no expectation of something in return. It means to be vulnerable, which, by the way, I’ve learned is not synonymous with weakness. Vulnerability implies having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are and exactly where they are in their lives –  both emotionally and mentally.

Everyday we face an opportunity to practice being vulnerable: calling a friend who’s been admitted to the psychiatric unit, telling someone you like them, admitting you made a mistake at work, or asking someone for help. The opportunity exists, we just have to decide if we’ll take it.

In my own life I’ve found I fear vulnerability because I fear rejection and authenticity. That if I truly show who I am and take my cloak of self-protective armor off it will have the opposite effect of what I hope for: that opening my heart to another will in turn make them want to open their heart to me. Recognizing this has marked a pivotal moment in my life because I am trying to un-learn what my brain has been hard-wired to do.

In all of my relationships I’ve spent more time hiding the truth than speaking it. And as a result my relationships suffered. I suffered. Last year was the hardest year of my life. It left me in crippling despair and led to a humiliating and devastating emotional breakdown. But the grace in that experience is it has made me more comfortable in the presence of vulnerability. I’ve found that vulnerability really is the safest place to be: there are no pretenses and no hiding, just truthfulness and authenticity.

To quote Brene Brown, “Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I’ll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work.” While Brown is speaking specifically to romantic love, the premise and underlying lesson is relevant to all of our relationships: that the vulnerability we try desperately to avoid is actually the key to having a successful relationship.

So pursue love; don’t wait for it to find you. Find power in your ability to be vulnerable because the more open and loving you are the more loveable you become.

Leave a comment

Filed under authenticity, intention, love, purposefulness, quotes, rejection, relationships, self-awareness, vulnerability

Kicking perfectionism to the curb

I have always believed that the desire to do well creates an impossible responsibility to be perfect. To be fair, though, the push to excellence is mostly self-induced. As a perfectionist I believe that everything (my work, writing, and relationships included) are never good enough. There is always room for improvement because everything is a work in progress. Ultimately this desire for perfection has negatively impacted my sense of self-worth because I believe that any kind of disapproval or perceived failure is equivalent to a shortcoming in myself. I’ve found that I am excessively sensitive to criticism and that the underlying motivation of why I do what I do has more so been tied to wanting validation and praise from others than it has been for the sake of doing what I love. Understanding these underlying behaviors is key to kicking perfectionism to the curb. What I’ve realized is that we must strive for authenticity, not perfection.

Perfection is contingent on external judgements (attention and validation) while authenticity comes from within. Praise from others may make us feel validated and important but if the desire to do well isn’t fully rooted in our own search to be a better version of ourselves, then it will never truly lead to happiness. The only path it will lead to is the one called self-doubt. And self-doubt is our worst enemy. It is a malignant tumor that eats away at our minds, our work, our creativity, and our desire to contribute something meaningful to the world. This makes the perfectionist impossible. In my darkest days it has eaten me alive.

A perfectionist will set unrealistic and unattainable expectations for themselves and others around them. Even under impossible deadlines and life circumstances we set such high standards that we rarely, if ever, reach. From the beginning we set everyone up for failure and thus our friendships, romantic relationships, work, creativity, and sense of self-worth suffer. But here’s the truth about perfection:

If you want a perfect body you will never have it. All you can strive for is a healthier, more fit version of you. Similarly, if you want the perfect friend or boyfriend or girlfriend know that it doesn’t exist. If you can get 80% of what you want out of your friend or partner, that’s pretty damn good. When it comes to your job, know there will always be moments of frustration and doubt. While you may land your dream job or be doing something you’re truly passionate about, the pressures of making ends meet and getting burn out will inevitably rear their ugly heads from time to time.

The gist here is that people are human and to be human means to be flawed and imperfect. Setting the highest standards for ourselves and for others sets each of us up for failure. Instead of focusing on the “if only s/he/I did this” and “I wish s/he/I were” we should instead show up and put in the work to be stronger versions of ourselves. All of this requires self-awareness, vulnerability, and intimacy. And that requires putting aside our insecurities and fears, which can seem like an impossible leap for the perfectionist in all of us.

I don’t claim to have conquered my battle with perfection. But I am always in search of a better self. I’m even beginning to love my imperfections, which is a big step forward.

Leave a comment

Filed under expectations, flaws, imperfection, pefectionism, self-awareness, self-doubt, vulnerability