You Are Not The Only One Who Struggles

strugglesYou are not the only one who struggles.

She trembles as we speak. The diagnosis is only part of the reason; her anxiety has built up over the years and now it is hard for her to be in public. Shame covers her still though the trauma took place years ago. She knows she should be over it by now and wonders what people think of her inability to join in, to keep a job, to look like everyone else. She is a beautiful soul and is loved by many but her insecurity and pain have erected a well-constructed wall, preventing joy from seeping in. Keeping people out. And when she wonders aloud what people must think of her, I answer that what matters more is what she thinks of herself.

She made a vow over a decade ago to stop hating her body. To turn away from a lifetime of body shame, of bingeing and restricting and constantly wishing she was different. More like her sisters, perhaps. She has worked to love herself and her body through pain, and as her weight shifted downward, and harder yet, the times her weight shifted up again. Despite all the years and all the work she is fighting back tears today as she notices that roll around her middle that seems to have expanded overnight, pushing out over the sides of her jeans. She knows some people might judge her but the worst is the way she is judging herself today. She does not see what I see when she is chatting freely and letting down her guard: a radiance that has been hard-won. A gentle beauty that spills out and touches others’ lives without her even being aware.

You are absolutely not the only one who struggles.

She is one of the kindest women I know – so generous with praise and encouragement for others. And so very hard on herself. She has her share of struggles and worries that she might mess up her children, the ones she loves most in the world. She has carried a burden of anxiety for so long and I think wonders if she will ever, truly, be free. She is persistent, seeking, willing to do the work. But when the change she needs does not come easily she wonders what is the matter with her? Why is this thing so hard for her and not for others? She sees the beauty in others but cannot completely see the incredible gift and beauty in herself. Yet she is a delight to all those that meet her.

She is stubborn and strong in ways she does not realize. Raising all those kids, serving and sacrificing, she lives out her values on a minute by minute basis. But there is also a darker side. Fear that she might crack, that even though she has managed to somehow keep it sort of together to this point that one day, she will completely fall apart and what will happen to her family then? She has been learning to use her voice, to ask for what she needs, but it seems selfish to her to speak the fuller truth: that this is too much. That maybe what seems right and honorable will push her over the edge. One day. There are glimmers of joy in her life but they are mostly overshadowed by the daily panic of trying to keep up. What would people say if they really saw behind her closed doors?

Are you beginning to see that you are not the only one who struggles?

She struggled back in school and turned to alcohol and drugs and sleeping around to feel loved. She compared herself to her big sister, always feeling like she fell short even though no one else was comparing. Back and forth she has danced with addiction but over the past few years has landed in a fairly soft place. She has never quite fit easily with her family – and the more she feels rejected, the more she lashes out, pushing people further away. She lacks somewhat in social graces but all she wants is to feel like she belongs. Safe. Loved. She has a tenacity about her that I admire – and an ability to keep reaching out for community where many others would have given up. She wishes perhaps that she were different, that life came easier to her. But I think all is as it should be.

For we are all imperfect and encounter pain on this journey. And each of our struggles is an opportunity to listen, to love and to learn.

She is bold and interesting and a little fiery. She knows how to work hard and create and carve out sanctuary for others. And she is also completely overwhelmed and defeated; so weary of this relationship that she cannot fix. She thinks it is her fault. A better woman would know how to undo the damage, how to repair the breach. This is not the life she dreamed about all those years ago nor the one the books and magazines promised her. This one is too hard. Sometimes she actually thinks about driving away from it all but that is not what she really desires. There is so much shame swirling, dizzyingly, around this broken place in her life. But she does not see what I see: she is a red tent sister; always ready to reassure and hold space for others. For me. A bold and beautiful gift to the world.

She held on when most would have let go. She fought for her family and her mental wellness and modeled strength and dignity even in the midst of abuse. She was told she was at fault, a mess up, all her flaws – real and imagined – pointed out to her on a daily basis. Still she hung on for the sake of the children until one day it was time. She has thought about ending it all. Or on a slightly better day about running away and starting over. But then she digs in her heels yet again and does the work laid out before her. There are many reasons to quit; many circumstances that she wishes she could fix both for herself and others. Her life has been far from easy but she mostly puts on a brave face to the outside world. She is by far one of the strongest women I know and one day I hope she will see what I see in her.

Can you see now that it’s true? You are not the only one who struggles.

And just like all of these women – you are a gift. An imperfect, beautiful, delightful gift to this world. Be gentle with yourself today.

Krista xo

If you are ready to begin loving yourself in a deeper way and would like to apply for a free 30 minute consult to discuss if working with me would be a good fit, send me an email to alifeinprogress@outlook.com. Put “free consult” in the header and I will be in touch.

Becoming Unhinged: Why You Need to Stop Trying to Be Perfect

trying to be perfectSometimes all our trying to be perfect- or our struggle with perfectionism – causes us to become unhinged. To fall apart.

Do you hide behind a mask of perfectionism?

To the onlooker you have the perfect marriage, you dress beautifully, you always seem to have it all together. But at home you lash out at your kids – maybe even physically harming them. Or you accumulate thousands of dollars in consumer debt because of your stress-induced shopping addiction.

There was a time that I tried so hard to perform, to prove my worth, and I would hold it all together for a time. But inevitably the damn would break and I would spill rage all over my family and then live with the shame which would feed my need to do better and try harder. A vicious circle.

Maybe you are addicted to prescription meds, numb out nightly with wine (such a socially acceptable addiction for women), or hide a pattern of bingeing and purging in order to maintain that “perfect appearance”.

Perfectionism is a personality trait common amongst people with disordered eating (source, source). This might look like an “all or nothing attitude” that results in restrictive patterns of eating and exercise and then completely falling off the wagon – a cycle that gets repeated for years on end as self loathing increases.

This might look like someone very successful at maintaining an “ideal” body shape and weight and outward image but who constantly body shames herself or who appears perfectly happy then becomes unhinged in another area of life. This could even look like your fitness instructor who cycles through bingeing and then restricting patterns to enter fitness competitions.

I have healed from binge eating and restricting and have walked away from drugs and alcohol in order to live eyes and heart wide open. No more numbing for me. And definitely no more shame. I am done trying to be perfect.

Your kids are perfectly coiffed at all times, your home is Pinterest worthy, you attend church faithfully and volunteer in your community and have thousands of dedicated Instagram followers, all singing your praises. But inside you are crumbling. You know the cracks in your mental stability are there, widening a little each day, and live in near constant fear that one day the whole truth will come gushing out. The truth that you do not have what it takes, that you are a fraud. A failure. Never quite good enough.

During the holidays you overbuy, your home and yard are decorated impeccably, you feel obligated to host the meal with a beautifully decorated table. Or, you ‘fail’ to do any of this because you will never measure up anyways but then berate yourself for months for your ineptitude. Either way, the holidays are joyless and fraught with angst.

You are a workaholic or meticulous at your work place while your home life disintegrates. Or you regularly have thoughts of giving up because you feel that you can never quite keep up. I am well acquainted with the latter.

Is all your trying to be perfect driving you to becoming unhinged?

Perfectionism is associated with increased health outcomes in some scenarios. If, for example, you have a chronic condition, those with perfectionist tendencies may be more likely to follow through with nutrition, medication, supplement and lifestyle changes.

Their perfectionistic neighbor, however, may experience worse health outcomes because perfectionism in them spikes anxiety and emotionally they fall apart, aware that they can never be “good enough” to faithfully maintain all the changes ‘prescribed’ to them. This person might give up altogether, isolate themselves, and even swing to an extremely unhealthy lifestyle because “why bother trying only to fail?”

Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, an unwillingness to try, a preference to drop out or take a zero on a project rather than risk receiving a less than perfect mark. This was my reality back in university.

It can hold you back from taking risks or stepping out into your long-held dreams because the truth is you might fail, people might not love you. Sometimes to commit energy to a new project you are required to let go, even a little bit, of the tightly held reins of all the daily tasks and need to maintain order in life. And this can be very painful. Though I have come a long way, I live with this reality still.

Trying to be perfect can lead to crippling anxiety or depression.

Perfectionism is absolutely required in certain professions – you probably expect your surgeon or architect to be extremely exacting in the work that they do.  And if people in these professions are able to maintain one standard for work but another, gentler standard, for their home life, they may be perfectly content, healthy individuals. Unfortunately, however, there does seem to be an increased risk for perfectionism-related suicide for those whose work emphasizes perfection and those in leadership positions (source).

Your perfectionist teenagers might appear lazy to you – they might refuse to strive for the top marks because they recognize that trying to maintain that top position will destroy them. They might procrastinate wildly at times and despite their academic strength there might be times that you wonder if they will manage to pass a course. They might tell you, in no uncertain terms, that although they are perfectly capable, they do not desire a career in a highly demanding field because it will rob them of any semblance of joy. If your child is self aware enough to tell you this; I highly encourage you to listen well and respect what they are telling you.

Perfectionists are masters at hiding their pain and are more likely to research and create a detailed plan for their suicide (source). Rates of suicide are growing amongst middle schoolers at an alarming rate and the underlying causes can vary. But is it possible that we are pushing kids to grow up too fast; are we (as parents, society, social media) placing too heavy a burden on them to perform, compete, measure up? I wrote about my teenage suicide attempts here.

High performing athletes are likely perfectionistic and highly competitive and while these traits can support them in some life goals, they might have a tendency to fall prey to abuse and struggle with mental health problems. This book by Canadian Olympian, Clara Hughes, was an interesting read!

The person you know who is highly critical of everything and everyone around might be struggling with perfectionism – they hold themselves and everyone else to incredibly high standards. Their harsh attitudes might be a reflection of their inner feelings of inadequacy.

You might have a social network of people who love you and offer help but you perceive their offers as criticism. Their offer simply highlights just how flawed or weak you are and drives you deeper into isolation (source) and an unhealthy need to up your game.

A tendency to become easily angered or defensive in the face of the smallest perceived criticism or when shown to be wrong, might reflect the core belief of never being “good enough“. Ugh. I still struggle with this, as recently pointed out (lovingly) by my teenage daughter. This is also one of the pitfalls of being an enneagram type 1.

Striving for excellence and trying to be perfect are not the same thing – although for some of us even the expectation of needing to attain “excellence” in all things can feel incredibly overwhelming and oppressive (I wrote about that here). Unattainable, high standards of perfectionism set you up for failure, day in day out.

But simply telling yourself to lower your standards is not enough.

It is important to address the feelings or needs that push you toward trying to be perfect: the need to be accepted, the need to be loved and cared for (source). The need to know that you matter and that you have intrinsic worth not based, not even one iota, on your ability to perform.

It’s not your job to like me -it’s mine. -Byron Katie

The truth is that we cannot make others accept us or love us or give us what we need in life. The work begins inside ourselves. Healing and joy and acceptance is largely an inside job.

So how can you begin the work of laying down perfectionism and embracing good enough this week?

  1. Bring in more self compassion, more self forgiveness. You must learn to love and accept yourself exactly as you are. Right now in the thick of all your struggle and imperfection.
  2. Stand naked before your mirror each day and choose ONE part of your body to be grateful for.
  3. Let someone know the truth of how you are feeling or the hidden behaviors that are destroying your life or family. Confession can break shame.
  4. Begin to let others see the real you in small ways. This requires vulnerability and letting your guard down little by little.
  5. Step away from social media or TV or magazines that trigger shame and comparison. (How can we help our kids walk through this shaming culture with a strong sense of worth?)
  6. Identify where your worth – your identity – comes from. Who or what determines your value as a person?
  7. Learn to break that all or nothing attitude. Practice “good enough” in some areas of life. Start small. Maybe you eat frozen pizza for dinner instead of homemade everything; maybe you say no to the weekend volleyball tournament so you can rest; perhaps you yell at your kids again but instead of waiting three days you go to them straight away and apologize and move forward.
  8. Begin a practice of gratitude.
  9. Challenge negative self-talk that arises – you can learn to take back control of your thought life.
  10. Get help if you have been thinking about suicide or having thoughts and feelings of hopelessness.
  11. Choose your friends wisely – break relationship with women who always gossip, focus on their weight, are quick to point out everyone else’s flaws.
  12. Make a decision to step off the treadmill of diets, exercise boot camps, counting calories. Get help to learn to care for yourself with kindness and compassion. If I am not the right fit for you I can point you in a good direction to get the help you need.
  13. Set up a self care tracking system and begin caring for yourself with love each day. Encourage your partner and kids to do the same.
  14. Give yourself permission to rest.
  15. Take a risk this week- risk getting rejected or making someone unhappy with you. Submit the guest post request, ask for the raise, initiate sex with your husband. Invite that lady you’ve been watching to a coffee date, attend the Zumba class that looks so fun but might make you feel a little silly as you get the hang of it. Say no to someone. Stand up for yourself. Use your God-given voice.

When we admit that we are not perfect, that we do not have to be, when we choose to love ourselves as we are and understand that our worth is not defined by others’ opinions, our ability to perform, or the size of jeans we wear, freedom begins to leak in to all the broken spaces of our lives. And healing begins.

Make the decision to stop trying to be perfect. Things will not miraculously change over night but you will have taken that first, critical,  baby step into your journey of healing.

Krista xo