As We Reach Mid-Life we Must Strive To Live in Harmony with Ourself -Including Our Weaknesses
"The desire to be superhuman only becomes a problem when we begin to believe that perfection is actually possible and even necessary – for self-esteem, peace of mind and acceptance by others."
Ann W. Smith, M.S
Mid-life and perfectionism…for years now, we have been rebellious-aggressive in hiding, fighting and repressing our weaknesses and mistakes! We are a shame of them...We are under the impression our weaknesses are written in black and white in each and every decision and action we make...we put on a mask called aiming for perfect achievement!
At first glance, we attempt to adopt the idea that perfectionism is a highly- disciplined-related value. We are under the impression that through perfectionism we work our way towards improving our self-accomplishment…
we discover, very soon discover that perfectionism can be an obstacle in the development of our self-esteem, even a nightmare...Why? In a sense it's an addictive behavioral conduct. You have an extreme need for external order to cover internal chaos.
We learn from our everyday errors in order to constantly improve our performance, our character traits and our communication...Christians, journeying into better imitating Christ, knows very well that we journey towards perfection but will never fully achieve it in this world. Where’s the catch?
For many of us, mid-lifers, having to acknowledge our disappointments, our feelings of bitterness, of resentment and of betrayal (because we felt driven by some irrational beliefs and attitudes that whatever we do is never good enough)is a hectic challenge! Doing our best isn't sufficient nor acceptable. We always feel the need for improvement and we are never satisfied! There is something wrong!
Here's an analogy: Imagine an athlete trying to jump over a bar much too high for his ability. He turns to his coach and says: See, there is the proof that I can’t do anything right! If you're not a perfectionist your instinctive reaction is to lower the bar to your highest capacity level, right? The answer is plain and simple! Right? Wrong! For a perfectionist, lowering the bar means telling him you are not good enough, you are less than perfect!
We are never satisfied, we’re never in peace and as a result we always have this feeling of self-depreciation. Why do we impose ourselves this level of perfection - higher than anyone else’s? Why is it unacceptable to make a mistake? Why do we feel like we are a loser because we’re not perfect? Is success the only value in life?
My favourite artist, Nana Mouskouri, (Sorry for those who don't know her or don't appreciate her talent!)
mentioned many times in various interviews how becoming a successful celebrity as never been her objective. As a matter of fact, she considered celebrity to be something dangerous – because a celebrity or a star is responsible for setting a good example to people who look up to them; (particularly towards youths);
you influence people! (This is a good lesson for our young celebrities, by the way!) She also mentions the absurd fact of artists working so hard in becoming number 1... you achieve it, than you go down the list again - disappointed.
It is much more rewarding and stimulating to concentrate on improving your own artistic journey (singing performances, recordings, communication with your audience etc…). It’s the journey (doing your best) that is important, not the goal. The Greek diva, Maria Callas, used to encourage Nana in saying: It doesn't matter what you do, it's how you do it, and why you do it that is important!
This is, in my opinion, the key to instigate renewal into your mid-life concern as a perfectionist. You need to learn to ask yourself the following questions:
What are the ideologies that drives me into such rigid goals and behaviour?
How do I feed those ideologies?
How does these ideologies impact my everyday life?
Here are some examples of irrational beliefs, from the book: Overcoming Perfectionism - the Key to a Balanced Recovery, by Ann Smith:
• Everything in life must be done to your level of perfection, which is often higher than anyone else’s.
• It’s unacceptable to make a mistake.
• You must always reach the ideal no matter what.
• If those in authority say this is the way it is supposed to be, then that is the way it is supposed to be.
• It is what you achieve rather than who you are that is the most important.
• There is no sense in trying to do something unless I can do it perfectly. (I don’t attempt things I can’t do well.)
• The ideal is what is real; unless I reach the ideal I am a failure.
• There are so many roadblocks and pitfalls to keep me from succeeding. It is better just to give up and forget my goal.
• Unless I am Number One, there is no sense in trying, everyone knows what Number two is. To win is the only acceptable goal.
• If you screw-up in your efforts to achieve a goal, just give up. It must be too hard to achieve.
• Don’t ever let anyone know what goal you’re working on. That way they won’t consider you a failure if you don’t reach it.
• If you can’t do it right the first time, why try to do it at all?
• There is only one way to reach a goal: the right way.
• It takes too much effort and energy to reach a goal. I save myself the aggravation and discouragement by not setting goals for myself.
• I’ll never be able to change and grow the way I want to, so why try?
• I am a human being prone to error, frailty and imperfections; therefore, I won’t be able to accomplish things in a perfect or ideal way. I’ll just give up on achieving any of my goals or desires.
What is your instinctive reaction after reading a list like this? What are the feelings that automatically rise within you? You want to know mine?
With such a life program my instinctive reaction and feeling is depression and discouragement. I might as well dig a hole six feet deep and eight feet long and bury myself in it!
Picture the stress we impose on ourselves! You want a list of such negative consequences this may impact on your life? I am sure you will guess some of them already; with a little meditation and introspection you could picture the future outcome:
Low self esteem
Lack of motivation
Lack of belief in self.
Definition of Perfectionism
Let us now journey further in deepening our understanding of this low self-esteem related illness – because as of now, I am sure you now have a better perception as to how this compulsion impacts our mental and physical health.
According to mental health specialists there are two types of perfectionists: We identify them to be:
The overt perfectionist (the visible)
The covert perfectionist (metaphorically illustrated as the closet)
a) The overt perfectionist
We recognize the overt perfectionist to be the individual:
With self disciplined
Neat (meticulous physical appearance on self and in his living and working environment)
Orderly and thorough
Obsessed by details
Obsessively organized: There is a place for everything and everything must be at its place. (Even the garbage and the recycle bin is tidy!)
With schedules for his daily activities
b) The covert perfectionist
Their perfectionism is more apparent in their thinking than in their behaviour. They will play it safe, therefore will try to avoid taking any risks.(for fear of failure) Everything is done with extreme caution and with thorough - until they become exhausted.
Covert perfectionists have such fear of failure that they don’t challenge themselves. They set themselves high - next to impossible standards of living - and get discouraged. It’s the do it right or don’t do it at all approach.
Perfectionism is a response to stress - a response positively reinforced by others. It isn’t innate. In most cases our behavioural attitude is developed as an emotional
protection outcome – the individual in many cases - having lived in a dysfunctional environment. (Ex.: unhealthy relationships, substance or game abuse, environment with little love stimulation, trust or encouragement.) Doing something good can help him seek his parent’s love and attention and eases some of his tension. In an environment of mistrust, the child learns the message: I must learn to defend myself, out of fear of being hurt, therefore perfectionism becomes a means of control of the environment.
If you come from a dysfunctional family, you soon learn to deny your feelings, your opinions, and your pain. You repress them. Carl Yung identifies this as the shadow. An American poet Robert Bly uses the metaphor of a garbage bag to illustrate this.
He maintains that each time we repress an emotion, a quality,
a character trait or a talent, it is as if we were throwing these parts of ourselves into a garbage bag… During the first
thirty years of life, we are busy filling the bag with rich elements of our being. Over time, the bag becomes heavier and heavier to carry. Consequently, we must spend the rest of our lives rummaging through it to recover and try to develop aspects of our person that were stuffed away there.
In his book How to Befriend Your Shadow - Welcoming Your Unloved Shadow, John Mombourquette, PhD states that to identify yourself exclusively to your persona (the ego-ideal)you deny a part of yourself - whom you really are. Soon or later you will need to make a choice: either you pay attention to the repressed feelings, events etc and let them rise us and speak to you or you will be confronted in a serious identity crisis. A part of who you are, is camouflaged in this hidden part of self. Knowing who you really are is the secret to bringing peace and renewal and as we will see later on, one of the place to look for to discover your real life mission. For perfectionists, this is a real issue.
The perfectionist is unable to stay in touch with himself and with his feelings. They try so hard to hide their weaknesses for fear of being caught out. Always on the alert, they are afraid of committing any mistake in their work or in
their relationship interactions. They are perpetually in a state of stress. Their intransigence towards both themselves and others, and their moral, spiritual and psychological rigidity therefore surprise no one… This psychological type might be compared to the person presenting the following traits: poor self-esteem, rigid thinking, narrow-
mindedness, dogmatism, anxiety, pronounced ethnocentrism, religious fundamentalism, conformism, prejudices, lack of creativity… at first glance, a pretty desperate picture!
Picture this low-self-esteem issue in a matrimonial relationship being a constant finder. This person is obsessed over the flaws and imperfection of his/her partner rather than finding value in him or her. You attempt to level
your partner to your own level perceived of functioning.
But J. Monbourquette gives us hope when he says that nothing happens for nothing as:
depression sends the depressed person a clear signal that change is in order and that they must stop identifying with their ego-ideal. This phenomenon is even more evident in mid-life, when the shadow’s demand for recognition becomes more insistent. People will then recognize that the time has come to make room for the shadow that we have been trying in vain to conceal.
A Reconciliation process to help you overcome perfectionism
I summarize the reconciliation process with your true self as the process of learning to treat yourself with love,compassion and unconditional respect. You are a gift of God and as a result you must learn to great yourself as such. How do you welcome the gift of someone you truly love and respect...with nonchalance or with indifference…? If you care, you great the gift with gratitude and joy as this gift is part of the person you truly love. Why treating yourself otherwise by imposing idealistic expectations that are completely out of this world? If God does not expect that from you, why should you?
Your lack of belief in yourself makes you fear the failure as an outcome you lose faith in the belief that you can improve in life. Those rational behaviours need to be tamed. Write yourself a list of little post notes on your mirror, on your fridge, in your hands…
Self talk is hard to control…Some of those thoughts are, for the most of us, impulsive and instinctive… we’ve repeated them to ourselves for so long, it almost becomes a second nature. We need to delete this computer program and install a new one! To do so,
here is a list of thoughts that we can write down and visually expose in our everyday living and working environment for us to meditate and practice. Just like a new program, you need to practice…you need to be working at it! Just like learning a second language…whether it’s Greek, French or Spanish…
you need the motivation; you must educate yourself about the language but most of all you need to practice... No pain, no gain!
I am not perfect….and It’s OK.
I will do my best …nothing less but nothing more and I will be satisfied.
People love me for who I am not for my performance.
I will not fear to make mistakes because, when I do, I can learn from them.
Nothing happens for nothing…there is always a reason…
why should I drive myself sick because of this?
I am not sure if my behaviour pleased my boss, my colleague or my family, I will not be afraid to talk to them about it has talking helps to clear things out. I will try not to take criticism personally; I will keep my cool; I will question when in doubt. So what if I haven’t finished today; I will complete it tomorrow. I will take some free time with my family and relax. I can achieve a task successfully without necessarily have it perfectly done. I will work my way into being realistic not idealistic. I will be easy with myself…pushing myself to this extreme will only increase my level of stress and decrease my performance.
I will accept myself for who I am; let go the ideas of how you should be I will reward my best efforts praising myself for doing my best… that is real humility not pounding my head on the wall because of an insignificant weakness or error.
What I consider an error might not necessarily have the same interpretation by others. Do I need to practice some relativism here?
I will decide to take life with a little bit more sense of humour; I think I am taking this perfectionism a little bit too seriously!
I must let go these moralistic judgments and practice compassion and empathy instead!
I will visualize reality through the eyes of a human not a superhuman.
• Accept that you are a human being not a superhuman;
(with limits and the right to make mistakes)
• forgive yourself when you do make mistakes;
(You will learn more from the mistakes… much more than
you would from your success.)
• Develop a good sense of humour.
Remember…Bionic Woman and Superman only existed in films, not in reality! You are smiling… we have to learn to visualize life as it is, a journey of personal growth…
Why imposing this hectic stress on yourself… Why not learn to appreciate the gift of life…
The title of this encounter is STRIVING TO BECOME PERFECT OR TO BECOME COMPLETE? Would you not prefer to feel in peace and in harmony with yourself, with others and with the universe? Wouldn’t that not be a great sense of fulfillment – as to know that you are loved unconditionally for whom you are and not for what you do and that you don’t need to prove yourself or to earn that love through the straining effort of perfection…
a goal you will never achieve in this world!
Strategies recommended by Dr. James J. Messina Ph.D
For detailed information of strategies click this link
A) A social support: system
• Select people that are not perfectionists, that are trustworthy, that are honest and that have a sincere interest in helping you grow.
• Encourage them not to be moralistic or rigid in their attempts to help you in your journey.
• Have people who will role model forgiving and forgetting when mistakes occur.
• Have people to give you positive reinforcement for any positive changes.
A) Journal with steps to overcome Perfectionism
The identified website also recommends the following guide steps to self-help yourself in your journey through perfectionism:
i) A self-evaluation questionnaire that will guide you in your research trying to identify how perfectionism impacts your everyday life:
• Characteristics of your perfectionism
• Your irrational beliefs and how it contributes to failure scripts; how it interferes with my efforts to change.
• Considering alternatives to reduce the negative impact of perfectionism in my life
• Identify negative consequences of perfectionism in my life; how it affects my past, my present and my future
• How can my social support help me in the choice and the development of new rational behaviours?
• Chose a specific problematic behaviour you would like to work on. List the characteristic negative behaviour traits of the behaviour. What is the likelihood of achieving them 100% of the time.
• Once you recognize that you cannot achieve 100%, continue to change the problematic behaviour patterns.
I strongly recommend this book written by a perfectionist herself. She is well positioned to understand the concerns and has some strategies for helping overcoming perfectionism. It helped me, and I am sure it will help you.
Can you begin to understand the anxiety associated in a person suffering of perfectionism - whether of type overt or covert?
The stress you impose on yourself can be unbearable and self-destructive. Perfectionism is a compulsive behaviour that has been learned – not genetically received – and as a result, like any other behaviour, can be re-
programmed with acknowledgement, motivation and determination and, yes, if necessary…with professional help!
There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging the need of help!
Check this link for information.
Do I need therapy?
Whether shape of anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, depression, or panic…the toughest part is to accept and to dare making the first step towards healing…
As we journey through our mid-life concerns, we might feel overwhelmed, discouraged and isolated. You might even feel on edge because you realize that being perfect is not the ideal solution in instigating renewal into your life…
You realize that you have repressed feelings, gifts within you…You might not feel the courage to journey inwards to confront those inner-repressed feelings… You might not even have a clue as to how you should approach your shadow and its inner ghosts…! This is a journey in itself! I would recommend this book called How to Befriend Your Shadow – Welcoming your Unloved Side by John Mombourquette, PH.D. This book is also available in French under the title: Apprivoiser son ombre – le côté mal aimé de soi also from John Mombourquette, PH.D.
We have been through so much and the journey is rough and long…! That, I know! Believe me, I know! So much can be going on at the same time during this phase...That is why I intent to take a break away from developing mid-life concerns for a while…
We will be looking at the mid-life journey in a new perspective that will give us some wings in helping us instigate renewal into our mid-life concerns.
Until we meet the next time, my heart goes out to all of you!
De l'estime de soi à l'estime de soi - De la psychologie à la spiritualité, Jean Mombourquette Ph.D, Novalis/Bayard, 4475 rue Frontenac, Montréal Qc H2H 2S2 Copyright 2002
How to Befriend Your Shadow – Welcoming Your Unloved Side, John Mombourquette, Ph.D, Novalis, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada © 2001
Overcoming Perfectionism - The Key To A Balanced Recovery, Ann W. Smith, M.S, 3201 S.W. 15th Street Deerfield Beach, Florida 33442-8190 Copyright 1990
Memories – Nana Mouskouri Editions XO, Paris, France
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