I was quite shaken by the emotions described in my last post. in particular, by the way that old negative thought patterns which I thought I had left behind can arise like the least welcome phoenix from their own ashes.
in parallel to this, FFF’s recent great posts have been, if not opening my food can of worms, then at least waking the worms up and setting the tin a’wobbling.
it struck me that the way in which we lose the ability to appreciate and respond to our physical cues of hunger, when we continually and consciously regulate our food intake – greatly resembles the way in which we lose the ability to assess our own emotional energy levels when we do the same with perfectionism.
when I flog myself on, in the effort to achieve impossible standards, I am unable to judge whether I am enjoying what I am doing, or whether I am satisfied with what I have achieved.
which leaves me marooned, on a desert island of my own making.
luckily my frantic shirt-waving (aka emailing a sober penpal) brought a rescue ship in the form of some excellent advice including this article from the Wellbeing Services at the University of Exeter. here’s an extract:
‘Perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. There are big differences between perfectionists and healthy achievers. Perfectionists believe that mistakes must never be made and that the highest standards of performance must always be achieved.
Those who strive for excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards. Perfectionists on the other hand are full of self-doubts and fears of disapproval, ridicule and rejection. The healthy striver has drive, while the perfectionist is driven.
Perfectionist versus Healthy Striver
- Sets standards beyond reach and reason vs sets high standards, but just beyond reach
- Is never satisfied by anything less than perfection vs enjoys process as well as outcome
- Becomes dysfunctionally depressed when experiences failure and disappointment vs bounces back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy
- is preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval – this can deplete energy levels vs keeps normal anxiety and fear of failure and disapproval within bounds – uses them to create energy
- sees mistakes as evidence of unworthiness vs sees mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
- becomes overly defensive when criticised vs reacts positively to helpful criticism.’
all of which hit home significantly for me. and there is some great practical advice in that article too on overcoming perfectionism.
one thing that also occurred to me is that although perfectionism may be rooted in low self-esteem, there are short term payoffs to this behaviour, too.
if my energy is so tightly directed towards perfectionism in one area (including, as I have mentioned before, sobriety…) then it enables us to justify ignoring other areas of our lives where deeper problems may lie…
the intimate relationship which has grown distant, or the much longed for intimate relationship that has not yet come to pass….
or grief for the loss of a loved one, or the fractured family, or the tottering finances, or the outgrown career, or all the other things that cut far too close to the bone to think about, including, perhaps, the fact that there is no third door and that stopping drinking is our only remaining option.
so, if addiction is, ultimately, the decision to look away – is perfectionism another false focus? and if so, can I leave it behind in the same way that I have thankfully and joyfully left alcohol behind?
and lastly, if I can, then I can model that for my children. so if they can see me enjoying the process and not just the perfect product, if they can see me making mistakes and that being one of the ways I learn, if that is possible… then that will turn the wheel full circle and it will make my heart sing, too.
wishing you a happy, useful and joyful week ahead. it’s pretty damn great, this life, you know?! Prim xx