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Finding a Remedy for a Severe Case of Perfectionism

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  • #184905
    Mary899
    Participant

    Hello, and thank you for reading.

    It’s been quite a while since I realized I am a perfectionist when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I simply cannot tolerate anyone being mad or upset with me as it makes me have an uneasy feeling in my stomach, a feeling which does not go away until I find out the reason why I have caused such a disturbance, which is followed by going our of my way to regain the approval of that person. I have formed so many beautiful friendships throughout my life so far, however, it seems that all I can focus on are the ones that did not go right for one reason or another, and this renders me unable to fully enjoy and appreciate the beauties of life. I “know” that the solution is to be my own source of approval and fulfillment and not let other people’s opinion define who I am, but I just “know” it, I don’t seem to be able to put it into practice. Whenever I bump into someone who I know might not me, my instant reaction is to do something friendly (e.g. saying hi with a smile, asking about their day) to make sure there are no hard feelings. However, if they take their rejection to a step further by giving a cold response or simply no response at all, I become extremely alarmed, spending hours to think about why is that they are upset with me. I may be surrounded by loving friends and family members, but I cannot take my mind off that certain issue.
    Any solutions?

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 2 months ago by Mary899.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 2 months ago by Mary899.
    #184985
    Chelsea
    Participant

    So with cases like this, it really helps to dig to the root cause of your perfectionism–in this case, it sounds like you’re a people pleaser who doesn’t like disappointing anyone. I’m the exact same way. For me, it’s rooted in having a turbulent (ha!) childhood with parents who were regularly upset with something or another, so as a child, I started going out of my way to make mom and dad happy; that habit then became thoroughly ingrained in all my interpersonal relationships. For me, what helped a lot was reading about boundaries in interpersonal communication, and how to better enforce my own personal boundaries. It taught me that it’s never really possible to get everyone to like you, and that someone else’s emotions aren’t my responsibility to ‘fix’. (And, sometimes, trying to ‘fix’ the situtation is actually a far worse choice.) It allowed me to learn how to just be me, not a people pleasing me.

     

    Hope this helps!

    #184997
    Mary899
    Participant

    Dear Chelsea,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Just as you mentioned, I am very well aware that I am a people pleaser, a quality which is rooted in having a rough childhood. I too used to go out of my way to please my parents. As I am interested in self improvement, I have read a number of books and articles on the importance of being my authentic self. However, it seems as if I still haven’t “internalized” all that information. Theoratically I “know” that I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings and that it’s not possible for everyone to like me, however, as soon as I receive an angry look or an unfavorable remark, I dwell on it for hours, which is nothing but a sheer waste of time.

    #185065
    Anonymous
    Guest

    Dear Mary:

    I view this perfectionism in interpersonal relationships you described as your fear of other people feeling angry with you, fearing what they might do when angry at you.

    This is a Severe Case of Fear, as I see it (referring to the title of your thread).

    I am thinking it came about as a result of a parent expressing his/ her anger at you in aggressive ways, hurting you, punishing you, and you keep fearing the same thing from anyone and everyone.

    You do all you can to prevent it, when interacting when others, and when you sense anger from others, you become very anxious, focused almost exclusively on your perceived danger. All animals, including humans, when sensing danger, focus on that danger until it is resolved.

    The Remedy you are seeking to find is in being able, at one point on, to separate anger-the-feeling from aggressive behavior.

    You can see already, that many and maybe all those times when others were angry at you, as an adult, that your fear was unfounded, that is, those people’s expression of their anger, be it a displeasure you detected in their faces, a tone in their voices, ignoring you, etc., that those expressions were not harmful to you, in reality. Other than the distressed triggered in you, your person was not in real danger.

    Do you agree?

    anita

     

    #185069
    Chelsea
    Participant

    Hi Mary,

    I think Anita hit the nail on the head. What she’s described is identical to my own experience, and working through that fear is pivotal to your success. What you mentioned, the “knowing” but not necessarily DOING is called cognitive dissonance; you know something is happening, but feel powerless to stop it or change the outcome. Unfortunately, (at least for me) that hasn’t really gone away; what HAS happened is that I’ve found some new tools to keep in my arsenal to remind myself that this is just something I do, and I’ve started finding ways to snap myself out of dwelling on the bad situation. It’s not perfect, but it’s a practice that takes time to turn into a habit, and my bouts of ruminating on the negative have gotten drastically shorter.

     

    Here are the things I started with:

    -Identifying why you feel this way (i.e. for me, I didn’t want people disappointed in me because it makes me feel worthless, which only happens because I don’t see my OWN self worth, so I seek external validation from others via people pleasing to ‘create’ my worth; from my understanding, this is a pretty common reason, especially when childhood trauma was present.)

    -What it is you’re actually afraid of (since fear is a symptom & not a cause)

    -Developing the mindfulness to be able to be a passive observer and recognize these emotions without identifying with them. Tiny Buddha has many articles on this and was a tremendous help to me during this process. If you need help finding any, let me know and I can post some links. (A useful, Google-able phrase for this one is “I am not my thoughts”.)

    -Read a book, or find a group, that is about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). There’s tons of useful stuff in there, but it’s a type of therapy that is specifically geared towards retraining your brain to snap out of these vicious, negative spirals. One specific section that helped me a lot was distress tolerance–literally, just learning to function and be mildly okay in stressful situations (i.e. thinking someone is mad at you), and using that to work up to actually being okay with situations that used to be triggering. DBT pairs especially well with mindfulness and meditation practices, which I’d recommend as well.

     

    These things are deceptively difficult to do, and can require feeling a lot of rather unpleasant, usually long-buried emotions; if you find it challenging, therapy (especially DBT, cannot recommend it enough) can help a lot. However, the blessing in disguise is that once you’ve done all the digging, it’s all out in the open air–you can now quantify it, and put the words to it, and get validation that you’re not alone in feeling like this.

     

    I wish you well on your journey.

    Chelsea

    #185145
    Mary899
    Participant

    Dear anita,

    Thank you for your insightful reply.

    Yes, I agree that my feeling distressed over other people being angry with me is mostly related to a great sense of danger and fear. The thing is, I have been brought up in a small city in which there is a great emphasis on “being a good girl” in its traditional sense. Ever since I can remember my parents, grandparents, etc. have been talking about how important it is to have a good reputation, which basically translates to the fact that you have to keep up your good appearances at all costs. “A good girl”, as they believe, should not do anything that may result in people talking badly about her because this will cause damage her good reputation.

    Therefore, the worst kind of punishment is not of the physical type, but it is one that will make your failures and shortcomings public. I precisely remember a time when I had received a low grade on mathematics in elementary school. My mother, after having found out scolded me severely. I remember imploring her not to tell anyone about it, however, the next day, she called my grandmother, telling her about my low score as I was standing right there, powerless and unable to do anything.

    This memory has stuck with me ever since, and I have lived most of my life to avoid it being replayed at all costs. Subconsciously I associate any sign of anger and dissatisfaction with a damage to my reputation, of failing to live up to the standards of a ” good girl”. The angry person may not hold a physical threat, but nevertheless he/she has the potential to belittle me, scold me or talk behind my back,  resulting in me feeling powerless and inadequate. I’m still yet to find a solution to overcome this obsession.

     

    Mary

    #185149
    Mary899
    Participant

    Dear Chelsea,

    Thank you so much for your recommendations.

    It is such a relief to know that I’m not alone in my experience, and I’m so gladown that you’ve found a number of practical  ways to deal with negative emotions.

    What you said: “I didn’t want people disappointed in me because it makes me feel worthless, which only happens because I don’t see my OWN self worth, so I seek external validation from others via people pleasing to ‘create’ my worth.” precisely resembles my own experience. It is as if my worth depends on having a good reputation, and as soon as I sense someone may damage it by, say, speaking ill of me, I become extremely anxious.

    It would be very kind of you to send me the links for a number of articles on tiny Buddha that you have found to be especially helpful.

    I did a quick search on DBT, and it seems to offer all the things that I need to work on: Mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness.
    Have you read any books on DBT which you have found insightful?
    I am currently working on being a passive observer of my emotions, to stop identifying with every single negative thought that pops in my mind. I hope that there comes a day that I have turned it into a habit.

    Thank you again.

     

    Mary

     

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 1 month ago by Mary899.
    #185155
    Anonymous
    Guest

    Dear Mary:

    You are welcome.

    You received a low grade in mathematics in elementary school. Your mother scolded you. You implored her not to  tell anyone. The next day, in your presence, she  called your grandmother and told her.

    A child naturally expects her  mother  to love and  protect her. When your mother hurt you, purposefully, after you imploring her, that  must  have  been a  shock.

    It is not the reputation alone that hurt you, I believe, but the fact that  your mother chose to  hurt you.

    This kind  of betrayal is  a physical experience: chemicals are released in your brain, and  in your body, neurotransmitters, hormones that bring about the physical sensations  and experience of  fear.

    When fear  is not comforted (your mother did not comfort you; she hurt you), it stays. It  becomes anxiety. Anxiety is as  physical as physical can be.

    Perfectionism, the word you used, is one way to try to avoid feeling the fear. If only everyone  thinks only positively about me, then I will be safe.

    Of course, this can never happen as we cannot read others’ thoughts and even if  we could, how could we possibly read so many thoughts at  any one time? There are  many people all around us.. and away from us who know us to some extent, each person thinking and thinking and thinking.

    There is the reputation worry and there is the  betrayal.

    The remedy you are looking for is in the  slow, slow process of healing. Quality psychotherapy, the  DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Chelsea recommended, including Distress Tolerance and Mindfulness. CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helpful as well.

    No quick and easy solution. I  wish there was.

    anita

    #185245
    Chelsea
    Participant

    Hi Mary,

    Here are some Tiny Buddha articles that I found tremendously helpful while starting on my journey of self-healing. Some of them may not seem entirely relevant, or may have off-putting titles, but I think if you read all of them in their entirety and take the time to reflect, they’ll help you a lot. 🙂

    Quit Trying to Be Perfect (You Already Are)

    The Fascinating Reason We Fear Rejection and the Key to Acceptance

    https://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-life-changing-realizations-fear-anxiety/ (and anything by that author!)

    A First Aid Kit for When Life Falls Apart

    As for books, I liked The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Workbook because it had very practical, hands-on exercises that helped me asap, however if you’d like more information & can handle dense reading, anything by Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) is highly recommended.

     

    I wish you well on your journey–I started mine about a year ago and, while I have a ways to go, I’m so much happier for having put in the effort!

    Chelsea

    #187743
    Jim
    Participant

    I’ve always had a serious case of perfectionism that started in high school and continues to this day.  I’m going to post a link to an article that describes why I developed this.  Its titled, “If I’m perfect, no one will reject me”.  I had a lot of rejection growing up from peers (especially girls) that led to very low self esteem.  I developed this belief that appearing perfect to others, was the only sure fire way to prevent being rejected.  I felt I could not make a mistake because I would be judged very harshly and rejected.  Its a very stressful way to live when you constantly fear that your false appearance will be exposed.  It was this inner, chronic stress that I put on myself that lead to my generalized anxiety disorder.  The article is at:    www.innerbonding.com/show-article/2734/if-im-perfect-no-one-will-reject-me-healing-perfectionism.html

    #187781
    Jim
    Participant
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