“We’re only human.”
Have you ever heard this? If so, what does it mean? People generally say this when they want to excuse a mistake or minor failure of some sort. It is to make ourselves and others feel better after a blunder.
Even so, many people struggle with the drive to perfection. These people will say they hate making mistakes. If we pin them down, and they think logically, nearly everyone will agree that all people make mistakes. Knowing that, many are still harsh with themselves – and sometimes others – when they don’t live up to their own (often unreasonable) standards.
What is this all about? Why such a struggle with being human? Several possibilities may underlie this tendency, namely:
- You’ve grown up in a critical environment
- You’ve been exposed to strong, external social messages that mandate perfection
- Fear based on past consequences
There are other reasons for the pursuit of perfection, but these are rather common. Pay close attention to the last example above. There is a key hidden there. Unrealistic expectations are often the adult, non-conscious response to other contributors to perfectionism. What does that mean? People who grow up in a critical environment or with strong social directives often develop unrealistic expectations. In other words, the first two reasons can cause the last one. When this happens, it is usually outside our awareness.
Unrealistic expectations cannot be met and therefore generally lead to guilt. Repeated, consistent, or intense behaviors cause our brains to develop something called schemas. A schema is a “way of seeing or doing something”. Categories develop and overgeneralizations can occur – a “once that way, always that way” mindset is formed.
In the most basic sense, schemas are lists of accumulated rules that organize, motivate, and validate our thoughts and actions. This can be helpful so that we don’t have to think everything through. However, not all schemas are accurate. For example, if someone moves the coffee pot and you try to go on automatic to where it used to be, you won’t find it.
Therefore, one key purpose of a schema is to make us efficient. Schemas power our routines, automatic actions, and core beliefs. Changing a schema can change our thoughts and behaviors all at once. Imagine that you have a schema in your mind that says, “I am worthless”. If that is the case, then if your boss does not give you a promotion, you will likely say, “See? I knew it! I’m not good enough.” You might withdraw, avoid the boss, and eventually leave the company. However, if your schema says, “I am worthy”, then when you do not receive the promotion, you may say to yourself “I am capable of this work. Perhaps there is something more I need to learn for this company.” Or “I know I can do this. Perhaps the boss missed something. I will check with him.” Words, thoughts, and behaviors follow our schemas and it usually takes conscious awareness to change this.
Think about this the next time you want a cup of coffee. Once you decide you want it, you just go for it. At no time do you think consciously, “left foot move, right foot move, left foot move, grab coffee cup, press button on machine” – right!? This is because the schema in your brain for “go to coffee pot” is established, non-conscious, and automatic. Therefore, a healthy level of performance requires a conscious watching. In the beginning, you may need to pay particular and consistent attention to multiple areas of your life. Over time, however, as your schemas change for the better, your skills will likely become more automatic and easier to use.
At The Center, you’ll find people who understand that perfectionism is a myth. They do not feel guilty for their humanity and they find joy in helping others reach that place. Pursuing excellence is healthy. Expecting perfection from yourself (or others) can be debilitating and steals joy and our unique contributions. We at The Center know this and will provide guidance on how to form more realistic expectations of yourself and others.
Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board Certified Group Psychotherapist at The Center • A Place of HOPE. The Center, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders and more.
Once you give up on the idea of a future where your addiction is “manageable,” you must contemplate a future without the addiction in any form. The question then becomes, “Who am I without this?” The addiction has been such an integral part of your life that you have difficulty imagining what life could be, who you could be, without it.
This point was brought home to me last year. I was working with a woman who was trying to overcome a prescription drug addiction. Amy was in the phase of recovery where she was ready to accept the negatives of her addiction but fearful of what life would mean without it. During this time, she got a card from an old friend. She said they’d drifted apart because they no longer lived in the same state. Their correspondences, Amy told me, were usually a yearly holiday missive giving a personal and family update. The midyear card came as a surprise and contained a picture of the two of them that was more than thirty years old. Amy showed me the candid shot of a group of teenagers and asked if I could pick her out.
As I struggled to avoid embarrassment by choosing the wrong person, Amy said it was a picture of her church youth group getting ready to take off for a day hike. When I didn’t pick her out right away, she gratefully let me off the hook and pointed herself out. She lamented how far she’d come from that young, smiling teenage girl. “I can’t remember who I was,” Amy said, “and if I give this up, I can’t imagine who I’ll be.”
I believe this question of who you’ll be without your addiction is a common one. Addiction has the power to co-opt the person you are and change you into someone different, altering your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. The person you were becomes a faded, distant memory. You may look in a mirror and feel unsure of who you were, ashamed of who you are, and fearful of becoming anyone else.
I think people are fearful of giving up an addiction because they believe they will be in pain without it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in different ways, though rarely will they use the word pain. Instead, they say without their addiction, they will be frustrated or bored, anxious or afraid. They tell me the addiction, whatever it is, helps them overcome being depressed or angry. In the deepest throes of my overworking, my pain might have carried the name unsuccessful or failure.
Are you struggling with addictive behaviors and feeling depressed? Do you feel that your life is not in your control? The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and speak with a confidential specialist. Begin the healing process and have confidence that there is hope, and that joy is attainable.
Some people are auditory processors—they think with their mouths. Other people just aren’t wired that way. If you’re one of the latter types, I suggest actually writing out your script. You could write out your script by hand or on a computer. Journaling your story has great power, especially your struggles between the negatives and the positives at conflict within you. Each time you take time to chronicle a struggle, you contribute to the handbook of how to overcome and succeed the next time. In essence, you write your own self-help book.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, I encourage you to try journaling, just once. Consider this a baby step. You needn’t write everything down in the moment, but you can choose a time—perhaps when things calm down—to write and reflect on your experience. Put aside any anxiety about penmanship or grammar. Put aside any anxiety about others reading what you’ve written or what you’ve written not being good enough. Put down anxiety and take that baby step!
Once you start the habit of writing your own script, I think you’ll be surprised at the effect of this simple tool. If you’ve been reading from anxiety’s script for a long time, you’ll hear negativity in your head for a time. Hearing that voice doesn’t mean you need to obey that voice. Once that negative script starts, you can, like Connie, stop it in its tracks and assert your own script, using your own voice.
Think about the type of character you’ve been playing with your anxiety as the director of your life. Then ask yourself the following question: Is that really the type of person you want to be?
Anxiety has written a script where you play the part of a frazzled, anxious, suspicious, irritable, short-tempered, and easily frustrated person. How would your life change if you could change the part you play into a character who is relaxed and not anxious, thoughtful and not reactive, seeing the good instead of pointing out the bad, approachable instead of putting up barriers? How do you want to be perceived by the other players on stage? When you take control of your own script, you determine the part you are going to play and then you act accordingly.
I think you will find that once you start changing your script and resetting your stage, others may find the freedom to change theirs. Every time friends or loved ones have stepped onto your stage in the past, they have entered a darkened, cluttered stage of fear, tripping and falling over your anxieties.
Not only will your stage be much more positive for you, but those who enter into your life will also find a much brighter place! Instead of being afraid of what you’ll say or how you’ll react, when you relax, others may relax. Instead of assuming you’ll say no, others may regain the courage to ask to see if you’ll say yes. You never know, but your courage to make such a radical and positive change may encourage someone else to do the same.
If you are struggling with anxiety, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
Jillian looked around her room at all the boxes piled in the corner and felt an urge to weep. She wanted to but she wouldn’t. There was no point in crying; that wouldn’t solve anything. Nobody asked her about the divorce. Nobody asked her if she wanted to move to a different state. Nobody asked her anything. She was supposed to shut up and do what she was told; the only person allowed to cry was her mother.
Jillian could still remember how she’d felt when her mother told her the divorce was final and about the move. Jillian had started to cry and then her mother had started to cry and told her not to. It wasn’t fair. Jillian had to leave her school and her friends and she wasn’t to cry about it. Fine, she’d make the best of it. A new school, new friends, a time to reinvent herself. She had all summer to lose weight so she could start high school thin. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about finding friends; friends would find her. She wouldn’t cry or complain; she’d do what she needed to do—whatever it took.
Abused children are often not allowed to respond to trauma or traumatic events in appropriate ways for children. They are expected to act as “little adults.” Sometimes wounded adults call on them to take on the role of comforter or companion. They are expected to disregard their own needs and fulfill the needs of others. In some abused children, this unrealistic expectation and disregard of their feelings produce feelings of anger and rage. If these reactions are also quashed, the anger and rage must find a substitute outlet.
In some abused children, this expression leads to an eating disorder. The child may begin to control body weight as a way to control at least one thing in their life. That control of their body may come in the form of restriction, in anorexia; of bingeing and purging, in bulimia; or in a preoccupation with weight and image, in body dysmorphia. Some abused children seek out the comfort of food and engage in binge eating but without any purging, resulting in more and more weight gain.
Are you consistently thinking about how you look? What you eat? Do you experience a sense of satisfaction when you reach certain weight goals? Have you disregarded the concern of others over your eating patterns or your weight? Do you feel you deserve to be thin? Do you feel you deserve to be fat? Is food the one com- fort, the one sure thing in your life? Food is a mood modifier and can be used—either by undereating or overindulgence—as a way to cope with psychological stress.
If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
The wonderful sights and sounds of the holiday season have finally emerged around every corner. Decorations have resurfaced from basements and holiday traditions are in full swing. No matter which holiday you observe, the holiday season can prove to be both a challenging and rewarding time of year for those recovering from an eating disorder.
Many people struggle with the environmental and social triggers during the holiday season that may elicit old, destructive eating patterns. Staying committed to practicing self-care throughout the holiday season is your solution to remaining on the path of recovery. Practicing self-care will create a more meaningful holiday season for you and your loved ones and will help you to enjoy all of the holiday festivities.
As you begin the holiday season by thinking about what you must do for others, it is imperative to remember that your happiness and health is of the utmost importance.
Tips to practicing self-care during the holiday season
Stay committed. Maintaining a semblance of normalcy during the holiday season is extremely vital to improving your overall well-being and enhancing your recovery process. The holiday season can be extremely busy but staying committed to your therapy sessions and self-soothing techniques can help you to continue on the path of recovery. Be proactive and create an action plan with your therapist for the holiday season. Together, establish productive coping mechanisms you can use when you are in social environments that may elicit old, destructive eating patterns.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the perfect solution to preventing old, destructive eating patterns. Because the holiday season is filled with many social events that surround food, it is important to anticipate these moments, and practice how you will respond in a productive way. Communicating with your therapist and making a plan for these moments is an extremely beneficial way for you to still enjoy these social events without reverting to old behaviors.
If your friends and family are planning events around cooking and baking, make sure that you make an action plan with your therapist of how you can still get involved in those activities while maintaining a healthy, nutritional balance.
Additionally, staying committed to your recovery by practicing positive self-talk and being mindful in the moment is vital in maintaining inner peace and contentedness during the holiday season.
Participate in your favorite holiday traditions. Revive your spirit and continue on your recovery path by having fun. Getting involved in fun, traditional activities with family and friends is the ultimate self-soothing technique that distracts your mind and engages your energy towards exciting activities. Whether it is shopping, decorating, or planning social gatherings, diving into traditions with friends and family will revive your spirit.
By immersing yourself in the holiday traditions you enjoy, you will be feeding your spirit by improving your health and your overall well-being. Use the holiday season and your commitment to self-care to empower you to enjoy the special moments with your friends and family.
Plan ahead and prioritize. Do not let the stress of the holidays inhibit all of the success you have made during your recovery journey. Take time to assess your needs with your therapist or with your family members and prioritize your events. Dedicate time for maintaining self-soothing techniques such as writing, walking, yoga, or meditation to establish normalcy during this busy time of year. If you are traveling, plan ahead and schedule time to continue on your recovery journey by meal planning and exercising to maintain a healthy balance.
Take a step back from the festivities to collect your thoughts and allow yourself to decompress. Remember, your health is of the utmost importance and the stress of the holidays can sometimes lead to old patterns of thinking and behaving. Planning all of your events ahead of time and prioritizing your needs by taking time out for yourself is a beneficial way to prevent feelings of stress.
Communicate with your friends and family. When you are surrounded by the people you love, it becomes a wonderful reminder of how much you are cared for. The priority of your friends and family is your health and overall well-being. Make sure that you communicate your struggling moments with friends and family. Tell them about your recovery journey and what they can do to help during the holiday season.
The holiday season is the ultimate opportunity for you to practice self-care because the people you love will be aware of your recovery and will do everything they can to recognize warning signs or help you enjoy the holiday festivities.
Enjoy yourself. Release any unwanted thoughts, live in the present, and enjoy yourself. Make time for your favorite activity, go to the movies with friends, or practice yoga for a break during the holiday festivities. Be kind to yourself and continue to cultivate self-compassion by immersing yourself in the holiday traditions and activities you love to do.
You are worthy and capable of having the most memorable holiday season if you let your recovery process empower you. Recognize how far you have come and enjoy the special moments with friends and family. Let this time encourage and strengthen the person you have become beyond your eating disorder.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 today and a specialist will answer any questions you might have.
It is said that no one is an island, yet through your behaviors you’ve separated yourself from other people. To control your surroundings, you couldn’t afford to include other people in your life — because people are notoriously unpredictably and often uncontrollable. Over time, you have walled yourself in. Now it’s time to start dismantling your wall, brick by brick.
One of the first bricks you need to remove is the one that hides the truth about your relationship with food from those who truly love you. They need to see what this has been doing to you. They need to see what this is doing to your physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They probably already have a pretty good idea of what’s been happening between you relationally, but may not realize how much your eating disorder or your disordered eating is at the core of that impact. It’s time to let them in. You need to allow them the opportunity to help you.
If you are a perfectionist, that attitude has fostered a solitary state of mind within you. Perfectionism demands private effort and rewards accomplishments privately. Part of you may not want to include others in your recovery to avoid being indebted to them in any way: It’s my challenge, so the victory should be mine. This attitude only strengthens your perfectionism and false pride — and neither one will assist your recovery.
Those who are deeply concerned about you may want to give you that love and trust as desperately as you need to receive it. Take the chance. Open up to someone, but be wise about the choice. Choose someone who loves you, and then allow that person to show you how much. Both of you will benefit.
The time to remain trapped in your prison of food is over. Freedom awaits you. And included in that freedom is the reality of unpredictability. You have already decided that you want the future to look different than it does today. You have already acknowledged that hope is more important than control.
Life is worth a chance. Love is worth the risk. God is sufficient. Believe is your recovery. Believe in today. Believe that God loves you. Believe that your life makes a difference. Believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Believe you are the light for someone else who needs hope. Believe that the best is yet to be. Believe in yourself.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.