“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.
The ding on her cell phone startled her. Puzzled, Beth wondered why she was getting a reminder. Reading the short text, her heart sank. She’d completely forgotten about the meeting. She’d agreed to help Kathy weeks ago but only because she felt guilty. Beth didn’t really want to go to the meeting, let alone stay and help Kathy clean up. This was going to put her seriously behind. Tonight was the night she was supposed to catch up on all the things she hadn’t done over the weekend, like laundry and buying that baby gift.
One small ding and Beth felt close to tears. There was too much going on, too much she had to do. She never caught a break, never got caught up. Beth prided herself on being the go-to person, someone people could rely on, which is why so many people asked her to do things. Didn’t they understand how much pressure she was under? Now all she wanted to do was run and hide. Lately, she wasn’t motivated to do anything, which is why last weekend came and went without the laundry getting done and the baby gift being purchased.
Beth had thought she would have time tonight to find some breathing room. Now time had run out—all because of this stupid meeting. She resented losing her evening and resented Kathy for having pressured her into saying yes in the first place. Checking the time, Beth started planning how to get out of the crisis. Forget the laundry; she’d make do.
Tomorrow was the baby shower and Beth had desperately wanted to find the perfect gift. Well, so much for the perfect gift; that would take time she didn’t have. If she shopped through lunch, maybe, just maybe, she could find something acceptable to pop in a gift bag. Janice would just have to be happy with whatever she got; after all, it was a gift. Beth figured she’d put a gift receipt in the bag and if Janice didn’t like the gift, she could just take her own time to go back to the store and get something better.
Time always seemed to be running out and Beth always seemed to be running after it. When, she wondered, was she ever going to get caught up?
Stress is not the ideal environment to make the best decisions. Stress skews your priorities and downsizes goals. Desperate, you make short-term decisions that have long-term consequences. Pressure starts to poison even the best of intentions. However, knowing what your priorities are and the goals you want to work to achieve allows you to take control of your time.
A stress-filled life can cause us to careen from activity to activity or distraction to distraction with little time to stop and think about what we are doing. We are so consumed with the what in our lives that we fail to recognize the why. Take time to stop and consider all of the whats in your life—what you are doing on a regular basis.
On a piece of paper, make two columns. On the left column, write down all the what’s. Next, assign each what a why, and write the why in the right column. Then, consider how your life would be if you stopped doing that what. As much as possible, be truthful and realistic about those consequences.
I hope that through this exercise, you can begin to identify the truly important and necessary things in your life and begin to make choices about what to continue, what to modify (or ask for help accomplishing), and what to end.
I encourage you to recognize how much control you have over your choices. Stress has a way of creating its own urgency through manufactured crises. Once you take back control of the priorities in your life, you can begin to reduce your stress level.
Without the false urgency of stress, you’ll be able to evaluate when to say yes and when to say no. When each yes or no is in line with the truly important, you’ll feel better about and energized by your choices. Life will become less about what you have to do and more about what you want to do.
When you are actively engaged in doing the things that give you purpose and meaning, your life has moments of joy. Saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things becomes easier. Filled with these moments, stress has less room to maneuver in your life.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 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.
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.
What do you think would happen if you revisited some of the old ghost towns that haunt your memories? What if you revisited the house where you grew up and were taught you weren’t a capable person? Maybe it’s the school where you were taunted and teased and picked last. Or maybe it’s a person and not a place — a person who withheld approval and affection, though you did everything you could to earn them.
Sometimes the life we live causes stress and sometimes the life we lived causes stress. Each of us is a product of our past. If that past is full of ghosts, that past will haunt the present. To determine if memories of your past are creating stress in your present, ask yourself the following questions:
- What negative memories seem to haunt me? Which events and the pain they caused are still vivid, as though they just happened?
- What words or voices from the past are still ringing in my mind today?
- If you find that past pain still has power over you today, you need to begin moving out of your past and into the present. Start moving out of your ghost towns by reminding yourself those days are over. You may have had no power to stop them negatively affecting your past, but you do have the power to keep them from negatively affecting your present. Even more, God has the power to redeem those negative events and turn them into good.
Think about the good things of the present and be thankful for them. Think about each of your abilities and gifts and how each has played a part in making you the unique person you are. You will have to make a daily decision to dismiss the hurtful memories of the past and concentrate on the positive things of today, until the past no longer controls your thoughts.
The choice is yours. It will require some risk and demand a deeper trust of yourself and of God, but that will only enhance your growth. In the end, all you will lose are your ghosts of the past. What you will gain is an opportunity to regain control of your life.
We all have the capacity to become what we were meant—created—to be. Our ghosts haunt us and keep us fearful. God means for us, through his power, to break free from the past. Do you believe God has the power and desire to do that for you? Can you say, like the apostle Paul, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14)?
If you or a loved one is struggling with hurtful memories from the past, 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.
Vented anger, because of its “out there” nature, can be much easier to identify. However, many people still attempt to diffuse it by calling it other names.
I’d like you to take a look at the following list of words and mark any you identify as part of your anger repertoire. Be honest and bold. If you have a loved one or close friend, consider asking him or her to look over the list and discuss it with you. Other people are a good barometer of what you aren’t able to recognize in yourself.
All of these can be ways of expressing anger. Look over your list and answer the following questions.
- What do you tell yourself when you feel this way?
- Does your thought life escalate or deescalate your feelings?
- How do you feel after you express these feelings?
- How do you feel about yourself?
- How do you feel about anyone else involved?
- How do you feel physically?
- How long does it take you to get over the feelings?
- Do you “replay” the event and the feelings inside your head?
- Are you ashamed of how you reacted?
- Are you remorseful over how you reacted?
- If you could get rid of one of these reactions, which one would it be and why?
Be aware of your anger levels over the next several weeks. Write down, if you’re able, what you feel and any reasons you determine for feeling that way. Note any out-of-line or extreme reactions or feelings. Be sure to write these down for more examination, thought, and prayer.
Above all, remember you have an active partner in this process. Just as God said to Cain, he says to you: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?” (Gen.4:6). There is a why to all of this, a why that can be determined and brought out into the light.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a anger issues, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 today and a specialist will answer any questions you might have.
Helen came to The Center • A Place of HOPE suffering from anxiety and depression. Her moods swung from hopelessness and lethargy to being stressed out and anxious. If it wasn’t one, it was the other. Both were taking their toll, and she wanted an end to them.
Helen was tired of never feeling settled. She had become terrified she was bipolar because of her roller-coaster moods. It was this fear that finally propelled her into counseling. In addition to her therapy, Helen set up an appointment to see our nutritionist. What was mysterious to her was obvious to him. Helen had hypoglycemia, which was a major source of her depression and anxiety.
Over the course of her adult life, Helen developed a pattern based upon her eating habits and food choices. She preferred quick, calorie-rich foods, eaten sporadically, with large amounts of caffeine throughout the day. Because she worked for a newspaper, Helen’s duties were stressful and time sensitive. Many times she put off eating, subsisting instead on high-caffeine beverages and sweets, consumed on the run. The caffeine and sweets propelled her headlong into nervousness and anxiety as her blood sugar levels spiked. The resulting crash of insulin to counter this massive sugar dump in her system brought feelings of depression and physical depletion. At these low times, Helen doubted her abilities, fretted over her age, and raged over any mistake. When Helen hit rock bottom, she questioned whether she was really capably of doing her high-stress, high-profile job. Her body was playing right into her fears of unworthiness and inadequacy to handle her job.
Hypoglycemia is more commonly known as low blood sugar or the “sugar blues.” The body’s main source of fuel is glucose, which is a form of sugar. Glucose is produced by the body through the consumption of carbohydrates, sugars, and starches. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion. Glucose that is not needed is stored in the liver as glycogen. When the amount of sugar in the blood is insufficient to fuel the body’s activities, hypoglycemia occurs. While this condition has been universally accepted as a cause of depression, even skeptics will agree that hypoglycemia can cause weakness, mental dullness, confusion, and fatigue. All of these symptoms, when taken together, can exacerbate depression.
Some in the medical community, especially those schooled in holistic medicine, do make the connection between depression and hypoglycemia, including the U.S. National Library of Medicine of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 
Food and caffeine became Helen’s drugs of choice. Food, so abundant in this country, is often used as a form of self-medication and comfort, especially high-sugar, high-fat foods. These foods flood the bloodstream with an energy surge. While using food to treat feelings of depression may prove temporarily effective, the resulting crash of low blood sugar can make you feel even worse. As you look at your own cycles of depression, look for a connection between what you eat and how you feel.
Here are common signs of hypoglycemia:
- confusion or disorientation
- rapid heart beat
- slurred speech
- tingling lips
If you find yourself having feelings of hopelessness, stress, anxiety and depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.
 M. J. Park, S. W. Yoo, B. S. Choe, R. Dantzer, and G. G. Freund, “Acute Hypoglycemia Causes Depressive-Like Behavior in Mice,” Metabolism 61, no. 2 (February 2012): 229-36, summarized at U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21820138