Perfectionists walk an incredibly narrow road. There can be no deviation from the prescribed path, no sidetracks, and certainly no missteps. There can be no slowing or stopping for others, who are expected to keep up and keep straight, regardless. Perfectionists understand the road is going to be difficult and take great pride in navigating it successfully. They must be constantly on guard for any obstacle in the path, any breath of wind that might knock them off their course. Vigilance and an ongoing state of alertness are key.
With perfectionism, there is no standing down, no acceptable periods of relaxation. Perfectionism is, therefore, both exhausting and unattainable. Addiction can creep in and promise a form of momentary relief from the unrelenting anxiety of trying to be perfect. Addiction can also promise to numb those times when the reality of the unattainable becomes overwhelmingly hard to bear. Addiction promises you can spend a few hours looking away from the shame, blame, and guilt nipping at your heels unless you are perfect. Addiction promises to shield you temporarily from the fear that you are, sadly and tragically, like everyone else—flawed, imperfect, unworthy.
Angela felt she didn’t deserve to be happy. After more probing, I discovered she never had. Any success she’d experienced had been a sort of “cheat,” she said. If people really knew who she was or how much work she’d put into it or any number of factors, they would know she didn’t deserve success and it would be taken away. How could anything she did be worthy when she wasn’t worthy herself?
Angela grew up in a household where nothing she did was right. When she brought home good grades, it was assumed the teacher hadn’t applied the proper standards or she’d gotten away with something. Good things were suspect, but bad things were expected because of who she was. She knew who she was—the one who would “never amount to anything.” She was the one who would “never be like [her] sister.” The one who couldn’t “do anything right to save [her] life,” even though she always tried.
Angela was deeply ashamed of her addiction; part of her was also incredibly angry. She was angry because being trapped in the addiction proved she was weak and everything that had been said about her was true. All her life, Angela kept trying to “make up” for the mistakes she’d made, and the addiction kept putting her further and further behind. She’d never catch up, and with the weight of the addiction added in, catching up seemed to take more energy than she had. She’d been foolish to think she could ever do or be anything other than a failure. “What good is today,” she’d asked, “if I can’t have tomorrow?”
Angela’s addiction subverted the positive roles of shame, blame, and guilt and used them to convince her she wasn’t worth a positive tomorrow. She was especially susceptible to this tactic, since shame, blame, and guilt had always been used as weapons against her while she was growing up. Addiction strips away self-esteem. This can be particularly damaging when you started out with little or none in the first place, as Angela did.
For years, I’ve been speaking out against the tremendous damage done, especially to children, through the tactics of emotional abuse. My book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse has been a pivotal resource in this effort for more than twenty years.
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.
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.
If you are a pessimistic person, I want you to be able to proclaim it, to own up to it, and to accept it. What I have found over my years in practice is that pessimistic people often don’t see themselves that way. In fact, while they view everything else as being universally negative, they tend to view their pessimism as positive.
Instead of interpreting themselves as pessimistic, they instead see themselves as pragmatic, realistic, more informed and enlightened, and smarter. For them, a pessimistic response to the world is seen as protective and even superior to the optimist. Because they approach life believing the worst in circumstances and in people, they feel they are better prepared for whatever life throws at them. They live a guarded, cautious, defensive life. Problems, difficulties, inconveniences, and downright disasters are expected.
Pessimists have what I refer to as a critical spirit. It refers to a person whose inner default mode is to be critical or negative. Picking on people, jumping on their failures, and criticizing their faults appears to be a positive, proactive position for pessimists. However, doing so says more about your own faults than the faults of others.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have been in the counseling business too long to think that pessimists don’t have very specific reasons for being this way. I have heard, literally, hours of reasons why a pessimist’s attitude is really a good thing in his or her life. However, in my experience, I’ve found the reasons to spring from a deep well of pain, injury, abandonment, neglect, humiliation, abuse, and disappointment. Is it any wonder, then, with this kind of well, that what bubbles up in the life of a pessimist is bitterness and negativity?
A pattern of pessimism can be very difficult to give up because it seems safe. If you’ve been wounded, it appears smart to venture out cautiously, carefully, defensively. Pessimism appears to be just the armor you need to engage a hostile world. It can seem very right to the wounded person, but it leads to death, a death of optimism. Pessimism becomes not an armor keeping the world out, but a prison keeping you in. Pessimism is a world that says the worse thing that can happen to you is to be hurt by evil flourishes, where wrongs outweigh rights, where oppression is standard and disappointment is the order of the day.
There’s only one problem with this worldview; it’s a worldview. It’s a view completely obscured by this world. It presupposes that all there is or is ever going to be is this world, with all its faults and problems. This is the type of world described in Ephesians 2:11-12. It is a view “without hope and God in the world.”
But you do have hope, and God is in the world, so this worldview is a lie. Since the underlying assumptions of your pessimism are a lie, it’s perfectly logical, rational, pragmatic, enlightened, and savvy to reject it and instead base your response to life on the truth. And what is truth? Instead of a worldview, have a God view. With a God view, your response to life can change from pessimism to optimism.
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.