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.
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.
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
The physical side effects of a dysfunctional relationship with food are not unlike the environmental complications that have arisen from pollution in our world today. You may have trouble imagining your body as polluted, so do the following exercise using graphic pictures that depict the damage pollution is causing to the earth.
- Collect some magazines and make a collage of beautiful pictures of the earth; sky scenes, landscapes, seascapes. If you can’t find appropriate images, draw a picture in your journal of a beautiful world. This world represents the way God intended your body to be.
- After that, find pictures of the ravages of pollution. On the next page in your journal, draw or paste pictures of how pollution has harmed the world. These images represent how your eating behaviors have polluted your body. Be aware of your physical reactions to these different pictures. Does the beautiful scenery make you feel calm and peaceful? Does the polluted world give you feelings of sadness?
- At the bottom of each picture, write a brief description of how you feel about what you’re looking at. Just as the awareness of pollution’s dangers has caused people to repair the damage done to our earth, so also your own awareness of the real toll you are placing on your body can give you added motivation for discovering the source behind the pollution of your eating behaviors and putting an end to them. Looking at the picture of the world (my body) as God intended it makes me feel…. Looking at the picture of the world (my body) as it has been polluted makes me feel… Fill in those blanks and reflect on your feelings.
All your life you’ve heard the expression, “It’s never too late.” You need to believe that now. Yes, there has been damage done to your body, but that damage can be dealt with and, in most cases, reversed.
In the past, you have spent a good deal of time focusing on how your body looks from the outside. Now it’s time to look at your body from the inside. What is happening to you on the inside affects how you look on the outside. Your relationship with food has not brought you to the point of vibrant health. Instead, it is robbing you of your well-being, little by little.
Before, you were concerned only with the end result, attaining some sort of desired result. Now you need to be concerned with the means you are using to that end and the damage it is causing. To be thin is not necessarily to be healthy. To put on weight is not necessarily to be fat. Vibrant health is what you are striving for physically. Proper nutrition can aid your body in regaining the health of its systems.
Learn more about how nutrition can have an impact on your mental health.
If you or a loved one show signs of having an eating disorder, you may benefit from consulting an eating disorder specialist. Our team of eating disorder professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE focus on whole-person recovery, and take special care to understand the many aspects in a person’s life that may be contributing to their eating disorder. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to get more information or to speak with an eating disorder specialist today.