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When Perfection is the Back Seat Driver

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Lentz Letters. Today this blog is entitled When Perfection is Trying to be the Back Seat Driver. I was doing errands today and glanced in the rear -view mirror into my empty back seat. It reminded me of the days as a taxi mom putting major mileage of the minivan to meet the daily extracurricular demands of busy after school schedules. Of course, like all good moms, I wanted to make the taxi ride pleasurable. Picture detours to the drive thru of choice or fresh baked cookies from the oven awaiting you as buckle up after a long day at school. Now before you vote me mother of the year, look at underlying objectives. If I were honest with myself this was a drive to live, look and strive to be the perfect mom. The purpose was not about depositing my child on time at the activity of the day and saying to myself, “mission accomplished”. No, it was more about anticipating certain comments coming from the back seat. Three simple words, in between gulps and slurps, that made it at first glance all worth it! “You’re the best, mom!”

Let us face it, we all strive to be the best or successful in one way or another. Brene Brown gives us insight into the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. Perfectionism becomes a real slippery slope to success. Ultimately, futile efforts to not disappoint, point to paths of depression, addiction, anxiety, and overall life paralysis. Ironically, Brown continues to explain that when perfectionism is at the forefront, there is a vulnerability to shame. These are unconscious attempts to avoid blame, criticism, and judgment. Putting unrealistic standards upon yourself makes you believe that by doing this certain task you can prevent being hurt by what people think. Perhaps you can see the futility in this statement since you cannot control what others think. Fear about disappointing others can cripple the relationship that you have with yourself and others.

It is virtually impossible to avoid disappointment. In parenting, disappointment plays an essential role in a child’s emotional, intellectual, and social development. It is empowering for children to learn about limits and realize that goals are obtainable but not necessarily immediately achieved, such as earning a trip to the local drive thru window. Allowing our children to experience disappointment helps the child learn that valuable lessons in life. Therefore, it is important to help them learn that life is filled with limits and there is value in delayed gratification.

But what if success for you is defined by such demanding standards that no one, not even you could possibly achieve them? Your standards that you set for yourself set you up for failure right from the start since what you are striving for is unattainable. The inner critic spends the day telling you that you are either not good enough or you were able to accomplish something only because the standard was not high enough. Perhaps the critical inner voice is what you see in your back seat as you glance into your rear- view mirror. Everyone has a critical voice. It is what you want to learn from the voice that matters. Therapy can help you walk through the following steps that can help you gain control over your critical inner voice.

1. Consider your motives behind your behavior? Are you doing it to impress others? Avoid rejection? Or for yourself?

2. Who does this voice sound like?

3. What age were you when you first heard this voice?

4. Recognize what triggers the critical inner voice

5. Learn to replace this negative extreme thinking about self with more realistic thoughts

6. Challenge the validity of the statement. Notice the exceptions to the statement.

7. Practice mindfulness and check in with yourself daily regarding your feelings and what you are telling yourself. In the moment, learn to shift your awareness to something else in the room rather than focusing on the critical voice.

8. Challenge the voice by learning to talk back. Tell it to “Prove it!”

9. Ask yourself, “If someone said this to your loved one how would you tell them to reply?”

10. Become more aware of positive feedback and have self- compassion towards self and consider all of your strengths.

11. Instead of saying “I am not good enough” begin to say that the voice says that “You are not good enough.”

12. Write down what it is saying and write down a response to it

13. What advice would you give a good friend who was hearing this critical voice?

14. Replace overly critical thoughts with accurate ones

15. Balance acceptance with self -improvement

16. Practice self- compassion

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