PERFECTIONISM, THE ANXIETY DRIVEN FALLACY IN RECOVERY.

Today I bring you two fascinating articles on dissociation by Matt Pappas who writes so well on the subject. survivingmypast.net

Welcome to Part I of a 2 part series on Perfectionism, Dissociation, and Anxiety. Originally this was going to be a single post, but as I started writing, doing research, and diving into my feelings, it became apparent that this was going to require a good deal of analysis.

I was thinking the other day, how Anxiety is fueled by both Perfectionism and Dissociation. On top of that, how those two fuel each other and to combine to increase Anxiety. Think of it as two wrestlers, tag teaming against us, the survivor, and then calling in the reinforcement of Anxiety. Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a melee and we are on our own.

Throughout my entire life, up until the last couple of years, the last thing I ever thought about myself being, was a perfectionist. So let’s explore that one first.

By very definition, Perfectionism is as follows:

  • A person who demands perfection of himself, herself, or others.
  • A person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.

When I was younger, and likely right up until the last several years, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who “flies by the seat of their pants”. I didn’t need to be perfect at anything, and thought of perfectionism certainly didn’t keep me up at night.

My how times change!

When you dig deep into your past, deep into your mind, you uncover all kinds of truths about yourself that you never thought existed. Or perhaps they did exist and now they are just starting to make themselves known to you. 

Throughout the recovery work that I have done to date, I throw myself into those efforts in a way previously unknown to me. I mean, if I’m going to heal then I might as well give it all I’ve got right?! My abuser certainly threw himself into his work, so why shouldn’t I give even more effort to overcome that trauma?!

When you are at your deepest, darkest, level of despair the only way out, is up; to change our way of thinking and embrace Hope.

There are so many facets to completely embracing a healing journey, some of which include:

  • Doing the homework that your helping professional gives you.
  • Reading books and watch videos to educate and reinforce that mentality of healing.
  • Writing out your thoughts in a journal or blog.
  • Engaging with other survivors for support and supporting them as much as we can.
  • Self Care, taking care of ourselves, doing what’s best for us, and putting our needs first.
  • Setting healthy boundaries with toxic family members, friends, co-workers, or others who invalidate us in any way.
  • Being mindful and fully present as much as possible.

All of these things and more are integral in healing, but what happens if we get so laser focused, so Gung-Ho about recovery that it takes on a perfectionist mindset?WE-ALL-HEAL-IN-OUR-OWN-WAY-SURVIVING-MY-PAST-683x1024 Perfectionism, the anxiety driven fallacy in recovery.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who works through their trauma is going to turn into a perfectionist, but for an extreme thinker like myself, it is an easy mindset to fall into, and one that can lead to self-shame. Like I need anymore of THAT in my life!

It’s an interesting idea to explore, and it may be something that you hadn’t considered as a possibility. I can admit I never saw it coming until it dawned on me recently that some of my self shame is not just coming from the past abuse, but in actually how I’m trying to heal.

It’s good to be “all in”, to do everything possible to work through our past, but at the same time we need to be kind to ourselves and know our limits.There’s no need to push ourselves to the extreme in an effort to heal at the rate of some self imposed progress meter, or just because your fellow survivor may be further along in their journey.

Perfect doesn’t exist. The drive for Perfectionism leads nowhere validating. There is no Perfect way to heal.

There are things that we should and should not do, yes, but the way that I go about them is going to be different from the way that you go about them. It’s a means to an end, a variety of roads that all lead to the same destination of Healing.

I can remember working on some printouts from The Courage to Heal workbook, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself saying “well what’s the right answer here, what’s the perfect way to answer this?”

Another example, you are talking to your helping professional. He or she asks you, “how does this make you feel inside? or What does this mean to you?”

Here again, they aren’t looking for you to give the perfect text-book answer, they want YOU to answer how YOU feel. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that my answers often did closely resemble what a typical response would be. But not always.

That “not always” is where healing can really kick into high gear. You explore the way you feel, not how you think you are supposed to feel, and that leads to a deeper understanding and validation of who we are and what we endured.

Maybe you’ve been there too, or maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, I applaud you big time because it took me awhile to realize it’s not about giving the “right answer”, it’s about giving “my answer”. It’s not about other’s path to healing or their timetable, it’s about mine; however long it takes and whatever roads it takes me down.

Healing is a jagged journey, it’s a juggling act at times. If we aren’t careful, we can get caught up in what we are supposed to be doing, supposed to be feeling, and how much progress we think we’re supposed to have in the books at any given time.

I can’t tell you how many times in my healing journey so far, that I’ve doubted myself, felt like a failure, felt like I’m doing nothing right and I shame myself for it. I compare myself to others, or how a book thinks I should be feeling. That, friends, can lead to a recovery stalling out or detouring down a path that isn’t emotionally healthy. I know, I’ve been there. I still go down that road at times and I have to catch myself, or rely on the validation of others to “set my head back on straight” so to speak.

Whether or not you consider yourself a perfectionist in healing, or anything else, take some time to consider how you are approaching your healing journey. Are you trying to heal in the perfect way, or are you trying to heal your way?  One can lead to self shame, and the other can lead to self-compassion.

Perfectionism fuels Anxiety.  Let’s be real, the last thing we want in our life is more Anxiety, right?   So be kind to yourself and know that each day you decide to put forth the effort to heal, in any way, you are already “doing it right”. 

You can read Part II here, Dissociation: the Anxiety driving force of Invalidation.

-Matt

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