Tag Archives: perfectionism

Just Because.

As you know, I recently injured myself while exercising. What I neglected to mention was that, prior to this, I’d regularly been getting sudden pains in my head.

At the time, it struck me that I probably needed to take it easy but I just couldn’t stop. I was always on the go and I was exercising more than ever. I felt tired a lot but adrenaline was fuelling me and I thought I was doing great.

When I hurt my Achilles tendon, I was forced to slow down. Interestingly, the pains in my head disappeared immediately.

I learnt a lot from the whole episode. I recognised the need for more balance in my life. It also brought home for me the fact that I had to be able to feel good about myself regardless of what I was doing or how I looked.

I realised that it’s all in my head anyway. I could feel good one day and shitty the next. Nothing external had changed, which perfectly proved my point.

However, there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling something. So when the physiotherapist gave me license to return to exercise, I did so that very evening.

The following morning, I was dismayed to discover that the Achilles on my other foot was paining me. Yet again, I had to resort to limping.

An acupuncturist advised me to lay off exercise for a week. I needed rest. My body, in all its intelligence, had created the pain that was making it impossible to do anything but rest.

Though I would never consciously ask for pain as a learning aid, I have learnt a very important lesson from all this. I’ve been doing things in order to feel good. I’ve also been doing things to avoid feeling bad.

Of course, it’s sensible to practise healthy behaviours that accentuate the good and eliminate the bad but it’s also worth remembering that it’s best not to rely too heavily on external routes to happiness.

Also, balance is key. Interesting how both my Achilles were acting up as, without the Achilles, it’s very hard to achieve balance.

Exercise is great. Healthy eating is wonderful. Working hard and taking action is commendable. Achieving success is admirable. But leaning too far in any one direction will upset the balance and, sooner or later, you’ll topple over and hurt yourself.

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I clearly need to listen to my body when it’s tired or sore. Replacing one gym session with a walk in nature would be a good idea. I deserve to take a rest.

And so those deeper issues of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance make themselves known. I feel good about myself when I’m busy, when I’m doing and achieving. I feel good in my body when I’m exercising and eating healthily.

And I feel bad when I’m not doing all these things. I feel unworthy of love and care and acceptance. Or at least that’s how it’s always been. Until now.

Of course, I knew I should be confident anyway. I knew I was great. I knew I deserved love and care and acceptance. But now I feel it.

The other night, I asked for a sign in my dreams to show me what I need to see in order to heal. I dreamt that I called into my parents’ house to collect a couple of things.

Nobody was home. Minutes later, my parents returned. I overheard my father sniggering to my mother: “Sharon probably came here so she could sleep during the day.” My mother laughed and agreed.

An energy rose up in me. I was about to ignore it but I decided I wanted to stand up for myself. I told my parents that they should respect me even if I was sleeping during the day.

That afternoon, the meaning of the dream dawned on me. The dream was all about me. My body had been crying out for rest but I hadn’t respected it enough to listen to its wisdom. I had ignored it and pushed it even further.

Until it decided to give me a taste of my own medicine. It injured me so that I could finally heal a deep trauma.

In its intelligence, it had injured my Achilles heels. My weakness. How I always strive for perfection just so I can give myself permission to feel good about myself.

This morning, I told my Life Coach that I need to love myself no matter what before I attract in a partner. He said that some man will be lucky to have me. All of me.

He told me that I’m already perfect. My “imperfections” are what are making me vulnerable. My vulnerability is pushing me to grow. And that growth is leading me to greatness. Which doesn’t take away from my present greatness.

So I’m listening to my body. I’m resting. I’m taking a break from high intensity exercise. I’m acknowledging my greatness. I’m believing that I deserve love and care and acceptance. And I’m feeling good just because.

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Body Talk

Two weeks ago today, I injured my left calf while jogging. It happened about half way through my run so I had to hobble the rest of the way back to my car.

I couldn’t exercise at all for a few days. I remember commenting to a friend that, “Usually I’d be feeling fat by now.” But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t beating myself up over not exercising, which was my usual pattern. I was aware that the negative voices were whispering to me but they just weren’t getting to me. I was delighted.

A few days later, I started back with yoga. Then walking. I danced at a gig last weekend. And during the week, I went for a cycle. My leg was better.

So yesterday, I attempted another jog. And the same thing happened. Half way through the run. Again, I had to limp the rest of the way back to the car.

The walk took me forty-five minutes, which gave me plenty of time to think and to feel. Why is this happening again? Why me? Lots of people can jog every day. It’s not fair.

An anger arose in me. Frustration bubbled. How am I going to exercise now? And of course, fear. If I don’t exercise, I’ll get fat. That old chestnut.

I’d kept the voices at bay a couple of weeks ago. And last week, I discovered my reasons for trying to be perfect. I think I have to be perfect so I can be accepted and loved. So I won’t be left all alone in this world.

If I understand it, why is it still coming back to haunt me? I’ve learned the lesson, so do I now need to be tested on it? If this is a test, I’m pretty sure I’m failing miserably. Emphasis on miserably.

I know I’m pushing myself to try to be as perfect as I can be. I only feel good when I do all that I can do. But when I’m not doing, I feel bad. When I can’t do, I feel unworthy. When I’m not exercising, I feel uncomfortable in my body. I feel bloody angry.

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Having injured myself a couple of weeks ago, I hurt myself again yesterday. If I were a client of mine, I’d be able to see that maybe I need to slow down. Go easier on myself. Be gentler. Take the pressure off. Believe I deserve love and care and give those things to myself no matter what I do or achieve or how I look.

I realise that I tend to push myself. Whenever I have time to exercise, I cycle or jog. I don’t walk unless I’m with somebody else or I’m on holidays.

When it’s raining, I follow yoga sequences on YouTube. The types of yoga classes I do are Yoga for Weight Loss or Yoga Fat-Burning Workouts. I don’t allow myself to take the easy option. I admire myself for that too. But there has to be a balance.

Last weekend, because I was easing myself back into exercising, I went for the first walk on my own in a long time. And it was one of the best hours of my life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my music, the sensation of the sun on my skin, and the welcome sight of the flowers, trees and country fields. I had time to appreciate this feast for the senses because I wasn’t speeding past it or wanting to get it over with.

And today, because I can’t run or cycle or even walk, I completed a yoga class on YouTube for hips, hamstrings and lower back. The sequence was slow and my body actually oohed with pleasure.

Today, I have the awareness of what’s going on in my mind, why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m hoping to achieve. I have insights into the underlying fears that are propelling my thoughts and actions. And I can even understand why my body’s giving out to me. Great.

So how do I stop myself from feeling the way I feel sometimes? The times I feel so uncomfortable in my body that I want to hide. The horrible things I think about myself. The unconditional love that I’m unsure I’m capable of giving.

I just don’t know. It makes me angry that I don’t have the answers. I want to change. I can’t continue life like this.

In a moment of desperation, I turn to God. I plead for help. A feeling of calm descends upon me. I could just let go. And to complete the popular saying, I could just let God.

Show me what to do God, I sob. A line from a prayer I used to recite as a child springs to mind: “Thy will be done.” 

I’m letting go. I can’t control this. I don’t know how I’m going to change. I can’t predict how life is going to be.

I have to trust that it’s all unfolding perfectly. That God will show me what I need to do and where I need to go.

I don’t know exactly what or who God is. Does He/She/It resemble the traditional Christian image of God with white hair and a long beard? Or is God an invisible Higher Power that resides in all of us? Could God encompass the infinite magnificence of The Universe?

I guess I don’t need to know that either. I just need to let go. Which is something that I very rarely do.

If you’re suffering from illness, injury or pain, it could be worth your while to explore the possible messages your body is trying to express to you. Are you willing to listen? Are you ready to change? Are you able to let go?

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autogearcar.com

The Judge

Yesterday, I came up with an exercise to assist people to get to the root of certain destructive behaviours or patterns. The behaviour I had in mind when I designed the exercise was that of judging or criticising.

Last night, I wondered if I could do the exercise. Who am I judging or criticising? I realised that the person I’m currently judging most is myself.

So I completed the three steps to this exercise. The first step is to ask yourself these questions:

1. When you’re judging, is there an underlying fear? If so, what is it?

My answer astounded me and brought me to tears. My fear is that I’m imperfect. I go deeper with this realisation. If I’m imperfect, I believe that I won’t be loved or accepted. I go deeper again. Then, I’ll be rejected. Cast out. Abandoned.

Suddenly my mind is flooded with snapshots of childhood, teen years and early adulthood, where I felt my imperfection brought about rejection, humiliation, anger, fear and withdrawal of love.

Messages I internalised from an early age convinced me that I had to try to be perfect in order to earn love or even just acceptance. I couldn’t be myself or feel the things I was really feeling. I had to try to be what others wanted me to be. Otherwise, I’d be left alone in this world. And to be all alone in this world means certain death.

This made perfect sense when I read Harville Hendrix’s brilliant book Getting The Love You Want. Hendrix describes the structure of the human brain.

The brain stem, which is the most primitive layer, oversees reproduction and vital functions such as breathing, blood circulation and sleep. Then there is the limbic system, which generates vivid emotions. The main concern of this portion of the brain is self-preservation. It is constantly on the alert, trying to ensure your safety. Hendrix refers to these two parts of the brain as the “old brain”.

The third part of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which is most highly developed in Homo Sapiens. This section of the brain deals with cognitive functions. It’s the part of you that makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, organises information and creates ideas. Hendrix calls this the “new brain”.

The new brain is logical and tries to find a cause for every effect. This part of the brain can moderate some of the instinctual reactions of your old brain.

With regard to my self-judging, I believe that I need to be perfect. If I’m not perfect, I won’t be loved. I will be abandoned. This primeval fear comes from the old brain logic that tells me that the world is not safe. When love is withdrawn from me, I am filled with a fear of death.

So, in answer to the first question about the fear underneath my self-judgment, I am afraid of abandonment. I am afraid for my very survival.

This leads on to the second part of the exercise, which is to ask yourself the following:

2. When you judge, what are you hoping to achieve?

When I judge myself, I’m hoping to change aspects of myself. I’m longing to be perfect. Maybe if I criticise myself enough, I’ll change. Then I’ll be loveable. Both to others and to myself.

I am hit by another huge insight. When I see myself as imperfect, I question my right to be loved.

This makes me feel depressed. I close off a part of myself. My vital force shuts down. I no longer feel alive.

I am abandoning myself. I’m actually killing off a part of myself. Yet again, the old brain is pretty sure I’m going to die.

Having answered these questions and hopefully arrived at some interesting insights, you’re ready for the third part of the exercise, which is this:

3. For one whole day, every time you notice yourself judging, stop and ask yourself: “What would it be like to accept this?”

Yes, it’s good to be the best that you can be and to do things that make you feel good. But for so many years, the only way I could silence my inner critic was to do do do.

However, this was just a temporary fix that didn’t unearth the root cause of the problem. And so these deep-seated beliefs, fears and behaviours were repeatedly resurrected. When I got sick or tired, or when I just couldn’t do all the things that boosted my self-esteem, my superficial confidence crumbled.

Finally, I was no longer prepared to continue running on this ridiculous treadmill of turmoil. I kidded myself that it made me feel good to be doing something but it got me nowhere and, every so often, I’d slip off and smack myself in the face.

So, I’ve stepped off and decided to look deeper. And this exercise has facilitated the process.

Now that I have an understanding about why I’m so self-critical and why these judgements make me feel so bad, my behaviour ceases to be unconscious. I’m now conscious of my seemingly destructive patterns. I understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Therefore, I can consciously introduce a new way of thinking and behaving. A way that’s healthier and more beneficial than my previously misguided, outdated attempts at self-protection.

The next time I call myself fat or wince at my grey hairs, I’ll remember that what I’m really experiencing is fear. My critical voice is just trying to prevent me from dying. It wants me to be loved.

As an adult, am my primary care-giver. am responsible for caring for me. I have a choice to love and accept all of me as I am. I’m not going to abandon myself any more. I am safe.

This exercise can be applied to any thought process or pattern of behaviour that is causing you to suffer. Remember, the old brain got its name because it’s been here for a long, long time. So be patient with yourself as you recondition your thinking. And know that you are safe.

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The Fear

One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with over my lifetime is fear. Over the past few days, I’ve examined this fear and I’ve discovered that it has many, many layers.

There is fear of making mistakes. Fear of doing it wrong. Fear of failure. Fear of getting into trouble. Fear of criticism, disapproval and rejection. Fear of my own feelings. Even fear of happiness in case it were to disappear.

Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being talented enough, competent enough, confident enough, pretty enough, slim enough, and the list goes on…

Fear of losing hope. And fear of having hope because I’m bound to destroy it.

As I shower this morning, I realise what’s really lurking behind all this fear. It’s fear of being found out. Found out to be stupid, incapable, ugly, unlovable.

And so this fear has prevented me from going for jobs, moving abroad, writing a book, staying in relationships, opening up to friends, and telling people that I like them. In short, fear has stopped me from putting myself out there.

Once I make this discovery, I can logic it. What is it about stepping out that I’m so afraid of? That people will discover that I’m human? Scared? Imperfect?

Aren’t these the things that I love and admire in other people? Don’t we feel more connected with other human beings when we realise that we’re all the same? Real and brave and frightened?

If I can accept others for how they are, why do I resist doing the same for myself? Why are my standards and expectations for myself so ridiculously high? Is it because I don’t like myself enough or is it because I like myself so much that I want to be the best that I can be? Interesting because this desire is actually blocking me from doing just that.

Over the Christmas, I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Once I delved into the first chapter, I was hooked. Marianne speaks about being paralysed with terror. She writes:

“You’d think we have some compassion for ourselves, bound up in emotional chains the way we are, but we don’t. We’re just disgusted with ourselves, because we think we should be better by now. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.”

This really resonated with me. I forget that other people feel fear too. Everybody does. We just don’t hear about it all that much. We think that other people just get on with it. They do and they grow and they succeed.

And I compare myself unfavourably with the whole human race. I neglect to focus on my own courage and achievements, which are many.

I dismiss my own journey and instead listen to the family members and neighbours as they comment on So-and-so’s flourishing business and Thingymajig’s promotion and new home and Yer-one-down-the-road’s wonderful partner and family.

“They’re doing so well”, they gush. And I hate myself a little more. I see other people’s highlight reels on Facebook and I wince in self-judgement.

Last night, I lay in bed reading Oprah Winfrey’s lovely book What I Know For Sure when I had an Aha moment. Oprah speaks about her fear of seeming arrogant. She writes:

“In some ways, even my weight was my apology to the world – my way of saying, ‘See, I really don’t think I’m better than you.'”

When I was younger, I was teased for being “posh” and using big words. I was also teased for having a rather large bosom for a 13-year-old. And I was beaten up because a girl’s boyfriend fancied me.

After those experiences, I was careful with my language and I tried not to appear full of myself. I changed the way I behaved depending on the group of people I was with. I didn’t flirt. And I made sure not to do anything too different so that I could avoid unwanted attention.

When other people were miserable, I downplayed my contentment and instead broadcast my difficulties. You see, I’d say. I’m not a threat. So you can like me.

Now that I understand where all this fear comes from, I have a choice. I choose to no longer allow fear to immobilise me. I want to take risks and move forwards and flourish. And I understand that I do love myself. I’ve just been confused about how to show myself this love.

From now on, I’ll love myself when I have the courage to shine. I’ll love myself when I’m gasping with fear. I’ll love myself when I do. And I’ll love myself when I am.

The trick is to understand that we all feel fear. Our bravery lies in our ability to push forth anyway. In Oprah Winfrey’s words:

“Sometimes moving on terrified me. But it always taught me that the true meaning of courage is to be afraid, and then, with your knees knocking, to step out anyway.”

keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Eat Pray Love?

I am hesitant about spending three days on my own in a mostly closed-down seaside village in March but I know I want to get away and I also know that I have to do it alone.

I have had a bit of a rough time of it in the last while and I need respite from the storm. As I drive from east to west Ireland, I head straight from a metaphorical storm into a real one.

I expect to feel lonely but I am quite content in my own company. Upon my arrival, I go out to the beach. I walk against high winds and watch the crashing waves. In the evening, I take my laptop to a hotel and peek out at the ocean as I sip on a glass of Guinness. That night, I nibble on chocolate as I watch a movie from beneath a mound of blankets. And I have the most wonderful sleep.

On the second day, I complete a college assignment and jog down a quiet country road. I make a “chillax” playlist, light incense and candles, and get drunk in the bath on a glass of red wine as I delightedly tuck into Elizabeth Gilbert’s endearing memoir Eat Pray Love.

weheartit.com

weheartit.com

That night, the wind shakes the rafters and the rain pelts down. And it isn’t the kind of rain that appears on many a relaxation CD; it’s the kind that makes you worry for the house (and for yourself).

On the third day, the loneliness descends. I feel too depressed to make food or leave the house so I give myself permission to close the curtains, put on a movie and eat chocolate. The sun shines annoyingly from behind the blinds. I feel guilty.

Earlier in the day, I had finished Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert had found pleasure, peace, God and love, and I am happy for her, but now I really am alone. Even the nice, fun self who got drunk with me in the bath has left and been replaced with a demanding, insatiable self who reprimands me with all the fervour and righteousness of a school-teaching nun. I haven’t signed up for this. I’m on holidays. I can do what I want.

Halfway through the movie, I decide that I’d actually quite like to spend some time in the company of the sun and the ocean so I drag myself out of bed and embark upon a cliff walk.

The wind whips me in several directions. The ocean is beautiful but frightening as its waves roar and rise higher and higher, its spray landing on my face. I wonder if it’s safe to walk so high up, to be so close to such fierce unpredictability. There is nobody around. Am I alone in my insanity?

At one point, the wind grows so strong that I have to hold on to a railing. Then, there is no more railing. I could turn back but I’ve come so far. I just have to get to the peak and turn the corner. I’m stubborn in my insanity too.

Suddenly, a stone hits me in the face. I march to the top and turn the corner. Only then do I raise my hand to my cheek. I quite enjoy the sting of it. Tears spring to my eyes. Am I a masochist? Do I think I deserve to be hurt? No. It is simply because I can understand physical pain. Physical pain allows me to lift a gentle hand to my cheek to check if I’m okay.

As I move onto safer terrain, I ask myself why I’d been scared. In case I died? With a jolt, I realise that it isn’t death I’m afraid of; it’s more suffering. If you’re so afraid of suffering, a voice from within asks, why do you keep creating more and more of it? Why not put an end to all the guilt, the shoulds and shouldn’t haves, the only ifs and whens? Why not stop the exhausting drive for perfection?

If I’m serious about ending the needless suffering, I need to peel off the “good” and “bad” labels I put on everything. I have to stop the judgements. I also have to stop being so dependent on outside events, on other people and their opinions, and on my own thoughts and feelings.

I’ve been so dependent on a variety of people, things and invisible forces that I’m like a small child perched on one end of a see-saw, always waiting to see who’ll sit on the other side, before I can know how high or low they’ll take me.

How I long to connect with that inner stillness I’ve been reading so much about. That pure, perfect, beautiful, unconditional love that’s apparently a part of me. If only I could know, really know, that the essence of who I am is like the clear blue sky, then I wouldn’t be so disturbed and even altered by the lightning and the storm clouds.

All I have to do is accept myself exactly as I am. And accept others for who they are. And accept situations and feelings just as they are too. All I have to do is accept graciously and love unconditionally. But how do I get there?

I guess the first step of all this acceptance stuff is to accept that I don’t have all the answers and that I’m just not there yet.

And so I start to run. The wind settles, the sun beams down from a clear blue sky, and, I shit you not, I run right underneath a rainbow.

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favim.com

Make Friends With Yourself

I’ve been pretty tired lately as I’ve been really busy and noisy neighbours have been robbing me of my precious sleep. I noticed that I’ve started feeling anxious, rushed, under pressure and annoyed.

Little things that wouldn’t usually bother me were playing on my mind. My thoughts were ceaseless and I found it difficult to wind down.

I longed for a holiday far away from it all, where I could enjoy a complete lack of work, deadlines, meetings and boisterous children next door. I would sleep and walk in nature and breathe…

However, right now, I can’t just take off. Well, I could if I really wanted to as I always have a choice. So right now, I’m saying yes to the assignments and visits, dates and appointments.

But I still need to take a moment in between. I need to create space for myself amongst all the busyness so that I can hear what’s going on for me.

But wasn’t that the last thing I wanted to do? I was fed up of hearing myself think. I slouched off into the dark bedroom and flung myself on the bed. I was full to the brim with my own thoughts.

Last night, I gave my Positive Living group the homework of recording their self-talk for one day. The purpose of this is to monitor how many negatives and positives you’re telling yourself and to see what negative issues are most common.

I decided to take on this task today and what a day it was to complete such an exercise. My self-talk was predominantly negative, full of doubt and criticism, perfectionism and irritation. And when I realised how negative I’d been, I felt even more negative. I really was sick of the sound of my inner critic.

So instead of trying to analyse or reason with myself, I wondered: What would a friend say if they overheard my self-talk?

Instantly, my inner voice became encouraging and supportive, gentle and complimentary. My inner-friend was understanding and compassionate and even offered some useful advice.

She told me to always listen to what I needed, to prioritise and to take enough time to rest and have fun. She insisted that my health and happiness were of utmost importance and whatever I needed to do to conserve both of those things was absolutely worth doing.

And you know what, she was right. I must listen to her more often.

What’s your inner friend telling you?

artsymphony.blogspot.gr

artsymphony.blogspot.gr

Let’s Agree to Disagree

It has just struck me how I’ve been struggling for as long as I can remember to be perfect. I want to look perfect. I have to do everything perfectly. I’d love to be in the perfect relationship. I need to feel perfect.

But what is perfect? Who decides what perfect looks like? What’s perfect to me might not be perfect to you and vice versa.

As Don Miguel Ruiz demonstrates in his brilliant book The Four Agreementswe, as a society, have made certain agreements. Agreements on how things should be. And if any of us stray away from these agreements, if one of us dares to be different, there are consequences.

We fear being ostracised, disapproved of, and rejected. So we attempt to bundle the enormity of our spirit into a perfectly suffocating box.

And the most unbelievable part is that these agreements were probably decided before we were even born or at least before we had the sense and intelligence to realise what we were signing up for.

We were given a name and instructed how to behave, how to look, what to do, and how to be. And if we moved away from any of those specifications, we were shown, directly, or worse, indirectly – through withdrawal of love and affection – that to be unique was not okay.

Well hey, I’ve got some liberating news to share. It is okay to be yourself. It’s more than okay. The world needs free spirits, different thinkers and adventurous trailblazers. Let’s tear up those obsolete agreements and allow our individual lights to shine.

I am no longer going to strive for perfection because it doesn’t exist. Perfection is an illusion that I blindly agreed to pursue. But now that I can see clearly, I am choosing to disagree. Who’s with me?

real