Do Your Best, Just Don’t Hurt Yourself

On a semi-regular…er, once a week or so… basis, one of many clients will refer to me as a hypocrite. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I’ve had weeks when I’ve worked six days straight. I have been known to drink too much coffee in order to offset lack of sleep. And I can be very focused on removing those little fringes from torn sheets of notebook paper.

Here’s the thing. I am a happy person, I have self-esteem, I love my family, I love my little spot in suburbia, and I love my job. People who end up in my office have some combination of unhappy, worthless core beliefs, self-injury, have difficulty forming valued relationships, feel disconnected, hate others, cling to others, restrict their eating, are anxious, and yes I could continue.

Perfectionism is almost like a cute beauty mark with a biopsy indicating it’s a malignant tumor in need of treatment. Fine on the surface while it festers, but eventually it’s going to become blatantly obvious to everyone it’s a problem. The plus to perfectionism is that treatment is more about hanging on to what works – such as achievement – and learning to let go of what doesn’t work – harsh self-appraisal, self-punishment, etc.

So when is perfectionism helpful?

When it’s adaptive perfectionism (some researchers refer to it as conscientiousness). Adaptive perfectionism is all of that great perfectionism you know and love – grades, promotions, goals, beauty, “doing the right thing,” competitive spirit, sense of accomplishment, and more – without all of the self-loathing, insecurity, and at times life-threatening behavior. We call that stuff maladaptive perfectionism.

How does you know when you’re engaging in adaptive vs maladaptive perfectionism?

One being able to accept disappointment if things do not go as planned, and not viewing these events as some sort of confirmation of inferiority. Maybe the Easter ham was overcooked. Maybe you failed an exam. Maybe you bought the wrong socks for your partner. It happens.

Another is something I’ve seen in my practice is how perfectionists motivate themselves. It often has a moral tone to it. Recurrent themes include a sense of responsibility to others (and objects in those with Hoarding Disorder) and being worthwhile to friends, family, or peers. People may criticize themselves or ritualistically engage in self-injury in order to punish themselves when they do not meet their very high standards. Those engaging in adaptive perfectionism do not do this or are at least in the process of challenging these thoughts and behaviors when they occur. They use more positive reinforcement with themselves, such as tangible rewards for a job well done or use of cheerleading statements.

Ultimately, adaptive perfectionism meets the goals of perfectionism: being the best possible and feeling good about it. Perfectionism can be broken down into subcategories, which is for another blog post.

I’m sold on the idea of adaptive perfectionism, but I’m skeptical about my ability to change.

Which is normal. The plus is that Cognitive Behavior Therapy, CBT for short (That therapy the dusting, straightening yours truly uses), is helpful for maladaptive perfectionism. CBT teaches perfectionists to challenge their thinking, practice self-kindness, and improve efficiency.

Another promising treatment is Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or RO-DBT for short. It isn’t widespread, though that will likely change when more clinicians are trained.

Alright, I will give it a shot.

Contact Cortney Modelewski at 269-389-0402 or cortney@cortneymodelewski.com

Advertisements

More Political Commentary

Not long ago, I made a bold political statement: “Just for the love of all that is holy, make sure people have access to mental healthcare.” I swore I wouldn’t get political again, that I would stick to blogging about bits and pieces of research, talking about myself, maybe throw in some cat pictures. But I can’t keep my mouth shut about this one. Brace yourselves.

Slut-shaming is wrong.

Period.

Melania Trump’s portrait is all the Internet buzz today. Much criticism of the photo is related to the extent to which the photo was edited. However, it wouldn’t be an ordinary day without the Internet making derogatory comments. Topics include:

  • Something about modeling in the 90’s.
  • Previous experience in the pornography industry. (Didn’t happen as far as I know)
  • Adolescent masturbation.
  • Nude photos.
  • Oh what a terrible person for having had pictures taken in minimal clothing for money.

Mrs. Trump had a successful modeling career. She married someone who was later elected President of the United States. A lot of people do not like her husband. Not liking the president does not make it okay to slut-shame his wife. Not liking her doesn’t mean it’s okay to engage in that type of behavior, either.

Women are frequently on the receiving end of slut-shaming, but it’s not uncommon in other genders as well. People’s obsession with sex extends to the sexual “morality” of others, and those who have different values need to be removed from the group immediately. Calling a person [insert slang for prostitute here] is a quick way to oust an undesirable. It’s also hurtful, degrading, and completely unnecessary.

Regardless of who you are, who you have loved, and what you have done in the past, present, and will do in the future, being slut-shamed is unacceptable.