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


No, I’m not trying to lose weight

My husband and I went to an event where we live on New Year’s Eve with our seven year-old daughter. My husband made a comment about walking around enough to burn off calories from eating Christmas candy. Daughter didn’t get the joke. I quickly said, “I’ll explain it later” and told her to enjoy her elephant ear. Of course when we got home to watch the ball drop, everyone in Times Square was crowned with a Planet Fitness ad. She didn’t get that one, either, but was more interested in getting into pajamas at that point in the evening.

By Sunday afternoon, the ratio of fitness goals to political discussions on my Facebook feed has skewed to the former. The inauguration will come right around the time people ditch their resolutions, so that will change by the end of the month. There may be a slight upswing in dieting when Lent starts, but it will die off soon enough.

Except for some people. For some the pursuit of perfect eating and perfect body doesn’t stop easily. Much of eating disorders is biology – more than most people realize – but New Year’s resolutions are a delightful environmental factor.

I didn’t make any resolutions. So no, I’m not trying to lose weight. Nor will I be trying to help anyone do so.


OCPD Legos and Building Change

(I give away the ending to The Lego Movie. You’ve been warned)

A local theater was showing The Lego Movie, with the proceeds of low-cost tickets going to charity. It sounded like fun, so my daughter and I went on a whim. I have reached point where I can generally ignore the part of my brain that is The Therapist, but sometimes it flips on anyway.

As we find out at the end, a young boy is playing with Legos and the tyrannical villain is inspired by his father. His father constructed an elaborate Lego city, which is meant for looking and not touching. Just as the father reaches for a tube of Krazy Glue to preserve the perfect city, he feels guilty, gets in touch with his value as a caring parent, and starts to play Legos with his son.

People with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) can get caught up in how things should be. Like, really really caught up. As we see in The Lego Movie, which has a surprisingly good depiction of OCPD, getting caught up in how things should be results in a lot of anger, hurt feelings, and pretending like Everything is Awesome when it’s not. OCPD isn’t particularly fun for all involved.

The bright side is that people learn and grow and strive to live within their values. Most of us have a warm and fuzzy side, including adult perfectionists who want to use permanent adhesives to hold Legos together. And when our environments give us feedback that “Hey, not okay,” sometimes we get the message and respond accordingly.





Accepting Suicide

Attempt, thoughts, knowing someone who had an attempt or thoughts – you will be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t been impacted by suicide. If they talk about it. A lot of people won’t out of fear of being judged.

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide can be prevented. In order to do so, however, it’s necessary to accept – which means without judgment – that it exists and needs to be addressed. No calling it a sin or a sign of weakness. No keeping it quiet. No more stigma.

As long as there are psychiatric disorders, trauma, addiction, chronic health conditions, and loss, there will be suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. It is what it is, and it needn’t be.

Check out these resources:

International Association for Suicide Prevention

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

10 Things Not to Say to a Suicidal Person

Finding a Mental Health Professional

Albert Ellis On Guilt and Shame

Albert Ellis is one of the most influential therapists, and he founded the first of the cognitive and behavioral therapies called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This lecture (audio only) on guilt and shame is pretty fantastic.

As I was listening to it, I thought of the clients I’ve seen who feel guilt and shame regarding their obsessions and compulsions, e.g. “I’m a bad person for thinking [insert images or fears of murder, pedophilia, etc], and people will hate me if they find out about what goes on in my head.” And of course, “I have no reason to be depressed.” (I don’t need to expand on that one) Typically guilt and shame are not justified (meaning they fit the facts) in these sorts of cases. And if guilt and shame do fit the facts – you did in fact do something that went against your values (guilt) and you will be ostracized if anyone finds out (shame) – acknowledge it, make amends with yourself/those harmed/your higher power, accept what happened, and don’t do it again.