I’ve been seeing a therapist lately for depression. And one of the things she keeps bringing up is perfectionism. I kind of get what she’s saying. But I want to be the best person I can be. I am overwhelmed on a pretty regular basis as to how to go about this. I have 5 kids under the age of 10, I have a time-intensive calling in young women’s, my husband is also busy with work and a calling as the Elders Quorum President which takes him away on service projects often, it’s difficult to keep my home organized and I can often feel myself shutting down. It’s depressing that I’m depressed when I love the Gospel and just want to be happy doing the things I’ve always wanted to do – raising my kids, managing my home, and serving the Lord. When I can’t even seem to do basics like daily prayer with my family on a regular basis, I am hard on myself as a way to motivate myself to do better. How do I stop being perfectionistic when I want to constantly thrive to do my very best? And when the better I do, the more blessings me and my family are promised?
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard similar thoughts and feelings, especially from LDS women. Mormon women tend to have high standards of themselves. They take the responsibility of their many roles, especially as caretakers of home and loved ones, very seriously. They have great desire to be righteous and excel at their many roles. Unfortunately, this often leads to unrealistic expectations, unnecessary comparisons and negative self-dialogue. One of my favorite talks addressing these issues over the pulpit was by Elder Uchtdorf — Forget Me Not. Sometimes these types of addresses are extremely useful. Other times, the messages unintentionally add to the “checklist” we think we need to be on top of and the negative self-dialogue attacks it as well (i.e. “yeah, why can’t I just focus on the basics Uchtdorf points out – be patient with myself, focus on the basics, prioritize my family and God….” and there takes off the ruminating of the brain affected by anxiety or depression). Learning how to combat cognitive distortions or “thinking errors” is an important piece of most depression treatment. From a spiritual perspective, I like to have my clients explore the following ideas: “is my current way of holding to religious practice/belief/ritual serving to edify and bless my life (what I believe our Heavenly Parents would want from gospel living)? or is my current way of holding this space making it about keeping God or others happy/content/approving which, although well-intentioned, actually gets in the way of my being able to experience the ‘balm of Gilead’? is my current focus on certain behavioral aspects of my life getting in the way of spirituality in my life? how are these two intertwined? how do I make space for both while not allowing behavioral focus to trump spiritual focus?”
I recently held a retreat in Utah, where one of my LDS colleagues attended and shared a wonderful piece she had written, addressing “perfectionism” as its own personage. I have asked her to share those thoughts as part of this post today. I would also recommend The Burnout Cure by Julie De Azevedo Hanks, another LDS therapist who addresses mental health issues within the context of Mormon women and reading the following article about Why we need to talk about high-functioning depression (many Mormon women I see are quite productive and active in their communities in spite of dealing with serious clinical symptoms).
Today’s guest post is written by Kalli Kronmiller, CMHC. Opinions shared on guest posts may not completely reflect the positions of the blog’s author.
Kalli is an Expressive Arts Therapist and Mental Health Counselor, and Yoga Instructor. She holds a Masters of Arts degree in Expressive Therapies and Mental Health Counseling, a Master of Family and Human Development degree, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education. She is a certified Yoga Instructor and Therapeutic Partner Yoga Practitioner. Previously Kalli was an elementary classroom educator. She recently moved from Boston to the Greater Salt Lake City area where she practices as a therapist.
As a part of my own quest to reclaim some of my own dormant creativity and more deeply connect with a Higher Being, I’m reading “The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” and participating in its daily exercises designed to help unlock the creativity that is not being tapped into and used. One exercise was to identify some of the greatest enemies to our creativity, and write a “Letter to the Editor” about that enemy. I chose my enemy of PERFECTIONISM that gets in the way of my desire and ability to create and allow myself to explore the gifts I have. So, without further adieu … A Letter to the Editor:
“To Whom it May Concern:
PERFECTIONISM is the lamest, most false and misleading poser that EVER existed in existence.
PERFECTIONISM guises as this worthy endeavor, something which will help you/me to be our “best selves.” But in reality,
PERFECTIONISM isn’t concerned at all with you being YOUR best–it just wants you to be THE best…at all costs. And when you don’t measure up (which inevitably WILL happen) and outperform all the rest and reach the ideal,
PERFECTIONISM feeds you LIES, telling you that because you’re not THE best, you’re actually not even GOOD ENOUGH. It tells you lies of ALL-OR-NOTHING thinking in which if you’re not THE best, better than everyone else at the idealist level, then your efforts are futile…so you might as well give up. If
PERFECTIONISM were really concerned with YOUR best, it wouldn’t compare you to others–you’d never be better or less than someone else. If
PERFECTIONISM actually cared about YOU, it would celebrate YOUR style, YOUR ability, and YOUR way of doing it based on YOUR capability. It wouldn’t even bring others’ abilities into the picture because it would be so busy celebrating what YOU CAN DO. It wouldn’t shame you for the level you haven’t yet reached. It wouldn’t allow you to feel “less than” because of where you aren’t yet (or ever). That’s why
PERFECTIONISM is a lie–it can’t celebrate your achievements unless it sees you at the top because it’s got blinders on and only sees ideals. If
PERFECTIONISM has won you over with its alluring promises of feeling good and being the best, be leery. With
PERFECTIONISM, the flip side of being the best is being a loser, and at your first sign of being human,
PERFECTIONISM will turn on you and kick you to the gutter. Steer clear of that wolf in sheep’s clothing. Instead of
PERFECTIONISM, why not try on
RADICAL SELF ACCEPTANCE AND COMPASSION. You’re guaranteed a much healthier, happier existence.”
Kalli created this sketch during the retreat as she contemplated the movement of her soul/spirit/personal experiences. You can see the tension between soft, malleable parts (self-acceptance and grace — blue/green) and sharp, pointy parts — black, gray, dark — that prick, hurt and even draw blood (perfectionism, negative self-talk, and negativity from others — red). The orange balloons represent her ability to place protective elements over the sharp points – the reality that she does hold the capacity to self-protect and heal from within. And we see the ending space of blue/green representing calm and peace.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.