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Notes from a Recovering Perfectionist

The Holidays.


The time of the year in which we perfectionists thrive, right? At least that’s what it looks like from the outside. Unfortunately, it's not how it feels on the inside. Not at all. It feels like a knot in the stomach, a constant state of dread with intermittent spurts of excitement and joy thrown in for good measure. It feels terrible. But, it looks perfect!


There is no more perfectly horrible time for Perfectionists than during the holidays. The long 6 week stretch of time between Thanksgiving prep and New Years Eve is like riding a roller coaster without a seatbelt. As stated above, it becomes moments of life changing glee to stomach bottoming dread and despair. Sounds too “emotional”? Not for perfectionists! (I almost wrote “true” perfectionists. Like somehow being a “true perfectionist” is better than just being a “regular perfectionist”. smh. It’s in the training.)


October would start the ongoing dialogue in my head about the Holidays and how they were going to “look” that year. This is where the problems would start because even if the day looked the way I wanted it to, if every present was wrapped perfectly and every bow tied tight, even if our Holiday card looked perfect and the food was perfect; it still never felt perfect. The outside couldn’t live up to the picture I had built up on the inside. There was a disconnect. And inevitably, I would numb the days out with wine (“it’s the holidays!!”), and put my head down and work harder to make it perfect. The capper was that instead of January 1st being a day to reflect and rejoice at the excellent execution of "the Holiday season", I would beat myself up because it wasn't perfect. Whatever that meant. Notice, there is a lot of “perfect” in this paragraph? It's taken years to understand that perfect doesn’t exist. It’s subjective and all in the eye of the beholder so what ideal was I trying to live up to? Really, I have no clue.


About 4 years ago, I heard perfectionism defined as “anxiety in high heeled shoes”. It took about five minutes of me standing there, repeating this phrase over and over in my head until I really got it, until I had absorbed it into every fiber of my being. And even then, it took me another year or so to really understand the pressure that I had put on myself over the course of my whole life to be perfect. I had help, don’t get me wrong. This magic wand of anxiety was a gift from my parents that I received at a very young age. And really, I don’t blame them. It’s how they were raised and how they chose to parent. I just wish that I could have started the work a bit faster than in my mid-forties. I am slowly, but surely, getting there. And if my words are resonating with you now, I know you can get there, too.


For what it is worth, the tool that helped the most in putting me on the path to being a ‘recovering perfectionist’ was my internal dialogue. When I find myself not enjoying the day enough or not feeling like it was the best day ever and everyone succeeded in a stunning fashion, I try to change the self talk. I try to focus on a few wins during the day and to be grateful for each one. Even if it was just that everyone liked dinner. Inevitably, the wins attached to gratitude end up overflowing the cup and I sit with a huge smile on my face.


This is 2020 and we have made it to December. In a year where so many things were and are still derailed, we have so much to be thankful for. And if you can’t see that right now, I see you. It’s ok to just have a day and to get through it in whatever way you need to.


If, and when you’re ready, please remember that you're beautiful inside and out, and there is one Recovering Perfectionist right here and ready to welcome you to the group!


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