The Imperfect Aspects of Perfectionism

One of the most common causes of emotional suffering is perfectionistic tendencies.

We fall for, and get mesmerized by, the sound of voices in our head that point out our vulnerabilities, convincing us that we will sustain extreme humiliation or even death if we didn’t protect our egos in a defined way. This wisdom is not particularly apparent to most of us. The mesmerizing quality of these threatening voices fool our solid self. We often don’t realize that the thought is nothing but an over-generalization, or mind reading, or fortune-telling.

In the following scenario, I have developed a hypothetical situation where a person experiences anxiety, anger and depression over the observation that they have a medical problem that makes it hard for them to work. The following sentences are those that this person might say about their circumstance:

  1. If I go to work with this migraine, I’ll make a bunch of mistakes and that’ll be super embarrassing.

  2. People might think I’m loosing my grip.

  3. Then I won’t be a candidate for that promotion.

  4. And if I don’t get promoted, it’d mean I was just being mediocre all along.

  5. And that would mean I’ve wasted all these years at school, the training and all the hard work would mean nothing.

  6. And that would mean I’m a loser, someone that is unworthy of even being alive.

Now, imagine a friend of yours has just approached you with the problems mentioned in the above scenario. This friend is quite dear to you and has come to ask for some help, wishing to feel better. The conversation between you and your friend might go something like this:

Friend: If I go to work with this migraine, I’ll make a bunch of mistakes and that’ll be super embarrassing.

You: Oh dear, well you do sound like you are in a great deal of pain and yes people aren’t usually at their best when in pain. But is there anyone at work that might understand your situation and be a little helpful? Or perhaps you could just call-in sick today, or maybe just do some basics that would not be too tedious, making it less likely to make mistakes.

Friend: But then I won’t be a candidate for that promotion.

You: Well, I suspect they make those decisions based on your overall qualifications, not just your need to mind your health one day. I see that in general you have such a high work ethic and do the job in the most amazing way. In fact, you worry about making mistakes if you went in with this migraine, which suggests your high work ethic–isn’t that what they factor in when looking to promote someone?

Friend: But if I don’t get promoted it’d mean I was just being mediocre all along.

You: Well, to my way of thinking, someone being mediocre might not really care much for the quality of work they offer, whereas your job performance has seemingly been amazing so far.

Friend: And that would mean I’ve wasted all these years at school, the training and all the hard work would mean nothing.

You: Well, yes sometimes people wake to realize that they don’t really care for their work and feel they have wasted years of training and hard work. You on the other hand seem to love this work since you put such high value into doing it to the best of your capability.

Friend: And that would mean I’m a loser, someone that is unworthy of even being alive.

You: Oh dear, I can see that being sad and disappointed over having this migraine has taken a toll on you. But all I see in front of me is a carrying and responsible worker who puts lots of heart into the work they do. To me that is quite worthwhile.

And, the kicker is, this is a Double Standard that we play against ourselves. We are so likely to speak with compassion for a friend. My question for you is: Wouldn’t you choose to offer the same level of compassion for yourself?

Why Stress Causes People to Overeat and What to Do?

Chances are you have heard of the phrase “stress eating.” You probably know of the comforting effects of “Comfort Foods” such as sugary and high fat foods as well. So, indeed, when you feel stressed out,  certain stress hormones produce higher than normal levels in the body. In the short term this surge of stress hormones actually suppresses the appetite. This is also know as the fight or flight response. This is when you don’t feel hunger in the middle of a crisis. This is when the brain sends messages to the adrenal glands to pump out the hormone known as adrenaline, a revved-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold. But when you are chronically feeling stressed, it is a different story. Then the adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ram pup motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. So if the stress doesn’t go away or if you don’t know of ways to reduce your bad feelings and your stress response stays stuck in the “on” position, cortisol may stay elevated. High Cortisol level also has been shown to increase the intake of high fat and high sugary foods. Once high sugary or high fat food is taken, they do reduce the activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress, in other words these “comfort foods” really are comforting!!!  That is perhaps another reason why people who report having high stress levels crave comfort food, they actually crave not having stress!!

What to do:

1) Psychotherapy. When you notice that your eating is because of feeling bad not because of the need to eat, then asking the help of a psychologist who is familiar with this pattern can be a life savor. They can help you learn what your stress triggers are and they can help you develop skills to get rid of those triggers, hence your emotional eating will decrease by itself.

2) Social Support

Receiving support from a support group, friends, family and even social media can have a buffering affect on the stress that people experience.

I am Dr. Katie Dashtban and I specialize in Medical Psychology, where people’s physical and mental health have both been affected by one another. Let me know how I can help you or someone you know. Go to www.medicalpsychologyservice.com or www.gettingpastpain.com. Call 831-621-1150 or 408-458-8222.

Published in: on August 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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