perfectionism

Addressing Perfectionism With Compassion

When I think about a perfectionist, I see the woman who not only looks great — the right clothes, hair, car — she also has the perfect life. Nice house, lovely partner, well-behaved kids. She’s together and she does it with ease. She might work 80 hours a week but she’s happy doing it and gets it all done.

Perfectionism can be messy

Perfectionism can be messy

But perfectionism doesn’t always show up in obvious ways. In fact, perfectionism can even look a little messy! On this week’s Woman Worriers podcast, I spoke with Sharon Martin about her book, The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance, and she shared that sometimes perfectionism looks more like avoidance or procrastination.

Perfectionism could be stopping you from truly engaging in your life. You might struggle to send emails because you feel the need to check and re-check the wording to be sure you don’t offend or make a mistake. You put off doing work because you feel like you can’t — but should be able to — do it flawlessly. Or maybe you decide not to go to an event because you’re sure you don’t have the right outfit, the right job, or live in the right place. 

Perfectionism Can Make Us Feel Less Than Perfect

Believing that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, or feeling that other people are constantly judging us, can create a lot of anxiety. We think that need to be perfect all the time and if that’s not possible it’s not worth trying.

Being a perfectionist can make you pretty hard on yourself. You might make matters worse by allowing your inner critic to comment on how you’re failing. You might call yourself lazy, stupid or worthless. You might even tell yourself that you’re going to get fired or won’t get hired because you don’t have what it takes.

If you find that you’re holding yourself back or withdrawing most of the time, you might be stuck in a perfectionism loop. That’s when you don’t feel you can do the “thing” perfectly so you put it off. Putting off the task increases your anxiety, so you continue to avoid the task. Then you start to criticize yourself and make assumptions about your abilities. That makes you feel even worse, so you avoid or distract yourself some more.

You might believe that self-criticism will keep you on your toes and stop you from making mistakes, but more often it’s just encouraging you to stop putting yourself out there. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion — treating yourself as you would treat others who are struggling — can help ease the burden of trying to be perfect and reframe your perfectionist thoughts into more compassionate ones. Martin’s book has some great exercises to help you cultivate more self-compassion and help ease the discomfort around being an imperfect human. You can find the book here.

Here are four tips I encourage my clients to use to help bring more self-compassion and mindfulness into their lives when the perfectionist parts want to take charge:

  1. Be mindful and start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, “What prompted that?” Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

  2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing. Try saying those things to yourself.

  3. Notice your triggers. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered and become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I would never say that to a friend. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I’ll try not to be so hard on myself.”

  4. When times are tough, remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and repeat these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”


I hope these techniques help you quiet your inner critic, ease your perfectionist urges and bring more self-compassion into your life.

For those who live in the Annapolis area, I’ll be leading mindfulness groups for women that help cultivate self-compassion. You can find out more here.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979

11 Subtle Signs That You Might Be Anxious

Insomnia can be a sign of underlying anxiety

Insomnia can be a sign of underlying anxiety

Anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s not always obvious. Anxiety can have subtle influences on your thoughts, behaviors and feelings. It shows up in different ways for different people.

The way you were raised, the experiences you’ve had in your lifetime, and your biology/genetics can all affect how you experience anxiety. Those factors can determine when you are likely to feel anxious, what you feel like when you’re anxious and how you respond to situations and things that make you feel anxious. That’s because anxiety is often triggered by an emotional memory that is stored both in the brain and in the body.

Here are a few traits and behaviors that might mean you’re anxious:

  1. Procrastination. If you constantly put things off because it feels uncomfortable to move forward, or you worry that you won’t be able to do something “right,” you might be anxious. If you find that you procrastinate a lot, putting things off might be a sign that you have anxiety about your abilities or about being judged by others.

  2. Perfectionism. Perfectionism and procrastination sometimes go hand in hand. You want things done perfectly. If you don’t think that will happen, you procrastinate. In reality, sometimes perfectionism leads to over-doing and over-thinking. Giving 110 percent to everything in your life might really be a sign of your anxiety working overtime. Part of you believes that avoiding mistakes, being perfect, going above and beyond in all areas of your life will keep you from feeling uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it often leads to exhaustion and burn-out. 

  3. Phobias of any kind. You might be afraid to cross bridges in a car, afraid of spiders or flying insects, or afraid of flying. No matter what you’re fearful of, if it gets in the way of daily activities, it’s probably due to your anxiety about the unexpected the unknown and the unpredictable.

  4. Fear of new situations. Do you avoid going places you’ve never been or being with people you’ve never met? It might be that your anxiety is making it hard to be in new situations because there are so many unknowns and things you can’t control.

  5. Indecision. Is it hard for you to make seemingly small choices? Do I exercise or not? Should I have the chicken or fish? Do I walk or drive? Sometimes small things can be very difficult to decide when you’re anxious. You feel stuck in the middle, unable to move toward either choice.

  6. Irritability. When anxiety starts to bubble up, it can leave you feeling uncomfortable. That discomfort can make you very irritable, especially if you’re trying to control uncontrollable situations. You might snap at your partner, friends or children for no reason at all, except that you’re anxious.

  7. Extreme distress when things don’t go as planned. Trying to control people, places and things is a hallmark behavior of an anxious person. You might think, “If I can keep everything under control, then I’ll feel calm.” But life is uncontrollable, so it’s a losing battle. The fight for control usually leads to more anxiety, because so little is really within your control.

  8. Insomnia. If you find that on many nights you lie tossing and turning, or just lie in bed awake, it might be due to anxiety. Anxiety can make it hard to turn off your mind and relax your body enough to fall asleep.

  9. Worrying all the time. We all worry sometimes, but if you find you worry all the time — and maybe worry about how much you’re worrying — you probably have some underlying anxiety.

  10. Assuming the worst. Worrying and assuming the worst are often partners in crime. If you find that you’re always thinking about all of the worst possible outcomes, and you tell yourself you just want to be prepared for what might happen, there’s usually some anxiety there below the surface. The problem is, we can’t control what might or might not happen. All that worrying about bad things just makes you more anxious.

  11. Frequent stomachaches or headaches. Anxiety has both emotional and physical symptoms. Frequent stomachaches, headaches, chest tightening, difficulty swallowing, feeling flushed and increased heart rate are a few of the physical symptoms of anxiety. If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms pretty regularly, and you’ve seen your doctor to rule out any health issues, you might be experiencing some anxiety.

Anxiety can take a toll on our daily life and our physical and emotional health. You don’t have to struggle with this alone. Know that others struggle, too, and that you can get help. Therapy, mindfulness practices, meditation and medication can help you better manage the anxiety so you can live your life with more ease and contentment.

On the Woman Worriers podcast this week:

If you’re anxious, does that mean you’re an introvert? Does being an introvert means you’re shy? In this episode of Woman Worriers, I talk with Nicole Burgess—a marriage and family therapist and life coach, an empowerment mentor for introverted women, and an introvert herself— clear up many myths and misperceptions about introversion. They also talk about how introverted women can come to find and embrace their unique strengths and find the quiet groundedness they crave.


 Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

 

 

Perfectionism and Anxiety

Striving For Perfection And Anxiety

Being perfect, never making mistakes or failing, would relieve a lot of stress! You could enter every task or challenge with the knowledge that you would succeed every time. How amazing would it be to be able to let go of all those insecurities, worries and anxieties when new, difficult life events happen? You could live your life with ease.

Unfortunately, if everyone were perfect, life would be pretty boring. We would’t learn or grow, because we’d already know how to do everything. As cliché as it sounds, imperfections make us human and make life more interesting.

Imperfections Can Create Anxieties #youareyourownworstenemy

woman on grass.jpg

When we believe that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, and when we feel that other people are constantly judging us for those mistakes or difficulties, it can create a lot of anxiety. You are your own worst enemy, because the perception that we need to be perfect all the time or people will criticize us often sets off a firestorm of critical self-talk:

  • I’m so stupid!
  • I can’t believe I just made a mistake!
  • What is wrong with me? I can’t get this right!
  • Now everyone will know I don’t know what I’m doing!
  • I shouldn’t have even tried!
  • I’ll never do that again!
  • I’m an idiot!

I’m pretty sure that you’d never say to others the hurtful things you say to yourself.  But when we feel vulnerable, the parts of us that want to protect us and keep us safe from harm jump in and start yelling. They criticize. They ridicule. Those parts of you believe that if they can get your attention, they’ll save you from making another mistake in the future.

Those self-protective parts think that the self-criticism will keep you on your toes for next time, but they can also encourage you to stop putting yourself out there, to stop you before you make the next mistake. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, the negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

So how do we break the cycle of beating ourselves up when we make mistakes? We do it through the practice of self-compassion.

smiling woman

If we can hold ourselves with the same compassion that we show to others, it can reduce stress and anxiety. When we allow ourselves to be imperfect, to embrace our imperfections, we’re able to approach life with more openness and ease.

Here are four steps to help bring more self-compassion into your life:

1. Start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, what prompted it? Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing.

3. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered, and you become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I can be so hard on myself.”

4. Now, bring to mind the things you’d say to a close friend who was struggling and try to say them to yourself. If you’ve been hard on yourself for a long time, this takes a lot of practice. You might start by imagining what your good friend might say to you if they knew you were having a hard time.

When times are tough, it can help to remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and recite these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”

I hope these steps help you quiet your inner critic and bring more self-compassion into your life.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by SHINE TANG & by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Embracing Your Imperfections Guest Blog

Instead of walking the tightrope of "being perfect" try being self-compassionate instead

Instead of walking the tightrope of "being perfect" try being self-compassionate instead

I’m excited to share my guest post for Sharon Martin’s blog, Happily Imperfect, on Pysch Central!

Striving for perfection can increase anxiety because it’s an impossible task.

Being mindful of our internal response when we make mistakes and bringing more self-compassion into our lives when we’re imperfect, can reduce our stress and anxiety!

Check out the blog post, Embracing Your Imperfections Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety. And if you would like to be learn how to be more mindful and self-compassionate you can check out my mindfulness group beginning in October. There are a few spots left and early enrollment discounts are available.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

Asking for Help and Setting Boundaries During The Holidays

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared some tips on how to manage holiday stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can see the full post with 30 tips here, and the shorter posts on self-care and how to get organized to reduce your stress, for those who like to consume information in smaller chunks. 

This week I’m sharing tips on how to ask for help and set boundaries over the holidays. For some of us, creating, setting or keeping boundaries can be super hard. We feel guilty about saying no, we help others and often put their needs before our own, we don’t want to be a burden to others when asking for help, and we worry that others will be mad at us if we do say “no.”

Without clear boundaries you might feel underappreciated, irritated with others, taken for granted, anxious, stressed out, and you might not know why you feel overwhelmed with all of these feelings.  

Setting Boundaries Can Reduce Your Anxiety And Stress

Setting limits and creating boundaries allows you to tell others what you want or need without feeling guilty, you feel less burdened and you establish healthier relationships.

Relationships flourish with healthy bondaires

Say “no.”

Saying “no” isn’t easy, but saying “yes” to everyone and everything often leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

Ask for help.

Asking for help can be difficult for people pleasers. You hope others will know what you want because asking for help feels vulnerable and needy. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! The thing is, when you ask friends and family to help take care of the kids, your dog, or whatever it can relieve your stress and anxiety. Expressing what you need also allows others to help you out, and that can make them feel good too.

Manage others’ expectations.

Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to you feeling even more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits and stick to them. You’ll be able to accomplish what you need to do and you’ll feel more productive and empowered.

Let go of perfectionism.

You don't need to be perfect this holiday

I love Pinterest, but having happy holidays doesn’t mean that you have to try every Pinterest idea to create that “perfect” holiday experience.

Be kind to yourself.

When you forget to order something or forget to be somewhere you were supposed to be, know that you are not alone. Thousands of us out there are forgetting things, too. Instead of beating yourself up, offer yourself some words of comfort and know that you’re human, just like the rest of us.

A good resource to help you in this process is the workbook, Setting Boundaries Without Guilt by Sharon Martin, LCSW.  She writes, when you’re a people pleaser and are always doing for others “you compromise your own needs to make other people happy.”

Counseling can also help you learn how to set healthy boundaries so that you can live your life with more self-confidence and less stress, anxiety and resentment. If you think counseling might be helpful to you call me @410-340-8469 or email me.

Photos courtesy of Ian Schneider and Ellie Lord for Unsplash.com.