Are you a perfectionist?

Perfectionism is a mental dysfunction. In psychology, it’s referred to as a personality trait hyperfocused on flawlessness and perfect performances.

A young patient, Dina, was a scholar in the university. Her life has been an endless report card on grades, accomplishments, and looks.

One evening, Dina was rushed to the hospital by her father. Her sister found her slumped on the floor of her room with bloody cuts on the wrists.

She tried to end it all. That time, she could no longer keep up with her grades due to severe social anxiety.

What makes perfectionism toxic is its negativity. It’s overly anxious on avoiding failure, mistakes, and messes … an impossibility in reality.

Even if you express love to a perfectionist after some misses, it isn’t enough comfort. The perfectionist is way too dependent or conditional on performance to feel loved.

Psychology Today magazine explains,

“There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. The need for perfection is transmitted in small ways from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A.”

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, remember that “you are good enough.” You are worthy as you are because you exist.

You don’t have to prove your value to anyone, even to yourself. God has already placed that value on you and your life.

“Perfection is an illusion. Yet perfectionists demand it from others while being far from flawless themselves. The margin of error of the human condition is often our greatest area of excellence and discovery,” reminds writer Stewart Stafford.

Healing the Family

She doesn’t know why she’s been severely depressed and anxious much of the time. Lita rarely socialize or get out of the house.

Lita experiences constant social anxiety when with people. In her mind, she worries that other people are silently putting her down or making fun of her.

As a result, her family hurts. The father, mother, and siblings came to me with sobs of sadness and pain about Lita’s isolation from them and others.

In the sessions, Lita recounted her family experience since childhood. She felt caught in the middle of her parents’ constant quarrels.

All that time during fights, both her father and mother vied for her support. She felt guilty for everyone’s feelings, including those of her siblings.

Virginia Satir, noted family therapist and writer, believes that a critical first step to the healing process is full or 100% awareness.

In her book, “Helping Families to Change,” she asserts the following goal for hurting families:

” … to see freely and comment openly on what you see, to be able to hear freely and comment what you hear, and to be able to touch freely and be able to comment openly on that experience – these comprise the restorative task.”

So, to heal your self and your family, here’s one master key: Stop pretending!

Based on Satir’s formula, there are skills or habits that need to be developed for total or 100% focus and awareness to avoid pretending.

3 things.

• seeing, not just looking
• hearing, not just listening
• sensing your touch

That’s what happens in my sessions in the initial phase. Progressively focus on these essential tasks.

Becoming aware – coming to your senses – is the first step to set you and your family free!

Self Image and your Physical Body

When I was a boy onwards spiraling out of adolescence, I was painfully thin. I remember each time I dressed, I’ll put “extras” on my shoulder to look bulky, compact, or big.

In social events, I looked like a tall ectomorphic pole without the “extras!” It made me feel self conscious and had to repair my self image from this in years following.

It can be hard to stand against culture”s overemphasis on physical appearance. It tends to distort vision and image of our true selves.

A client, Celia, had acquired a sense of worthlessness from others who jeered her “ugliness” and twisted form. Finally, it darkened her judgment and mental health as she accepted their assessment of her self based on external appearances alone.

The self is so much more than our body weight, physical appearance, or organic definition. Our “true self” operates on another deeper level of awareness.

If we get that, we won’t overreact to the “illusions” of culture or unkind feedback we encounter. Low self esteem – a negative view of self – is arrested.

So naturally even as we take care of our physical appearance and health, we know a crucial difference. The authenticity or core of our selves is essentially separate from the physical state of our selves.

We Are Fellow Travelers

I am your fellow traveler. Yes, I may be your therapist. But we belong to the same road. We choose to trek the same destination. We share a common world and basic experiences along the way.

This realistic view of life influences my work and relationship to those who seek my help. The “therapist” and “patient” relationship is a human journey. So I prefer to think of my self and of my “patients” as “fellow travelers.”

As I have progressed through my own life, I realize how imperfect I am. I commit mistakes. I have my share of wounds and pains. I too find my self struggling in certain areas of my thinking, feeling, and behaving. I experience circumstances where I don’t have control, except my self. Truly, we are all in this together. And there is no therapist and no person immune to the inherent tragedies of existence.

Dr. Eric Fromm, the noted psychotherapist, often cited Terence’s statement from thousands of years ago when teaching students, “I am human and let nothing human be alien to me.” That urges me to be a “fellow traveler” to my “patients.” It opens me to that part of my self that corresponds to a wound, struggle, or fantasy offered by patients. No matter how violent, lustful, or horrific.

With that, my being a “fellow traveler” vastly enhances my ability to look out the patient’s world. And hopefully, the patient out into mine.

Do You Take Care of Your Self?

Self-Care is vital. You miss or neglect it, you break down. You get ill. You experience unhappiness.

There are known effective ways or strategies to maintain self-care. I’m thinking of some specifics below where we may need to actively work on to improve and maintain our self-care.

Assess and get ready to better self-care.

Physical Self-Care:

* Eat regularly (e.g. breakfast, lunch and dinner)
* Eat healthy
* Exercise
* Get regular medical care for prevention
* Get medical care when needed
* Take time off when needed
* Get massages
* Dance, swim, walk, run, play sports, sing, or do some other physical activity that is fun
* Take time to be sexual—with yourself, with a partner
* Get enough sleep
* Wear clothes you like
* Take vacations
* Take day trips or mini-vacations
* Make time away from telephones and gadgets

Psychological Self-Care:

* Make time for self-reflection
* Have your own personal psychotherapy
* Write in a journal
* Read literature that is unrelated to work
* Do something at which you are not expert or in charge
* Decrease stress in your life
* Let others know different aspects of you
* Notice your inner experience—listen to your thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings
* Engage your intelligence in a new area, e.g. go to an art museum, history exhibit, 
sports event, auction, theater performance
* Practice receiving from others
* Be curious
* Say “no” to extra responsibilities sometimes

Emotional Self-Care:

* Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
* Stay in contact with important people in your life
* Give yourself affirmations, praise yourself
* Love yourself
* Re-read favorite books, re-view favorite movies
* Identify comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places and seek them out
* Allow yourself to cry
* Find things that make you laugh
* Express your outrage in social action, letters and donations, marches, protests
* Play with children

Spiritual Self-Care:

* Make time for reflection
* Spend time with nature
* Find a spiritual connection or community
* Be open to inspiration
* Cherish your optimism and hope
* Be aware of nonmaterial aspects of life
* Try at times not to be in charge or the expert
* Be open to not knowing
* Identify what in meaningful to you and notice its place in your life
* Meditate
* Pray
* Sing
* Spend time with children
* Have experiences of awe
* Contribute to causes in which you believe
* Read inspirational literature (talks, music, etc.)

Work Self-Care:

* Take a break during the workday (e.g. lunch)
* Take time to chat with co-workers
* Make quiet time to complete tasks
* Identify projects or tasks that are exciting and rewarding
* Set limits with your clients and colleagues
* Balance your caseload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much”
* Arrange your work space so it is comfortable and comforting
* Get regular supervision or consultation
* Negotiate for your needs (benefits, pay raise)
* Have a peer support group
* Develop a non-trauma area of professional interest
* Strive for balance within your work-life and workday
* Strive for balance among work, family, relationships, play and rest

How Do You Take Care of Your Child When You’re a Child Yourself?

One evening, I heard this ad over TV Channel 7 broadcast, “Paano ka mag-aalaga ng bata kung ikaw ay bata rin?” (How do you take care of a child when you’re a child your self?).

It gave me one of my most insightful points during a self parenting seminar that I conducted in a large, South Manila-based school. Around a hundred people or more came (fathers and mothers, teachers, principal, guidance counselors, including the wives of the municipality’s mayor and congressman).

It’s a different kind of parenting seminar. It’s because my focus is on the parents themselves and not on the children. In the seminar, I shared about inner healing and character formation of the parents first before they can apply healthy parenting techniques to their children.

I also shared about my own parenting journey, including the ups and downs, my mistakes and joys. I hope and pray to reach out to more parents in this area. I’m not an expert on child rearing techniques (others can more effectively teach that!).

But I believe the Lord has raised me to teach well on how to “parent one’s self” and heal the “inner child” as a foundation for authentic, long-term parenting of children.

I know. I’ve been there. And I’m thankful for the opportunity!

Kindness Heals

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley, a noted writer-philosopher. He was dying. At his deathbed, he was asked what words and wisdom he would like to tell and leave to the world. He replied, “I wish people would be kinder to each other.”

What does “kindness” mean? Here’s what “kindness” means if we go by the American Heritage Dictionary: “of a friendly nature, generous or hospitable, warmhearted, good, charitable, helpful, showing understanding or sympathy, humane, considerate, tolerant.”

Heeding Huxley’s words, I feel how much it applies to our society in general. Reading recent local news, for example, we can witness a lot of unkindness. Government leaders fuming mad and assassinating each other’s characters in public. They all speak of healing our country. But how does a country heal when leadership is ruled by poisonous emotions, tongue, behavior, and self-perception? Sadly, the practice of kindness in our country, and even in the rest of the world, resembles a drought.

When I think of the numerous men and women who see me in the psychotherapy session, I never fail to see their eyes glistening with held-back or free-flowing tears. In relating their stories, they react with poignant sadness. Often, they remember that kindness was nonexistent in the growing up period of their lives. And goodness! How much they hunger and yearn for their parents to show more kindness to them and each other.

I usually tell them it’s ok not to be ok. To feel sad about the unkindness they’ve experienced in their lives. Even weep for the kindness they did not receive from their parents or others when they were children. But, they need to learn to let go, eventually. They need to learn to grieve completely their unprocessed pains. And then, use their present lives and relationships as a “second chance” to experience the kindness they did not have.

Kindness heals. Choose it for your self and others.