Archive of ‘Perfectionism’ category

What if making a mistake was okay?:  Addressing perfectionism as a family

student with ADHD

I was inspired by a previous blog post by colleague, Catherine Mok, LCSW, on good enough parenting linked here. Children and the family system can benefit as a whole when the perspective of parents is shifted toward being good enough and away from achieving perfect or ideal parenting. The modeling that is provided through this shift in perspective sends a message to children that trying your best, normalizing mistakes as opportunities to learn, and focusing on being good enough can alleviate the pressure to be perfect. Let us think about this further in the context of supporting children that struggle with trying to achieve perfection.

Defined

When considering the term “perfectionism,” I do want to recognize that mastery and working to master different tasks is developmentally appropriate for children to build confidence and develop their sense of self. There is also positive reinforcement from society and adults in children’s lives for wanting to do well, exerting focused effort, and attention to detail. We will use this moment to reflect on how striving to be “perfect” can show up and get in the way for children and how to support them. 

Concern arises when children show signs of striving for perfection, setting unattainable goals, and internalizing unrealistic standards and expectations for themselves. Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute explains that unmet expectations register as a threat or challenge to the brain and engage our stress response. For children striving for perfection and holding unrealistic expectations for themselves, this stress response may be constantly engaged. This can show up in many ways where children may verbalize their distress through use of “should” language, critical self-evaluation or self-talk, and verbalizing their unrealistically high expectations. This can also show up, and sometimes more commonly, in behaviors such as limited frustration tolerance for mistakes, becoming dysregulated quickly, or anxiety and avoidance of difficult tasks for fear of making a mistake. It is important to recognize that these thought patterns and behaviors are connected to children’s self-esteem, relationships, and emotional well-being. 

Pause…

Now we can pause to take a deep breath and shift the focus to supporting children and the family system with helpful ways of addressing perfectionistic tendencies.

Validate, always

When approaching a child struggling with self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, and dysregulation in making a mistake, reflecting their feelings and validating their experience can be a safe place to start. Examples may include, “You are worried about making a mistake because you care about doing your best” or “You tried so hard to get it just right and are disappointed/upset that it didn’t go the way you wanted.” The goal here is to connect with the child so that they feel seen and heard which increases their felt sense of safety.

Mistakes as a conversation

Encourage conversations about mistakes with children with a perspective of curiosity and framing mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Families can also model healthy acceptance of mistakes by parents and caregivers sharing their own mistakes out loud. This can normalize and validate a child’s experience of mistakes. This can also be a powerful antidote to shame by hearing that mistakes are accepted, inevitable, and safe topics of conversation (Brené Brown). Practicing vulnerability with children can improve connection throughout the family system and bolster a child’s confidence and belief in their own capability to navigate challenges and mistakes in the future.

Reframing

Powerful reframes in response to self-criticism and striving to be perfect can include: 

  • Encouraging a growth mindset as a learner that includes feedback and practice with improvement over time (UC Davis Health, 2022)
  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn (Dr. Nelsen, 2006)
    • What did I do well and where can I grow?
  • Excitement and support for a child to try again
  • Focus placed on trying and effort rather than the outcome or results

Self-compassion

Finally, practicing self-compassion introduces warmth and understanding from within to alleviate the pressure children place on themselves. What does a child’s self-talk sound like when striving for perfection? It may reflect all-or-nothing thinking and unrealistic expectations such as, “I should/should have…” or “I can’t…” How can caregivers model self-compassion? When caregivers reflect on their own mistakes, they can show self-compassion through positive self-talk that children then observe. When negative self-talk arises for children, encourage more positive and encouraging messages they could tell themselves instead. Examples could include:

 “I tried my best” 

“I care so much about doing well”

“This is hard for me and that is okay”  

“I made a mistake and I am proud that I tried” 

“I am brave for trying something new and challenging”

“I am important, and I belong no matter how many mistakes I make”

modeling self-compassion for perfectionism

References & Resources

  • Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen
  • Synergetic Play Therapy Institute, founder Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
  • Practically Perfect – Addressing Perfectionism in Kids by UC Davis Health
  • Letting Go of Perfect: Empower Children to Overcome Perfectionism by Jill Adelson and Hope Wilson

Do You Suffer from Religious Trauma?

When you hear the words “religious trauma,” what do you think of? You’re maybe thinking something along the lines of Catholic priests and altar boys. And while that’s certainly one of the most egregious examples of religious trauma, it can be much subtler than that. 

In 1993, Marlene Winell, a psychologist and former Christian fundamentalist, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) to specifically refer to “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The definition has been expanded and now includes spiritual trauma for those who may not have identified with a specific religion (e.g. cults). 

You may be thinking, my religious upbringing wasn’t that bad. And you may be right. But you may want to think about if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of RTS:

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, lethargy
  • A loss of a community (family, friends, romantic relationships)
  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong
  • Feeling “behind the times” with cultural happenings
  • Experiencing significant shame, guilt and/or low self-esteem
  • Addictive or compulsive behaviors
  • Sexual difficulties
  • “Black and White” thinking (e.g. something is either good or bad; no room for “grey”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Inability to tolerate the distress of participating in any kind of organized religion and avoidance of religious environments, people, and reading material.
  • And many other symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty, etc.

RTS might show up for you in your relationships with others and yourself. For example, you may struggle with being in a relationship with someone from a different religion. Or, you may beat yourself up after doing something that would have been considered “bad” or “evil” in your religion or your family of origin. You may feel uncomfortable being your authentic self in front of loved ones. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.  

Most people don’t come into therapy to deal with their religious upbringing, but depression, anxiety, relational concerns, etc., may have been how your body has learned to deal with trauma. 

One of the benefits of recovering from religious trauma is that you get to choose whether you practice your faith. (In fact, the freedom to choose your own path in life may be the greatest benefit of all.) You may develop a different, healthy relationship with religion, or you may decide to leave religion behind. You may learn to create or join a community that serves your needs, rather than changing yourself to fit the community. You could develop ways of connecting with something greater than yourself without feeling guilt or pressure to behave a certain way. 

But it may be necessary to work through the trauma to tap into any spiritual growth. 

If you are struggling with religious trauma, you may want to consider speaking with your therapist about it. Research suggests that talk therapy can be one of the best ways to work through religious trauma.


From Perfect to Good Enough Parenting

Male parent with kids surrounded by children's toys

Are you still trying to be that “perfect” parent?

On the reflection of my own journey of parenting, I have come to realize that there is nothing like parenthood, from the moment I realized that I was about to become a parent, to seeing my child grow up every day. I began my parenting journey like most of us do – knowing nothing, making numerous mistakes and then trying to learn everything to become the “perfect” parent.

A new path of parenting

If you are someone like me, I would like you to join me in re-discovering a new path of parenting. There is no “perfect” parent, there is “good enough” parent.  Let’s face it, parenting is not an easy task, we are facing new challenges every day. Sometimes it feels like we never get a break from all the demands and unexpected obstacles as parents. Many of us strive to be the perfect parent, but the reality is that we are chasing something that is not attainable. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. When we expect ourselves to be perfect, we expect our children to be perfect as well, which is putting unrealistic expectations on them. What is more realistic is to be a parent who is good enough.

Good enough parents

Good enough parents love their kids, take care of their kids and try their best. Good enough parents have the courage to accept their own flaws and see mistakes as a good opportunity to learn. Good enough parents will not set unrealistic expectations for their children or themselves. Good enough parents accept their children for who they are. Both you and your children are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just the way you are, and you can be imperfect! What your children will learn from you is that that they do not need to be perfect to be loved. 

Both you and your children are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just the way you are, and you can be imperfect!

You are doing better than you think you are

I encourage you to give yourself a pat on your back and let yourself know that you are doing a good job. At least as good as it can be! Parenting is not only a full-time job; it is a life-time job.  Your child is learning from you every day as much as you are learning from them.  You are doing better than you think you are. I have made countless mistakes along the way, and of course I still think about all the “should have’s” and “could have’s”. At the end of the day, I came to realize that there is no other “job” that is as rewarding as this one. Being a parent has changed me into someone I never thought I could be. Every day, I am learning something new from my child.

Appreciate yourself and what you are doing

I hope you would appreciate who you are, what you do, and how much you are doing for your kids. You do not need to be the “perfect” parent as you are already perfect for your kids just the way you are.

Lastly, I want to offer you these Positive Affirmations for you to remind yourself how great you are:

  • I am a great parent
  • I love my children no matter what 
  • I am doing the best I can
  • I am learning and growing with my children
  • I am not afraid to make mistakes 
  • I am the best parent for my children 
  • I and my children are worthy
  • I accept my children and myself the way we are
  • My love and connection help my children above all else 
  • I believe in myself and my children 

Please spread the love and offer these positive affirmations to other parents so that we can support each other on this amazing journey.

As a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, I love working with parents and families and embarking on the positive discipline journey together. If you are a parent who is interested in taking this journey with me, please feel free to reach out to me. In addition, you can also check out Positive Discipline workshops that Austin Family Counseling offers for parents: https://austinfamilycounseling.com/workshops-groups/.

Written by: Catherine Mok, M.A., LMSW Supervised by Melissa Haney, LCSW-S 

Meet Catherine!


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