Today, women are so ridden with responsibilities, worries, self-esteem, and getting everything done– all while trying to take care of themselves. Kim discusses the reasons behind why women are unhappier now than they were 40 years ago. She also dives into ways that you can combat perfectionism and lead a healthy life.
Recently, I was the first person to show up at a friend’s for our monthly book club. I listened as she told her story of frantically cleaning her home last night after working overtime all week with her husband out of town. She felt guilty leaving the kids at daycare a bit longer a couple of days due to her busy job and barely had time to cook anything nutritious for their bellies. The laundry was piled up, the yard was a mess, and her children were not listening to her and fighting. To top things off, she was sure she was getting a cold. She wondered if it was due to staying up half the night cleaning or the two hours she spent lying on the bed with ruminating thoughts why she couldn’t lose weight, look younger, and get everything done like “other women”. Does this sound familiar?
In Marilyn Tam’s book The Happiness Choice, she states that women are unhappier than they were 40 years ago and this difference is controlled for race, age, socio-economic status, marital status or number of children. So, why are post-modern women sadder and ridden with anxiety? In a therapy practice working with all types of women, it seems that trying to be all things for all the people in our lives is bringing on a constant state of dissatisfaction and feelings of failure. In a culture that wants a perfect female specimen, inside and out, women are ridden with a sense of disappointment trying to achieve it. Nothing much comes from trying to reach perfection except feelings of failure from not achieving it and chronic anxiety from trying so hard with disappointment at the end. So what can we do to be content with ourselves as we are?
There are many healthy coping mechanisms that a person can do to manage the anxiety of trying to be all things to all people. First you must make a decision that taking charge of perfectionism is a priority. If life feels out of control, then it is time to control the way you respond to it in thinking and in action. Begin by realizing and accepting that one woman cannot be everything to everyone – imperfections and vulnerabilities are just part of life. To help yourself in the start to a life of less perfectionistic thinking, remember these four step in the quest to change your thoughts and actions:
Avoid needless tension. Not all tasks can be turned away from; however, learn what truly is a “should” or “must” on your list. Try saying “no” or delegate tasks without worry about the allocated task. In other words, if you husband feeds the kids hot dogs instead of organic chicken and broccoli, just let him.
Amend situations that you are unable to turn away from. Deal with problems head on and change your behavior toward them. For example, learn to respectfully tell others about your emotions instead of blinding saying “OK” to be a perfect employee or perfect wife. By letting a coworker know that you feel overburdened on a project my lead to getting help, you can avoid exhaustion and stress while you try to attempt everything on your own.
Adjust yourself to a situation. There are plenty of times that we are faced with challenges in life that are unchangeable, but we can change how we react to them. Instead of focusing on you are not at the job of your dreams, try thinking of the two coworkers you laugh with at lunch a few times a month & the boss that you enjoy working for.
Acknowledge and accept yourself as imperfect. Sometimes railing against a particular set of conditions such as being behind on housekeeping or not being able to go back to school right now, is like beating your head against a brick wall. It does nothing but leave you with a headache and blood in your new hairdo. Learn to accept and EMBRACE imperfection in yourself! It can be the perfect catalyst for growth once you accept that mistakes will be made and mistakes can mean learning opportunities!
Of course, these steps seem simple but changing one’s thinking and habits are a challenge! If you find that even small changes like these are impossible, it could be time for help from a professional counselor who is ideally trained in handling anxiety brought on by stress and feelings of not living up to one’s potential. Many times this trained professional can get to the root of the dysfunctional thinking and have self-loathing be the norm instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with perfectionism in no time. A Place for Me Counseling is a great place to start this positive change.