Category Archives: perfectionism

21Apr/16

Vulnerability feels like Sh*t!!

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Last week I had a meltdown. A perfectionist, beat-myself-up, my-life-is-doomed type of meltdown. It wasn’t pretty.  I said horrible things about myself that I’ve never ever said in front of my children. I kicked and threw things around the kitchen, slammed doors, shouted and ranted about the house like a spoilt brat.

It was triggered by a sudden, intense vulnerability hangover, and compounded by my tiredness and inability to effectively deal with the shame and anger that came with it.  Under the force of my shame-ridden ego I crumbled and allowed it to run amok through myself and my family.

You might be wondering what a vulnerability hangover is and why it can cause such a reaction?

A vulnerability hangover is Brené Brown’s term for that strong feeling of shame and fear that completely envelops you after you have been brave and vulnerable and open and honest and shown yourself to the world.

Brené Brown describes it as:

“the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”

Watch Brené discuss her own vulnerability hangover here with Oprah.

In my case I had just sent out a personalised email to 15 women from my network who I admired and respected, many of them friends.  I had offered them ‘first-dibs’ on a new pilot coaching programme I am creating which is to be the first step in my (very meaningful to me) life’s mission of spreading compassion around the world – starting with helping women create a strong inner trust and confidence in themselves.

I wanted to connect with these women. I was sharing ideas that were important and incredibly meaningful to me. And due to the nature of email, I had no immediate feedback on how (or if) these women would respond.

So a few hours later the wave of nausea swept over me and fear kicked in.  My whole body was screaming: ‘What the hell have you done!?’

And my ego took over.  My poor, terrified, protective ego decided it needed to defend itself against this attack on it’s identity and existence.

But because you can’t attack shame without putting it under a very big spotlight and talking about it to others, my ego started attacking everyone within shooting distance: me and my children, and later my husband.

My ego fought as if it was fighting for it’s life – that’s the power of shame. Shame threatens to cut us off from others. It threatens disconnection. We are programmed to seek connection and belonging, so much so, it is now becoming understood that disconnection and even the fear of disconnection are the drivers of addiction and mental illness.

It is possible to practice shame resilience and get better at dealing with these vulnerability hangovers and ego hijackings.  And I was somewhat practiced myself at doing this.  However, I had recently come back from a 2 week family holiday and was still feeling jet lagged, out of my routine and generally not strong enough emotionally to deal with a massive shame attack.

So instead I succumbed.  What was I ashamed of?  Of being judged, of those wonderful women thinking that I thought they needed help from me, of asking for money, of daring to dream of a world where everyone was kind to themselves and kind to each other. Who the hell did I think I was!???

And what made it worse was the anger that came with it.  This anger, sparked by fear, crashed through our house like a storm.  It was unexpected and shocking.  It allowed all this bad stuff, these bad, cruel, vicious words to stream from my mouth with such ease, without a care for their affect on my children. Even though I had heard those words before – when previously I had felt these things – I had NEVER said them out loud.  I had never let my children hear those words of self-hatred and doom that I used to feel so often. Why did they come out now?   I don’t know exactly, but some of the reason could be that I have recently had my marina coil taken out, and have stopped taking antidepressants – so my hormones have free reign!  Ha! Is it worse to have a cocktail of chemicals running  amok inside me, or my own unique blend of hormones having a party?  Ask me in 12 months when my hormones have (hopefully) settled down whether this is the ‘real me’ or just the withdrawal symptoms of stopping chemicals that mess with my body, brain and mood.

But what I do know is that as shocking as this meltdown was, it made me realise that these occasions don’t occur with regularity anymore (and with such ferocity) because I’ve trained myself to be more mindful and conscious of my emotions and triggers.  Four or five years ago this was more common, and I used to call it Falling into my Black Hole of Doom.

Yes, I’m more hormonal now, but I was also physically and emotionally tired, and due to our holiday was out of the practice of nourishing myself so I could withstand the onslaught of these emotional attacks.

Another thing that has changed is the speed with which I recovered from this ‘episode’.

During it I alternated between resisting the anger and accepting it.  I was attached to the emotions – I totally believed that I was shit and my life was completely doomed – but also the next second was aware that if I just let the emotions pass through me everything would feel better tomorrow.  It was a new and weird feeling to me because during my previous meltdowns I was never aware of what was going on. I was completely on board with all the emotions, believing them completely. There were THE TRUTH.  This time I got glimpses that there are not the truth and so I didn’t need to resist them so strongly.  They could not harm me because they were not true.

That evening I watched 6 hours of Jane Austen.  This is how I know I was in a bad place. Jane Austen productions are my go-to escapism when I’m in my Black Hole of Doom – like Brené and her Downton Abbey marathon.

So, why am I sharing all the gory details with you?  What’s the point of this story?  Well the main thing is that although vulnerability – being brave and open – feels like shit, it is so worth it.  It is what makes us grow. Despite the fear of disconnection, vulnerability is actually what connects us deeper to others.  It is what makes us human. It signifies that we are daring greatly, prepared to take risks to follow our dreams, or to be the person we are, to be seen, to do the things that are deeply meaningful us – and that enables us to have deep meaningful connections with others, which is what we all long for.

That’s why it’s important to share this.  I don’t want you to like me (shit, yes I do, but that’s obviously not my motivation for sharing my flaws).  You might even judge me for having no self-control and shouting at myself in front of my children.  But the important thing is to be honest and talk about shame, because shame can’t survive out in the open.  We all suffer from shame, and we need to talk about it.  Shame resilience needs to be part of our vocabulary.

So, here’s one woman doing just that.  Care to join me?  If so, please comment below, or, if the vulnerability is too much email me to share how this resonated with you.  Create those connections, put the spotlight on shame so it can’t survive.

Thank you for reading.

 

p.s. Here’s a video I made after my vulnerability hangover/shame attack.

 

04Mar/16

The Secret to Inner Happiness that We Keep Ignoring

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The secret to inner happiness is very simple.  It’s such a simple concept but it’s really hard to grasp and understand with our heads and our hearts. We need to know this secret in our bones for it to work. That’s the difficult part, but the idea is simple.  Here it is:

There is Nothing Wrong with You!

Yes You!   You, the one who keeps trying to improve herself, thinking ‘If only I learnt how to do this, think this, lose this weight, earn more money, then I’ll be OK. Then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be worthy.  Then people will approve of me. Then everything will be ok. Then I can be me.’

Please, for the love of God, let all that go!  It’s a load of shit!   None of that stuff will make any difference because the voice in your head that is telling you you are not good enough now, will still be there telling you you aren’t good enough when you’ve published your book, found your dream partner, been promoted or made a million pounds.

That voice is trying to keep you safe.  It’s not evil, but it is manipulative, cunning, sneaky and bloody determined to keep you small.  Every day you go about your day with good, kind, worthy intentions but get  bombarded with feedback which paints a picture of a You that is frustrating and disappointing.  You know it’s not the real you, because you have so many hopes and dreams. You know you are a good person, but the constant chatter telling you that you slipped up again, that you are not as thin and fit as X, and not successful as Y, and have children who behave far worse than about every other family you know, gets into your skin and bones. It begins to feel real, even when you know it isn’t.   Unfortunately feeling – because it is embedded with strong emotions – has a stronger effect on us than cognitive reason and intellectual knowing.

I can’t remember the number of times over the last few years I’ve said to people – friends, therapists, coaches – “I know it rationally but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it in my bones*. My body doesn’t know it.”

For example I know that I am the best mum that my children could ever have.  No one else could do the job because they need ME.  I know that intellectually, rationally, even in my soul, but emotionally I keep getting pulled back to all those times the voice in my head (and perhaps other external voices) told me I wasn’t a good enough mum, and I believed that instead because the emotions make it more real. It’s like I have many emotional reference experiences of feeling like a bad mother, but not so many of emotionally celebrating and acknowledging being a fabulous, loving, perfect-for-my-children mum.

This is how our brains work. They are programmed to sense danger, to notice things that are wrong (it’s called the negativity bias in psychology circles – here’s an article about it and other things our brains have evolved to do.) so we mustn’t get annoyed with it. We just need to be aware of it, and accept that it is normal.  Then when it happens we can laugh and say: “Whoops, I’m getting all caught up in that one mistake because of the negativity bias. I’m forgetting all the good stuff that happened today, let’s focus on that instead.”

So how do we get to feel in our bones that there is nothing wrong with us?  How do we know emotionally that we are good enough already?   As I said, this isn’t an easy or prescriptive thing.

It’s taken me 5 years of mindfulness and happiness practice and courageous opening up to myself to get to the point where I could finally let go of what my ego was telling me would prove I was ok.  I got to the point where I had learnt so many things which had helped me in lots of ways, but still my ego was in charge of the feelings in my bones! What finally worked for me was to let go of all the things I was clinging onto.  I’d been desperately clinging onto the idea that having a successful coaching business would prove to me and the whole world that I was worthy and deserved a place on this earth. I had been playing rather unsuccessfully at running a business (or a few different businesses) over the previous 12 years, but always coming from this place of fear and needing to prove myself.  My business and ideas were good, but my motivation was so contaminated by fear and so chained by my fear of letting myself be truly seen that it was always bound to fail.  So I had to give up my stop/start business completely and accept myself without it before I was able to let go of that damaging fear-based ego belief once and for all.

I can honestly say, it was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  I felt completely naked. Just me. Just me as a mum and a wife. Just a mum. Just a wife. Shit! I’d been trying to run away from that label my whole life – even before I had children.  Scared the fuck out of me. But I did it because I knew I had to. And over the course of a couple of months I realised that nothing bad actually happened after I’d told people ‘I’m not working.’ ‘No, I have stopped my business.’ ‘I’m in transition at the moment. I need to take a break before I decide what to do.’   I was basically saying to the world:  Look at me. I’m a mum. I’m a wife. I’m me. And I’m ok with that! And I was.  I was ok with being me. Me with no bells and whistles attached proving my worth. Just me. And it felt – it feels – great. I feel liberated. I feel like my cage has gone.  I know there are other smaller cages that my ego still keeps me locked in that I will discover and free myself from as I move through life, but at the moment this has been such a shift in my whole being that I can hardly believe it.

But to be able to let go of this ego-driven goal and belief I also had to connect to my true inner self, so there would be something to take the place of my ego voice and goals. This connection to my true self has come through walking outside, listening to music, mediation and writing. Lots of writing.  I’m still learning to connect with myself – I’m a newbie – but I’m loving learning how to. And the rewards of doing so are so huge: a feeling of peace; increased flow and losing myself in what I’m doing; feeling light-hearted – less serious and heavy; and having more clarity around what I really want to do.

Now I can start my business again without the fear that if it goes wrong I will be a failure, or not worthy of love and belonging.  I feel free to be myself and express myself and try things that I would have been too scared to do beforehand.  I can now dare greatly knowing that I am still the same wonderful person whether I succeed or ‘fail’.  My flaws or failings don’t define me. They make me me.  And owning them makes me braver and ironically more able to succeed in the future. I am building my business from scratch again, but it feels so different to the striving that drove me before – and which wasn’t very successful.  I now feel more creative and expansive.  I am patient and doing this properly rather than desperately wanting everything to happen now!  I know how I want to make my difference and I know I can make it work. I know I can do it my way this time and be successful.

Wish me luck!

 

 

*Brene Brown introduced me to this phrase and I love it.

 

Written at The British Library, London while listening to Muse, Drones and The 2nd Law.

 

14Feb/16

Why Control is Overrated

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Control doesn’t work.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be in control.   Not like a power-crazed despot desires control to get their own way, but as a strategy to avoid the painful stuff of life.   You know, things like failure, conflict, other people’s judgements and the big bad negative emotions of anger, loneliness, rejection, despair and sadness.

My need to have control – to be certain of how things would turn out – came from the desire to protect myself from the scary unknown.  It was a coping mechanism I learnt growing up, much like the small child who puts her cars in perfect order because she have no control over anything else in her life.   Like a bouncer at a nightclub door I chose to take on the massive task of controlling (i.e. banning) the pain from my life.  Not an easy strategy to take on at such a young age.  The chances of it succeeding were pretty damn slim, but I stuck to the idea of control doggedly, convinced that I had the intelligence and capacity to make it work.  Or maybe I really knew it would never work, but the potential rewards of being certain and in control are so alluring – still – that I long for it just as I long for the wisdom one day to live a perfectly healthy life (i.e. give up sugar and alcohol and exercise every day), or just as I long for my children to be happy and confident (i.e. never get upset or angry about anything).  It’s an impossible and unreal dream.

I don’t know when it stopped working but it’s been a pretty shitty strategy for as long as I can remember. Control is impossible, and certainty is illusive, especially when people and relationships are involved – which they are in most situations in modern life.  And when children come along, certainty and control fly out of the window before the babies are even born.  All this strategy ever did for me was give me a huge amount of pain, and stop me from experiencing and a happier life.

Because if you think about it, trying to keep things the same, all controlled and certain means that we miss out on most of what is good about life.  Here’s some of what I’ve learnt since I let go of needing to be in control:

  • The failure and mistakes are what make us grow.
  • Being vulnerable is the gateway to becoming braver and stronger.
  • Vulnerability is how we make deeper connections to other human beings.
  • Being open to chance and chaos allows us to notice and take advantage of exciting opportunities.
  • Chance encounters can change your life.
  • Curiosity and adventure are basic human drives and cannot be nurtured in a controlled environment.
  • Gratitude, love and joy get squashed if you are so focussed on keeping control.
  • Negative emotions have a purpose, and learning to experience them is necessary to true happiness. (Damn it!)

So, yes, I know all about control and certainty.  It’s the perfectionist’s modus operandi. But trying to control everything is hard and denies us the joy that is an up and down life.  Learning to be OK with not knowing, with chaos, with the changing winds of growth has been very hard for me, but my goodness, it pays well.  I’ve a long way to go, but if the joy and love and growth that has happened so far continues as I develop my talent for letting go of control, then I’m very excited about my future.

xxxxx

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03Dec/15

Her Dark Secret.

An Honest Truth

 

Five years ago I was a mess. I had three young children under 9 who were wonderfully cute, amazing and special, and like most children, were also programmed to push their parents over the edge.

I duly obliged.

It had been coming: a gradual descent into a pit of despair. My own personal pit was decorated with failure and unmet expectations. It was sprinkled with a depression caused by not being the kind of mum I had always imagined I would be. You know the one – the light-hearted, bubbly mum who plays games, always laughs, bakes cakes, is in control of the shopping, cooking, laundry, school letters, bills, gardening, all the while running a successful business or career and being the model of emotional intelligence, kindness, patience and courage. She also looks amazing and has the best sex on the planet with the husband she still fancies the pants off. You know her very well don’t you?   She’s in everyone’s expectations, all over the media and worst of all, in our own minds.

It seems that during the previous years, unbeknownst to me, the dark, silent tentacles of Perfectionist Mum had ensnared me completely and dragged me down deep. The more I struggled to be free of this constant sense of failure the further I seemed to fall. The more I strived, the ‘less perfect’ I became.  It all sounds dramatic now, but it felt humiliating and dangerous at the time, and I couldn’t get myself out of it.  I didn’t realise then, that the expectation of perfection I had had for so long was impossible to achieve. All I could focus on was how I had messed up again, and again, and again, and I couldn’t understand how it could happen to an intelligent woman like me who was trying so hard!

So one night 5 years ago during a fairly standard argument my oldest child shouted at me; ‘Mum – you just expect me to be perfect all the time!  I can’t be perfect! 

It was as if he had thrown a bucket of water over me.  I woke up.  In a second he had shown me the truth, bright, ugly, and finally, finally visible to my blind and deluded mind.  I immediately understood that my constant expectation of perfection was not only damaging me, but a million times worse – it was damaging my children.

It was the changing point in my life, and since then I have continuously learnt about the toxic condition of perfectionism, read many, many positive psychology, mindfulness and self-development books, watched hundreds of TEDTalks and attended courses and workshops. I have had coaching, CBT and therapy and I have experimented with different ideas, practices and habits and have found what works and what doesn’t work.

All this learning and exploration has made me so much more aware, mindful and grateful. It’s made a huge difference and I’m a much calmer, happier person. I’m also a better mum.  However, I have still been striving for a certain something.  Peace, or Success, or Happiness, whatever they are. There has still been a sense of something missing, or lacking in my life or me.

So I am still learning.

Finally though, I am able and willing to listen to the real inner voice inside me.  Not my scared and vulnerable ego which is driving all the relentless striving, but the strong, solid wisdom within me which knows that I am amazing and whole.

I still have my striving ego, desparate to protect and prove itself, but at least now I have another side to hear too.

My own voice.