A few years back, as an experiment, I wrote down everything I expected me to do over the course of a week, whether it was with regards to work, home, family, time for myself. I also noted my mood, particularly my sources of frustration, and I was in for a bit of a shock: just in terms of work alone, I typically expected me to do the equivalent of 3-4 weeks work in one week.
Now think about that for a moment: If I’m maxed out by 3-4 times my capacity before I even think about anything else, including trying to be The Perfect Mother TM or Wonder Woman, I am running on empty.
I, Natalie Lue, am a recovering people pleaser and recovering perfectionist. These are habits that I don’t have to be vigilant about daily but that I have trained myself to notice the signs of when I’ve deviated from what I know is right and true for me.
Some of my personal signs:
- Trying to be in control of stuff that I’m not in control of
- Spending far too long on something
- Tweaking and tweaking and tweaking again
- Not keeping it simple
- A spate of forgetfulness
- Cranky because I’m not voicing where I feel frustrated or out of control somewhere else
- Feeling as if I’m doing a trillion things at once
- More than a handful of key things to do for the day
- Not feeling energised and lit up by what I’m doing
- A frenetic energy
- Wanting things yesterday so that I don’t have to feel anxious about whether something will go well or badly
- Feeling that I am not a success
If you’re a people pleaser and perfectionist, you will have your own signs and the more awareness you have of them, is the less they take you over because you can respond to these and take you in a different direction.
I expect too much of myself. I expect in many respects, way less of myself than I ever have before–progress!–but I still expect a lot of myself.
I use these times when I expect too much, to surrender, to let go of the need to be in control, the stories and the faux inner rules that show up as a protective mechanism. The latter are rules that I’ve made up or internalised for how Natalie ‘should’ live her life and all they do is leave me feeling guilty and anxious.
I’ve also learned that I don’t have to comply with these expectations and that engaging in a dialogue with myself, helps me to make sense of what I’m doing and get out of autocompliance mode.
I strive to mother (and father) myself because the truth is, of course I support and encourage my daughters but I do not have the expectations of them that I had of myself when I was a kid or that were expected of me whether it was stated directly or inferred.
I say this because if you expect a lot of yourself, that is not something that’s been set up in adulthood.
There are specific experiences around praise, being good, getting into trouble, performing, money, lack, your sense of responsibility and what you felt you had to be and do in order to gain love, attention, affection, approval and validation, that are driving your present-day behaviour.
I was keeping an eye on my baby brother at two years old, getting in trouble for not instinctively knowing at two who to blank, who was the enemy. I was told that I was a genius, extremely bright, so everything was under the microscope. Everyone else was free to have problems, feelings, to screw up, to have less than 100%; me, I had to fly the flag, bottle up, ‘save’ everyone. A promising athlete, if I gave it my all but didn’t come first, I was criticised (and likely some of it was useful feedback but probably not when couched with expletives at the track), and so I haven’t really had limits, because, well, there weren’t any.
There was no ‘enough’. There was no understanding your emotional, mental, physical or even spiritual energy.
Find ‘more’. Be perfect.
Of course, we are not bottomless pits.
If we keep trying to find ‘more’ without respect for what we have and without respect for our minds, bodies and time, it’s inevitable that we will burn out and we will always feel that we are not enough.
We believe that we are not being enough.
We believe that we are not doing enough.
We believe that we are inadequate because we don’t look perfect or in line with what we think are universal standards, or we don’t have the perfect background, or because we’re not in the relationship/career/business/life we desire yet.
We wait for the world to cut us some slack and to say, ‘Good job’, but in truth, it’s us that needs to recognise it because we are holding us to a standard that no else is or can.
We’re still that kid trying to please mommy/daddy/a caregiver/ a bully and we have not stopped to ask ourselves:
‘What feels good, right and true for me?’
No two people are the same. We can’t even all eat the same things so we have to respect and understand our personal limits.
Those limits do not make us failures or imperfect; they make us human and with a greater potential than we would ever have by trying to be perfect and fundamentally not ourselves.
We also have to rewrite the story, after all, we can’t adjust standards and expectations that we don’t acknowledge are there and faulty in the first place.
The biggie that we have to acknowledge with perfectionist parents is that they behaved as they did towards us, not because of our inadequacies but because of their own sense of inadequacy and yes, sometimes using us as their opportunity to right the wrongs of their own past.
We are often resistant to challenging our, for instance, parent’s concept of ‘enough’ due to loyalty and on some level believing that we will stop being loved or stop having the possibility of eventually being loved, if we choose to:
1) stop pursuing this painful, impossible ideal of perfection and
2) stop being The Family Member Who Has To _______ (e.g. be super responsible, save the family, be the best, always be strong, never ask for help, always be struggling etc), so that we can let other family members keep their roles, ‘get’ love and not be alienated or rejected.
This means that even though we logically know that it’s bad for the business of living our life if we stick to old habits that are already proven not to work or have certainly proven that they drain us of our self-worth and self-confidence, impacting everything from our interpersonal relationships, to work, to health, that loyalty keeps us glued to the pattern because we’ll feel guilty and afraid.
But when we examine our life through compassionate observation and investigation and acknowledge the true cost of continuing the pattern, and that we might be sacrificing the relationship we want, the quality of our existing relationships, our hopes, dreams and inner peace, plus that we might be doing all of this in an effort to try and make some spontaneously combust into a different person and right the wrongs of a past that’s already done.
We expect too much of ourselves.
All of this ‘stuff’ we’re doing to be pleasing and perfect, is not only a misappropriation of our time, energy and self-esteem, but aside from all of that and it being exhausting as well, when we consider the underlying motivations for doing so (catering to the past), we are expecting the impossible.
It’s not just that we expect too much of ourselves; we expect the impossible.
We are not capable of Jedi mind tricks, parting the seas, or being like that brilliant show, Quantum Leap, and able to go back to the past to fix it.
It’s your time now.
You cannot change the past or even those old expectations but you can change your present and your future. It’s yours for the changing.
You are not going to be task master coach today and serene and chill tomorrow, but small steps every day and commit to healing the baggage behind the pattern and healing the habit.
- Get a piece of paper and write down any and all memories that you have about not pleasing others, not being ‘good enough’, and any messages that you’ve picked up including sayings about laziness, achieving high grades, success, being the best. Anything that springs to mind, especially anything that brings up emotion for you, contributes to your habits around people pleasing and perfectionism. Use the Unsent Letter Guide to help you with forgiveness work.
- Write down your ‘rules’. Any ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ are rules. Question all of them and turn ones that you want to keep into autonomous choices and lose any that are entirely unnecessary and draining.
- Keep a ‘What I Did Today List’ so that you have a realistic concept of your time, energy and efforts. This is a shift from focusing on what you don’t do, to what you do. Also write down everything that you expect you to do in a day and ask yourself: Is this what I would expect someone who I care about and respect to do? Also, review your week so that you get in the habit of internalising what you do through acknowledgement and self-praise.
You can also use Unsent Letters to query why you have these expectations and to rigorously but compassionately investigate the truthfulness and necessity of these standards.
My online course, The Breakthrough, does deep work on identifying and healing patterns, and letting go of the roles that disrupt your ability to be in the loving relationship you desire.
Tune In To Your Inner Voice is a powerful course about how to calm down your inner critic so that you stop being sabotaged and are able to be more confident within your relationships and become more of who you really are.