letting go

It's Time To Let Go: Letter to a Perfectionist

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Dear perfectionist, 

I know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.  I call myself a “recovering perfectionist,” but most of the time I’m not sure what makes me different from someone who’s not “recovering”.

There are days where the drive to achieve, to do more, to get it right overwhelms me.  And there are days where I’m able to give myself more grace.  But often, I have no idea what kind of day it’ll be when I wake up in the morning. 

So when it is a tough day, I need something to hold onto. A reminder to give myself grace. And the words that have been coming to mind repeatedly have been simple: It’s time to let go.

Can I share these words with you, my perfectionist friend?

Let go of the “have to”s.

You have a to-do list that will never truly be finished.  Your thoughts tell you all the things you have to do before you can truly feel settled.

Problem is, that list will never be fully completed.

Maybe they’re saying, “I have to do this or else I don’t matter” or “I have to do this because this is the right way.”  In some way, your value or worth is tied up in completing tasks or accomplishing goals.  If you don’t finish, you’re not worthwhile.

What do your “have to”s sound like?  And are they really true?

Remember this: worth and value are inherent in who you are as a person.  You cannot attain more value by performing better, beating everyone else, being the best, producing perfection. 

Let go of expectations.

My guess is you have pretty high expectations for yourself. 

Likely you beat yourself up for the smallest of mistakes and have high standards.  You question and doubt yourself.  But those high expectations set you up for a crash when you inevitably can’t meet them. 

And what about your expectations of others?  Are they a mirror of your expectations for yourself?

Do you judge others for not doing what you’d expect them to do?  Not producing the quality of work you would do yourself?  Allowing their failures to define who they are?

Careful, perfectionist, for this will cost you relationships.  No one can live up to these high expectations, especially if they don’t know you have them.

Perhaps your expectations of others don’t even come close to the standard you set for yourself?   Why is that?

If this is true, use this knowledge to set more realistic expectations for yourself.  When you’re beating yourself up for yet one more failure, ask yourself how you’d speak to your best friend.  Their words wouldn’t be nearly as harsh as you are to yourself.

We are our own worst critic, after all.

Let go of “doing it right.”

Answer me this, perfectionist: how often have you found yourself obsessing over details? How much extra time do you end up spending on that project?

Is it worth it?  What is it costing you?  Time with your family?  Peace and calm?

What you produce is not the same as who you are.

It is okay for you to make mistakes.  Making a mistake does not mean that you are a mistake.

Let go of control.

This is a hard one for you, perfectionist.  You know that if you’re in control, what you need will get done, and it’ll get done right

But my goodness, carrying the weight of the world gets heavy sometimes.

There is so much that’s outside of your control. 

The weather.  A crisis situation you didn’t expect.  The choices and responses of others.

If you try to grasp at control in everything, you will fail.

I know letting go of control is scary.  It can feel unsafe, as if you’re giving up your security.  Focus instead on what you can control: your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, your attitudes.

Let go of all or nothing thinking.

Perfectionists tend to have pretty rigid thinking patterns.  Remember the “have to”s?

All or nothing.  Right or wrong.  Good or bad.

These false dichotomies trap you in an endless tug-of-war where you always lose.

Acknowledge the “and.”

This document can have a typo and I still did a great job.

I can love you and forget to stop at the store to pick up the thing you asked. 

I can be a good and worthwhile person and still make mistakes.

Let go of doing it all yourself.

You aren’t responsible for carrying the world on your shoulders. You aren’t Superman or Wonder Woman.  You need help.

“But if I let someone else help, what if they do it wrong?  What if it’s not the quality I know I can do myself?”

True, they might make mistakes.  They might not follow exactly the same path you would. 

But perhaps an exercise in releasing control and learning not to be perfect is to ask someone for help.  Notice how it feels when you let them complete the work you believed you had to do. 

Let your kid do the dishes one night.  If there’s a little bit of food left on them when you pull them out of the cupboard tomorrow, you’ll know you’re in a good place. 

Let go of comparison and being the best.

It’s so easy to look at someone else’s life and believe that they have it all together while you’re completely falling apart.  Social media is a beast for this, as friends post photos or comments about their most positive moments and neglect to mention the struggles.

It’s impossible to be the best at everything.  To have the perfect family vacation every time.  To have a flawless body.  To be #1 in your line of work. 

What if you thought of it as giving it your best instead of trying to be the best?

And know that your best will change in different seasons.  Your best as a mom of littles isn’t quite the same as your best was when you were single and had much more time on your hands.

Let go of letting go.

I know where your mind might go with this letter, perfectionist.  It might just be one more yardstick you apply to your life to which you’ll never measure up.

Have a little grace for yourself.  You’re not going to be perfect at letting go.

Give it a try.  A little at a time.  Celebrate your victories and learn from where you go wrong.

Let yourself experience moments of peace by not adding to the demands on your life.

You’re going to be okay.  I believe it.

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I know how it feels to be overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and exhaustion from striving to be perfect.  Did this letter resonate with you in any way?  Have you been trying fruitlessly to let go of your perfectionism and move into a place of more peace and grace?  I’d love to help.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Ann Arbor counseling office. 

Surrendering Survival Mode: Letting Go of Coping From the Past to Thrive in the Present

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A few summers ago, my family held a garage sale, which is often quite the production.  Between my parents, my sisters and I, we have 4 separate households from which to sort through overstuffed closets and forgotten storage cabinets, hoping to find hidden treasures to add to the sale pile.  I’m often surprised by just how much stuff we’re able to produce from those parts of our home we barely think about.

One of my contributions to the sale was a Keurig coffeemaker. I loved it when I first received it.  But over the years, it had gone through some wear and tear.  Coffee brewed from it didn’t taste as good, I could only use filtered water in the tank, and I had to reset the clock settings often due to a frequently tripped fuse in my home.  I also noticed I had started drinking coffee less often, replacing it with a newfound love for tea.

Once, that Keurig was my lifeline.  Working long days and early mornings created a serious need for coffee. But as I entered into a new career, I used it less and less until it just became another piece of stuff to sell in a garage sale. That coffeemaker sat on my counter for over a year with me barely using it before I realized it was time to give it up. 

I got to thinking about how we cling not just to material items, but also to relational patterns, distorted thoughts about ourselves and our world, and defense mechanisms we learned in childhood that help us cope.  Oftentimes, we start these behaviors or thought patterns because they work – they ease our pain or anxiety.  They serve us in some way or another, meeting a need or a desire that we have difficulty fulfilling in a healthy way.

Before we know it, these habits become ingrained in our minds or in our daily practice and can develop into codependent relationships, depression, anxiety, addictions, or any number of difficulties in our lives.  We can often look at these patterns and know they cause problems, but they can feel familiar and safe after being used for years.

In a different season of life, we needed these thoughts or behaviors to cope.

Think of a child who is physically abused by her parents when she speaks up to protect her brother from similar harm.  We might expect that child to learn to stay silent and spend time alone in her room, avoiding interaction with her family.  As she gets older, she may make herself feel better by turning to food, sex, perfectionism, or alcohol.  These behaviors might have provided temporary relief for her then, but if they continued to be her only source of coping into adulthood, they could easily become addictive or problematic behaviors.

Maybe you’ve experienced a similar story. As a child, you may have learned to do what you needed to do to find ways to deal with the pain.

But these thoughts and behaviors might be holding you back and creating problems in your present-day life.

As adults, we have the opportunity to choose a different path, letting go of the old behaviors and stepping into newer ways to cope.  Often, though, that process isn’t something that can happen overnight.

When I sold that hardly-used coffeemaker, it felt like I was cutting off an arm.  I could think of about 100 reasons why I needed to keep it, and I almost felt physical pain at letting it go.  But I needed to clear it out, to have more physical space and declutter my home.

If this is how I felt about a piece of junk I barely used anymore, how much more difficult is it to let go of the unhealthy ways we’ve dealt with pain in the past?

Sometimes, giving these up feels impossible.

Many times, these behaviors and thoughts are based on past experiences that are no longer threatening us now.  It is important to learn how to let go of those things that are causing more frustration, pain, or harm than they’re worth.

But we can’t let go of these life patterns without filling that space with something different.  We need to learn to adopt new behaviors and thoughts that fit in our current season of life.  We need to get rid of the things that take up that mental and emotional space in order to make room for healthy self-care, more accurate views of ourselves and our world, and restored relationships.

What thoughts and behaviors are you clinging onto that helped you at a different season of life, but need to be let go of now?  

Now I don’t think about my Keurig much.  I drink coffee less often, avoiding the caffeine because I know how it affects my anxiety.  I still find comfort in wrapping my two hands around a warm mug, but more often than not it’s filled with tea.  While this material example is minor compared to changing old coping patterns, it’s reminding me to let go, to create space in my mind and heart for the things that I need in the phase of life I’m in right now.

This article was originally posted under the title "The Curious Difficulty of Letting Go" on January 26, 2017.

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Are you in a season where letting go of past coping thoughts and behaviors feels impossible?  Do you feel ready to let those patterns go, but you're unsure about how to get started?  Have you tried different positive coping behaviors in the past, but none of them have worked?  At Restored Hope, I want to help you on your journey of learning new ways of dealing with painful emotions so that you can lead a more vibrant and wholehearted life.  I offer therapy at my office in Ann Arbor, where you can schedule your first appointment at 734.656.8191 or via email.

The Curious Difficulty of Letting Go

This past summer, my family held a garage sale, which is often quite the production.  Between my parents, my sisters and I, we have 4 separate households from which to sort through overstuffed closets and forgotten storage cabinets, hoping to find hidden treasures to add to the sale pile.  I’m often surprised by just how much stuff we’re able to produce from those parts of our home we barely think about.

One of my contributions to the sale was a Keurig coffeemaker. I loved it when I first received it.  But over the years, it had gone through some wear and tear.  Coffee brewed from it didn’t taste as good, I could only use filtered water in the tank, and I had to reset the clock settings often due to a frequently tripped fuse in my home.  I also noticed I had started drinking coffee less often, replacing it with a newfound love for tea.

Once, that Keurig was my lifeline.  Working early mornings with small children created a serious need for coffee. But as I entered into a new career, I used it less and less until it just became another piece of stuff to sell in a garage sale. That coffeemaker sat on my counter for over a year with me barely using it before I realized it was time to give it up. 

This makes me think about how we cling not just to these material items, but also to relational patterns, distorted thoughts about ourselves and our world, and defense mechanisms we learned in childhood that help us cope.  Oftentimes, we start these behaviors or thought patterns because they work – they ease our pain or anxiety.  They serve us in some way or another, meeting a need or a desire that we have difficulty fulfilling in a healthy way.

Before we know it, these habits become ingrained in our minds or in our daily practice and can develop into codependent relationships, depression, anxiety, addictions, or any number of difficulties in our lives.  We can often look at these patterns and know they cause problems, but they can feel familiar and safe after being used for years.

In a different season of life, we needed these thoughts or behaviors to cope.

Think of a child who is physically abused by her parents when she speaks up to protect her brother from similar harm.  We might expect that child to learn to stay silent and spend time alone in her room, avoiding interaction with her family.  As she gets older, she may make herself feel better by turning to food, sex, perfectionism, or alcohol.  These behaviors might have provided temporary relief for her then, but if they continued to be her only source of coping into adulthood, they could easily become addictive or problematic behaviors.

Maybe you’ve experienced a similar story. As a child, you may have learned to do what you needed to do to find ways to deal with the pain.

But these thoughts and behaviors might be holding you back and creating problems in your present-day life.

As adults, we have the opportunity to choose a different path, letting go of the old behaviors and stepping into newer ways to cope.  Often, though, that process isn’t something that can happen overnight.

When I sold that hardly-used coffeemaker, it felt like I was cutting off an arm.  I could think of about 100 reasons why I needed to keep it, and I almost felt physical pain at letting it go.  But I needed to clear it out, to have more physical space and declutter my home.

If this is how I felt about a piece of junk I barely used anymore, how much more difficult is it to let go of the unhealthy ways we’ve dealt with pain in the past?

Sometimes, giving these up feels impossible.

Many times, these behaviors and thoughts are based on past experiences that are no longer threatening us now.  It is important to learn how to let go of those things that are causing more frustration, pain, or harm than they’re worth.

But we can’t let go of these life patterns without filling that space with something different.  We need to learn to adopt new behaviors and thoughts that fit in our current season of life.  We need to get rid of the things that take up that mental and emotional space in order to make room for things like healthy self-care, more accurate views of ourselves and our world, and restored relationships.

What thoughts and behaviors are you clinging onto that helped you at a different season of life, but need to be let go of now?  

Now I don’t think about my Keurig much.  I’m in a season where I drink coffee once every few days, avoiding the caffeine because I know how it affects my anxiety.  I still find comfort in wrapping my two hands around a warm mug, but typically it’s filled with tea.  While this material example is minor compared to changing old coping patterns, it’s reminding me to let go, to create space in my mind and heart for the things that I need in the season I’m in right now.

Maybe you’re in a season where letting go of these thoughts and behaviors feels unattainable.  Or maybe you’re ready to let those patterns go, but you are unsure about how to get started.  It could be that you’ve tried different positive coping behaviors in the past, but it hasn’t felt like any of them have worked.  At Restored Hope, I want to help you on your journey of learning new ways of coping so that you can lead a more vibrant and wholehearted life.  I offer therapy in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan, and you can call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about my services and how I can best help you.