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I was in a busy shopping mall over the weekend and carols were ringing, booming down through the spectacularly shiny stars and golden ornaments hanging from every rafter, urging the masses to buy, buy, buy. Every inch of space was filled with frantic shoppers hoping to find just the right gift for everyone on their list and maybe something for themselves as well. Peace on earth was miles away and stress was running high.

I spotted a young boy, about 4 years, old darting through the crowds followed by his parents who were trying to maneuver a stroller holding a wriggling toddler. The little boy clearly had all the wonder and excitement of the season. He just knew that Santa was coming soon and there would be special treats the elves had made just for him. The loud music and sparkling lights of the mall were all part of the magic since he had no list of relatives to buy for and no bills to pay.

Suddenly he took a spill and landed flat, bursting into tears. “You’re OK!” his dad announced. As the boy continued to cry, his toddler sibling soon joined in. “Give Anna a cookie” the mom snapped at the dad. “It’s OK Billy. You’re not hurt. Do you want a cookie?” Both parents frantically rifled through their giant bag looking for sweets. These parents were convinced that cookies were the magic thing that would fix whatever it was that brought her children’s tears.

Many of us often think that cookies are the thing that will take away the pain. We eat cookies (or cake, or potato chips) when we really want a hug but one isn’t offered and we don’t know how to ask.  We do all kinds of things to avoid uncomfortable feelings. We drink alcohol, watch television, shop, over exercize, over work, gossip, or focus on trying to fix someone else. This last one is usually motivated by an inability to tolerate our own discomfort about another person’s pain. Most of us have been fans of all of these activities at one time or another but I find that none of them really work in the long run.

Life is full of things that cause painful feelings. People we love hurt us or leave us or die and we feel intense sadness and grief. Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn’t and wish we hadn’t and feel embarrassment, guilt, or shame. When things don’t happen as we hoped or expected, we feel disappointment or anger. There is war and terrorism, pollution, starvation, and injustice in the world and we feel fear. When we can’t tolerate a feeling and engage in behaviors that we think will take the pain away, we often discover that we’ve only medicated or distracted ourselves from it for awhile. Those feelings lie in wait for the next time and they incubate and grow. And often, the very things we do to try to avoid the uncomfortable feelings only result in more pain: the guilt of a drunken spree; the shame and disgust of having finished the whole chocolate cake; the embarrassment and regret of hours wasted watching MTV or reruns of ER and Friends.

Many of us are afraid to feel the pain because we think it will be overwhelming and will never go away. But it does pass and we can stand it, especially if we can seek some support while having those feelings. Tolerating the discomfort and exploring what is truly there is the way of getting through it. Hugs from our loved ones can help a lot and usually just talking about what hurts can make it feel better.

Especially in this holiday season when so many uncomfortable feelings can surface, I wish for everyone all the love and support you need and so deserve to get through this time without polishing off all the Christmas cookies yourself!

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I’m a recovering perfectionist. I used to think that if you looked up the word perfectionism in the dictionary you might see a picture of me but what you actually find is something like: “A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.”  If you’re anything like me, you know it can be an exhausting way to live.

Perfectionists, while sometimes being hard on others, most often place the highest expectations of perfection on themselves. These are the folks who keep a spotless house and belong to a gym and actually work out there. Daily. They get straight A’s in school, have wonderful manners, and they’re every boss’s dream because they’ll stay late and go the extra mile to do a job perfectly. Their hair is perfectly coiffed, their clothes in perfect taste, and they’re likely to show up with freshly baked cookies. I think it’s safe to say that Martha Stewart is a perfectionist.

But sometimes a perfectionists looks like a couch potato. The fear of not doing something perfectly can easily translate into not doing it at all. Perfectionists often present as your classic underachiever or someone who continually starts projects but abandons them before finishing lest they risk producing something that is less than superb. If a perfectionist is convinced they can’t obtain the perfect six-pack or buns of steel, they’re likely to just give it all up and pack on the pounds. If they can’t get an A in the class, it’s best to drop out entirely.

Either way, perfectionism can be a debilitating thing to deal with and difficult to recover from. One of the things I’ve come to understand about the perfectionist is that most of us don’t really want to be perfect. We all know that simply isn’t possible. But we do want everyone else to think we’re perfect. There’s a deep seated belief that if we don’t do it perfectly (whatever “it” is) then we won’t get approval which equals love. And I believe that deep down, everything we do (or don’t do) is on some level about trying to feel loved and accepted, a basic human need.

But of course it’s our very humanness, inherent in all the mistakes we make and all the ways that we fall short, that makes us truly lovable. Don’t we often resent those people who seem to be so perfect? How can you feel OK about your wrinkled shirt or your store bought contribution to the potluck when you’re standing next to a Martha Stewart? I think that’s why we all liked her better after her fall from grace. She’s not so perfect after all! But even understanding this, for the perfectionist it takes a great deal of willingness and a lot of love and support to shift from being “displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards” to really knowing that “good enough” is good enough.

Welcome to my Blog! I’m excited to begin sharing with you some of my many thoughts and feelings about the great challenges and even greater successes that are inherent in being a human being in our world today. As a psychotherapist, a mother of two grown children, and a person who has too much formal education and has packed a lot of hard living into her 51 years, I’ve had a great deal of opportunity to witness and experience many of those challenges and triumphs.

But I’m terrified about blogging as well! What if you don’t like my writing style? What if the fabulous wisdom I think I have to offer is nothing you haven’t already read in someone else’s book? Suppose I’m just not interesting enough for anyone to want to check out what I might be blogging about? Oh! I feel my perfectionism rearing its ugly head tempting me to give up before I begin!

But I’m going to be brave and believe that you can relate to the subjects I’ll write about. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had ideas that you always wanted to try out but didn’t because of fear that you wouldn’t do it well enough. In any case, I hope that you’ll stick with me as I start to write (in just a few paragraphs!) some things that I trust will help you think and feel more deeply. Stories that will make us all feel more connected to each other. I know I won’t do it perfectly but I do expect that as I practice I’ll get better at it and as my blog title suggests, I believe it’s all about progress, not perfection.

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