How Being Wonder Woman is Backfiring on You
Perfectionism. Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? A people pleaser? Do you have a Type A personality? Feel like you have to be “on” all the time? Do you find yourself struggling to keep your head above water with all the obligations piled on your plate? Perhaps you feel responsible for doing everything yourself so it’s done the right way? Do you have trouble delegating tasks or asking for help?
Congratulations! You are Wonder Woman. And while that sounds like a prestigious title, I must remind you that the real Wonder Woman was an Amazonian princess with special gifts (like invulnerability). You my friend are a mere mortal who, in taking on this superhuman role, has turned yourself into a mess of stress. You may not even acknowledge this to be true because this is just life, but it’s not how life has to be. The need to do it all and do it well is causing you to unknowingly contribute to your autoimmune symptoms.
I am a Recovering Perfectionist
As a health coach who specializes in working with moms with autoimmune disease, I can offer a unique perspective on this subject. I know from both my personal and professional experiences just how closely autoimmune disease and perfectionism are tied together. The women I work with tend to be in demanding jobs. They are in the medical and legal fields, finance and management, stay at home moms, and they run non-profits groups.
These women are powerful, intelligent, high achieving superwomen who take on the world. They meet and exceed everything that comes their way; from career, kids, and all of the extracurricular activities, executing their responsibilities effortlessly. Or so it seems. However, in giving all of their time and attention to everyone and everything else, they tend to neglect one area of their lives. Themselves. While it may seem noble to be so giving, she is doing so at the expense of herself.
Does this sound familiar? If so, perfectionism could be perpetuating your condition
Perfectionism and chronic illness is a bit of a chicken and egg debate. Does perfectionism lead to chronic illness? I argue that it is a contributing factor. There is definitely evidence that it hinders healing. There is much well documented research that shows ongoing stress can lead to chronic inflammation1. We know chronic inflammation drives autoimmune disease2. If chronic stress is present in your life, you will find it difficult to manage your autoimmune symptoms and it will be nearly impossible to fully heal.
We live in a go-go-go society expecting perfect results in a microwave amount of time. You are hard enough on yourself, but social media has raised the bar on the expectations we have for ourselves.
You see Suzy from high school’s Facebook post with 50+ professional quality photos of the quintessential party she just hosted for her daughter’s third birthday. The Pinterest-worthy pink and white décor, far more sophisticated that any three year old could appreciate. The hundreds of balloon arranged in arches and bunches. The dessert bar with every pink and white candy known to man, and cupcakes with clouds of perfectly coifed icing. And was that a pink unicorn in a petting zoo?
You click through each photo in awe. How did she do it? Where did she find the time? She works full time, volunteers at her son’s baseball games and is the president of the PTA. Suddenly the small family party you were planning for your own three year old son’s upcoming birthday feels shamefully unqualified to even bother documenting. It doesn’t seem like it’s enough. And suddenly you don’t feel like enough.
Juggling so many balls at once means one eventually drops and unfortunately, it always seems to be your ball that falls.
Perfectionism usually stems from “fear of judgement or disapproval of others.”3 Coupled with a Type A’s ambitions, high expectations and skills to multitask, it’s a recipe for a health disaster. A recipe we don’t even recognize as being potentially harmful because we’re so focused on everything outside of ourselves.
Tendencies of Perfectionism Which Hinder Healing:
- Worrying about other people’s opinions
- Unable to stay present. Cataloging and constantly running through all the things you need to get done takes you out of the moment you are currently in.
- High standards for yourself
- Multitasking to the point of overload
Perfectionistic tendencies can make it impossible to start something new, leading to a flight or freeze response. Do you find yourself running away from the task at hand or failing to even start? What’s the point of trying something if you cannot guarantee a positive outcome? Perfectionism can lead to taking on too much. You feel the need to do it all yourself and refuse to ask for help. Suddenly you find yourself overcommitted and there’s no way out except to bear down and white knuckle it through.
People Pleasing: Another Form of Perfectionism
People pleasers are willing to do just about anything to be seen as helpful or good. They will do everything within their power to make someone else happy, their own feelings and time be damned. This is especially true for mothers. We get so used to sacrificing our needs for our children that we disappear from our own lives. Our wants and needs become the sacrificial lamb. It’s the cost of entry to being a good mother. We think it’s necessary to put our children’s happiness first, at whatever cost. That thinking quickly starts seeping into other areas as well. Spoiler – your kids don’t need you to be perfect or to make their lives perfect and happy. They need you to be who you really are. Their mommy. Their perfectly, imperfect mom.
Perfectionism is a slow death trap and the stress you are causing yourself, day in and day out, is wreaking havoc on your health. Making matters worse, you have gotten so used to it, and you don’t even realize that you are in fact stressed out. The constant tension has become entwined into your day to day. It’s just your life. The strain has penetrated into who you are, but make no mistake about it, the stress is very much alive within and making you unwell.
If you are like me, the very idea of doing anything the wrong way, like unintentionally contributing to your autoimmune symptoms, is making you freak out right now. I understand asking you to completely change who you are seems mean, if not an impossible task, but there are ways to slow the stress train down.
Tips for Dealing with Perfectionism:
- Prioritize yourself and your health above everything else. You have to start putting yourself first if you’re going to change your health. This means doing what is best for you even if you’re afraid it’s going to inconvenience someone else.
- Learn to say no. We are so used to saying yes to everyone that we only have no’s left for what we really want. You can decline the invitation and say no to the request without being mean. If someone gets mad that you needed to say no, they probably were not asking you for the right reasons.
- Learn to ask for help. There’s no shame in delegating. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You’re not a burden for needing help and you certainly aren’t less-than for pushing the easy button. It may surprise you how much others genuinely enjoy helping you out.
- Take stock of your daily routine. Everyday make a list of the things you think you need to do. What actually needs to get done? Pick the top three things on the list and do those. Once the three are done, you are done. Feeling like you’ve accomplished your tasks for the day instead of staring down the endless list will open up more time for you to place your attention elsewhere.
- Practice Being Present. If you find your mind wandering to the things you “need” to get done, stop your brain and take in something in your immediate physical space. This will bring you back to the moment. Stop missing out on the things right in front of you and the joy you could be experiencing in the moment.
- Do Something for Yourself. This one may be the hardest, but doing something just for you is the most important on this list because it has become so foreign to you. It can be something small like listening to the music or podcast you want to hear in the car, or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. Treat yourself to a manicure or a massage, or take 10 minutes a day to read a good book. Doing something that brings you happiness without worrying about anyone else’s will do wonders for your peace of mind.
Having high standards, wanting others to be happy and staying busy are good things, but not when they come at the expense of your health. Let this be a reminder that nobody is perfect, and no one expects you to be either. Give yourself permission to slow down, say no and self indulge just a little. You may find it’s just what the doctor ordered.