Many of the clients I see express the need to be perfect. They fear making mistakes and feel horrible when they mess up. Some of these folks even berate themselves for making trivial, largely inconsequential mistakes like parking a few inches over the line of a parking space or making a few typoss on a blog (NOTE TO EDITOR: please don’t correct my typos in today’s blog!).
Some clients with sever obsessive compulsive disorder rachet this concern up to the point that they spend hours reviewing everything they right to insure a complete absence of errors. Others re-read passages from books over and over again to be sure that they remember every single detail. Still others consume large blocks of time arranging everything in their closets in perfect alignment with identical spacing between each item.
If you’re a perfectionist, I strongly recommend that you get a grip! Stop viewing all mistakes as terrible. I can guarantee you that I’ve learned more from making mistakes than I ever would have if I didn’t make them.
Have you ever awakened at 3:00 am and found your mind racing? You might dwell on making sure you don’t forget some important work issue or start organizing your day to be sure you have time to finish everything you need to.
Or then again, your mind might start focusing on thoughts about how horrible it would be to have a lousy night’s sleep. Such thoughts include:
A couple of days ago, we wrote about exposure. The opposite of exposure is avoidance. We touch on the topic of avoidance fairly often in this blog, but it’s been years since we focused on the topic exclusively.
That’s too long because avoidance is arguably the most important thing for you to understand in order to successfully battle anxiety and OCD, or for that matter, most types of emotional disorders. Humans have an understandable desire to avoid feeling distress, anxiety, sadness, and upsets of all kinds. If you’re like most people, when you experience these feelings, you’ll do almost anything to get rid of them. Common strategies include:
Most people, who have more anxiety than they want, work hard to rid themselves of their anxiety. They try relaxation training, meditation, medication, and more, all in a desperate attempt to conquer uncomfortable, distressing feelings. And who can blame them? After all, isn’t that the goal of therapy—to rid yourself of anxiety, uncertainty, doubts, and discomfort once and for all?
Well, yes and no. Of course most therapists would love for you to be able to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful all of the time. However, that goal isn’t possible for anybody. Life is full of unpredictable, often random, dangers, hassles, and perils. Therefore, if you have the goal of eliminating these things, you will almost certainly fail.
So, Laura responded to my blog on Six Reasons for Not Treating Your Anxiety or OCD with one of her own blogs that may have helped you rethink your “treatment interfering beliefs” in a more productive way. If so, you’re ready to move ahead, right? Well, not quite.
I think it’s also wise to take one more important step. Specifically, I’d like you first to consider accepting where you’re at, problems and all. That’s right; evaluate yourself as acceptable and OK as you are.
Realize that you didn’t ask to have problems with anxiety and OCD. Rather, you have these problems for lots of good reasons. You may have had genes that tilted you in this direction. Or perhaps you experienced one or more traumas. Maybe your parents were overly critical and overbearing. On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t provide the structure you needed as a child. Perhaps you grew up in an unsafe neighborhood. People acquire anxiety and OCD for these reasons and many more. They pretty much never become anxious because they “wanted” to have these problems.
Yet, many clients judge and evaluate themselves very harshly just because they have some problems that they didn’t ask for in the first place. They see themselves as weak, incompetent, and horribly flawed. Thus, they tell themselves that they absolutely MUST overcome their problems. In addition, they should do so quickly and completely.
You read blogs all of the time exhorting you to get treatment for anxiety, OCD, and other emotional problems. But have you heeded that advice and gotten treatment? For many people, the answer is that they haven’t.
You might wonder why that would be the case. After all, if you have a problem, you should venture out and do something about it, right?
I’d like to suggest that if you’ve had significant problems with anxiety or OCD, yet avoided getting treatment for years, you’ve probably done so for some pretty good reasons. And it makes more sense to take a look at your reasons for not seeking treatment than to beat yourself up for not having done something about your problem. There are six major reasons or beliefs we’ve heard people give for avoiding treatment. See if any of these apply to you:
Human beings are graced with having minds that can use language and thoughts to learn from the past and anticipate future events. How glorious! We can actually manage to read about various threats, calamities, and hazards—and sometimes actually prevent them from happening or minimize their effects when they do.
Therefore, we can substantially reduce a variety of risks by learning to drive the speed limit, use seat belts, avoid excessive sun exposure, avoid known toxins, engage in regular exercise, and eat healthy.
All of these things are great to do. Unfortunately, humans also have a habit of taking things too far. We exaggerate our minds’ ability to predict the future and prevent what we fear from happening. For example, some people refuse to consider locating to the southwest (including our lovely part of the country New Mexico) because they are afraid of snakes. Well in the 25 years of my residency, I’ve only seen two snakes and I walk or jog quite frequently. The chances of actually getting bit by a snake are extremely unlikely—much less than getting hit by a car or having a heart attack.
Kids don’t generally develop anxiety disorders all on their own. Oh sure, genes and biology have some influence, but these factors largely just predispose kids in the direction of acquiring problems with anxiety. The wrong messages can push both anxiously disposed kids as well as otherwise normal kids in the direction of struggling with anxiety for the rest of their lives.
If you’re a parent or someone who cares about kids, you just might want to know what type of messages instill insecurity. I’ll start by laying out three common mistakes that parents make; in other words, the kinds of messages you “don’t” want to give them:
I remember when e-mail started to become one of the primary ways people communicated with one another, and my mother refused to even consider learning how to use it. Sure, she was getting older, but she still had a very sharp, highly intelligent mind. I wondered why in the world she wouldn’t embrace this new, obviously more convenient way of communicating.
She wouldn’t even consider looking at a totally simplistic device that had but one function: sending and receiving e-mail. She was also a rather stubborn person so I thought perhaps that was the problem. But, upon more reflection and observation, I realized that she simply was fearful, almost phobic about anything that even remotely seemed “technological” in nature. I also concluded that she wasn’t going to listen to me and that she would spend the remainder of her days on this earth avoidant of and resistant to new technologies. Oh well, I figured that was her right, even though I thought she should probably find a way to deal with her fear.
No one really knows why there seems to be an incredible rise in the rates of people with autism. Conservative estimates point to a 300% increase. Some of the increase is likely due to better diagnosis. And we know that autism runs in families and appears to have a genetic component. Others point to environmental stressors such as increased exposure to pesticides and hormones. But there is little certainty in the scientific community about what is happening.
Children and people with mild autism sometimes appear to others as self-contained and aloof. Others may assume that those with autism are pretty calm, cool, and collected. However, they are likely very wrong.
Those with autism may suffer increased levels of anxiety and stress because of interpersonal isolation. They feel different from other people and worry that they may be disliked or misunderstood. This may lead the child or adult with autism to withdraw or avoid. This lack of contact with others can lead to more awkwardness and lack of opportunities to practice social interactions.