Aug 1, 2021
This week's episode I explore the sensations in my body when I feel the perfectionist urge arise. I'm getting really good at decoding my body talk.
I used to think I needed to do everything perfectly. I was
raised by a perfectionist, who not so fun for me really did excel
at so many things. Me, much less so. But I absorbed so many of
those messages. My all or nothing brain is slowly and deliberately
rebuilding my faith, love and compassion for my completely
perfectly imperfect self and finding lots of healing along the
All you A students in pain, this is for you <3
Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50] Hi everyone. It's Deb with Move With Deb the podcast, and this is episode number 25. So today the lump in my throat is back. I finished settling into my new temporary place and getting ready to focus my energy, back onto myself and my life and my work. And I sat down to pay my dad's bills. The tension in my neck reappeared with ferocity. I could just feel my fears about making a mistake, of not doing this activity perfectly and it showed back up and it takes root in my body.
[00:01:31]And it's a thought. I have to do this perfectly. And the felt sense of that thought is somatically expressed in my body. It feels like someone is choking me. This pain and discomfort has actually been gone for a few days while I was settling in and my attentions were scattered and I was focusing on building my schedule and connecting with my friends and hanging out with this fabulous cat named Mack.
[00:02:01]But this activity and my caretaking duties feel really high stakes to me. And my body agrees. You can't mess this up. Even though that's kind of an impossible mandate. And it's also completely untrue. There's a million ways to do anything. One actually isn't necessarily better than another. But tell my brain that.
[00:02:27]This is the part where my perfectionist self is expressing my fear and desires for control.
[00:02:34] I see me. And I love me. And I am telling me. That it's okay. Because it is okay. This fear is the very well trained part of my brain that has a misguided belief that doing everything perfectly is what keeps me safe.
[00:02:53]That is a lie. But it's a comforting myth. One reinforced by my childhood, my watching my mother excel with ever increasing obsession and fixations on doing things right and well. We can, you know, go into her childhood, think about why she learned that. And go on and on back through our family's history and culture and come up with plenty of good reasons why this was the safety tool of choice. Perfectionism.
[00:03:27]It's reinforced by dominant culture that says successful people are rich or thin or white or productive. And it's been a mental muscle that I've exercised in the past when I've been confronted by fear. And I've created a condition response that fear is not something I can experience. The key to beating fear away is to be perfect and good. And as a kid who grew up fat, I also felt like I was kind of automatically not good. I had to be always performing goodness and perfectionism to overcome the "failure of my body".
[00:04:10]Dr Sarno, the author of Healing Back Pain, the Mindbody Prescription, and The Divided Mind, discovered in his rehabilitation program at NYU, many people suffering with back pain and all kinds of chronic pain, many of them shared similar traits of perfectionism, good ism and being helpers.
[00:04:32]This inner tension T, for "type T", are people who often are in resistance to their emotions, don't make time for their own feelings because of a sense of greater responsibility for others. The feeling that even small things are high stakes. And especially today, we can amplify that feeling with COVID anxiety and small things do feel like they're potentially high stakes. The repressing or resistance of emotions creates a message to the nervous system that these thoughts and feelings are dangerous and a threat to our safety. The repression of normal human emotion sets the stage for the mind body to create a distraction, to the felt sense that we see as unsurvivable.
[00:05:25] The brain and nervous system are our powerful allies. They are always protecting us. Even from ourselves. And we train or are trained in these patterns over our lifetime. It's not like we are taught the practice of emotional allowance or emotional processing by society or our families. It's often the opposite.
[00:05:52]Some of us chronic pain folks, or what I call myself a high somaticizer, we feel things deeply and quickly. I jokingly call myself a human tuning fork. Some chronic pain people are master repressors and feel safer living in their heads, detaching from their body because of trauma or habit or validation. And there's also this new understanding of neurodivergence and the spectrum that, that falls on, which often comes with it, a sensory sensitivity.
[00:06:27]Whatever it is, we practice becomes our cognitive somatic unconscious practice that our brain automates, because that is what brains do. So if we want a different experience, we need to engage in our body mind in a different way.
[00:06:44]There's a great list of personality traits from Dr. Sarno in the TMS Wiki. I see myself in so many of these. Perfectionism Good-ism, people pleasing, legalist, stoic, anxiety and fear, low self-esteem hostility and aggression. and dependency. I will post a link to this TMS traits that is on the TMS Wiki, which is a great resource for working on mind, body pain and getting to understand a little bit more about the mind body connection and relationship. https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/TMS_Personality_Traits
[00:07:22]When we pair this list with the concept of polyvagal theory, the mind's ability to create any experience in the body becomes clear. The brain and the nervous system are interpreters of all sensory input, including thoughts and feelings. The body responds to threats by going into fight flight or freeze mode. Some people also add in fawn, which I think of as people pleasing. And it's like a personality mechanism for creating safety. So I'm not really sure that it's an actual autonomic nervous system response itself. But it's definitely correlated with hypervigilance and managing PTSD and fear. It's a strategy.
[00:08:07]I'm not always sure that it's important to be so specific about getting all the details right, because I think it's just about understanding the larger mechanism that is really powerful. Our mind creates thoughts. They can be thoughts in relationship to a life circumstance like paying bills. Or to a physical sensation.
[00:08:30] And our body has a felt sense of that thought. Often the thought or the felt sense are unconscious. We think of these things just as facts like the circumstance, but they aren't really, they're just really fast conditioned responses.
[00:08:47] Which means we can slow everything down and uncondition the response. Which really means that we condition a new response. One that is more neutral or positive for the nervous system. Or another way of saying that less reactive, less likely to send the body into fight flight freeze mode. Note, our nervous system response is vitally important for our survival.
[00:09:21]And cognitively, I can recognize that paying a bill, isn't dangerous, but somatically, my body is going to be responding to the unconscious thought or belief. And the belief is just a thought that we have practiced until it's become part of our self concept.
[00:09:41]In this situation, I can recognize a lot of thoughts that are arising. Thoughts like, I can't fuck this up. I'm responsible for my father's wellbeing. Being nervous that this check might bounce, if I haven't accounted for all of the outstanding bills or so I also have thoughts about being lonely, separate from others, being the one who takes care of other people but I'm not being taken care of. So all of those thoughts go into the mix of my nervous system. And if I don't make room for the feelings that arise to be felt, my system will create resistance, to what I'm telling myself cannot be allowed to be experienced. And oftentimes we create that resistance because we are in belief, that if I think of thought, it must be true.
[00:10:35] So uncoupling the idea that thoughts are true, is really an important part of this healing process. And I might even have anger that I'm not willing to express or be acknowledged.
[00:10:51]There is a great review of perfectionism and chronic pain from the Institute for Chronic Pain. And I'll add that into the show notes. So I'm reading from this article, it says let's define perfectionism. Perfectionism is a trait of an individual that involves two components. Holding oneself to standards that are never quite attainable. Or at least for not very long and the compulsive need to nevertheless, try to attain those accessibly high standards.
[00:11:20] So the perfectionist is never quite satisfied with what they do and can't seem from trying to make what they do better in some way. If on those infrequent occasions, the perfectionist is satisfied. It usually only lasts until they see some flaw in the original project and attempts to correct it. Or only if they move on to the next thing on the to-do list.
[00:11:45]I'm going to end
reading there. But there's a lot about high standards,
compulsivity, not celebrating yourself. And the myth that doing
something perfectly will result in a feeling that you want to be
having. And will result in the absence of fear or the absence of an
unpleasant emotion that you don't want to experience.
[00:12:11]I find a lot of overlap of perfectionism and OCD. It can often feel like a compulsion. The ego threat. of not doing everything right. Or the belief in the myth of doing everything right, whatever that is, will provide the talisman of protection and safety.
[00:12:31]We certainly have a lot of bio-psycho-social factors that go into reinforcing that belief. From poverty, shaming. To our education system of grading and praising students with high grades. The lack of safety nets for people struggling with either physical or mental health. The complete mess that is diet culture, anti-fat illness, racism, patriarchy, and this society that proclaimed some bodies are more valuable and worthy than other bodies.
[00:13:01] It's not a surprise that we aren't trusting, relaxed or confident about our own survival. And we create rituals to give us the illusion of safety and perfectionism is one that could be highly rewarded, but comes at a high cost, our mental and physical wellbeing. So, what is the answer?
[00:13:24]For me, the answer is this work, developing the skill of conscious, loving self friendship, and learning to tell myself the story of my own safety. Even when I might be in disbelief. Learning the meta skill of emotional allowance and emotional processing. Moving myself out of the habit of reacting to how I think things should be and at the very least, accepting the reality of what is, even if I am working towards future change. Developing a practice of surrendering the past into the past. Practicing skills like somatic tracking, leaning into neutral or pleasant sensations, creating a practice of outcome independence. Present and future focusing without falling into the dreamy habit of perfectionism future fantasy. Really understanding that life will always be 50 50. Because only in a dream state, do we get to believe that if all things go perfectly, I will never have a negative feeling.
[00:14:37] Deciding that all feelings are friends. And all feelings are for me. They are not created by other people. They are the felt sense of my thinking. Which might be about other people. But it is my internal communication system being activated. It is useful to practice how to listen. To be willing to see the thoughts that I'm thinking. Even if they bring up feelings, I don't like, like fear, shame, embarrassment, and so on. Being willing to feel these feelings is what allows my body to relax. And not experience them as threats. No threat. No alarm. No need for protection.
[00:15:25]And it's a practice. Practicing requires the experience of not doing something well. Not doing things well, really sucks for a perfectionist. And yet, it is the antidote. Doing things not well and loving ourselves through it. Finding joy where there is joy, imperfect, messy, maybe confusing joy and really filling ourselves up with it. Being audacious enough to lean into our attention, fear and freak outs, not as stuff that needs to be stuffed down and controlled, but just human stuff that we take along with us while we live our lives ,while we pursue the lives that we want to be living. Paying bills badly, making mistakes, learning from them and knowing we will definitely make future mistakes. Celebrating the fuck out of mistakes that are made that are low stakes, and we can see that and let ourselves off the hook. Every time we fuck up and care for ourselves through it. We create exquisite safety for our human experience.
[00:16:39]If you go back to episode 10. Move with ease a practice for transitions. I described doing a thought dump and how allowing our unconscious thoughts to be seen is an important part of this practice. After writing this episode and having a quick cry midway through, I actually feel a lot better. My throat feels so much better. And I don't need to be perfect or pain-free to teach what I've learned. I learn and relearn this work because I am just like you. Full of fear and doing it anyway. Healing myself and healing in relationship with others.
[00:17:16]And I've had a wild few days doing a bunch of physical activity. Three days in a row and surprisingly or not, my body is not flared up and freaked out. I feel sore, but it's an okay sore. So I'll say more about that next week, I think, unless I come up with something else.
[00:17:34] But stay tuned for more thoughts on neuro inflammation and the mind body process around movement and pain.
[00:17:41]Always, if you want to know how to work with me, please visit my website, Debmalkin.com I'm currently offering my eight week pain recovery program. Explore your own embodied map. Learn how to apply these tools of awareness, somatic tracking, building neural pathways, as well as exploring graded exposure and goal setting around movement and life. This is about the life you want to live. The life of your choosing. And emotions are part of that life.