Becoming a caregiver can activate a lot of emotions. Particularly when women become responsible for the care of a parent, I have noticed how easy it is to get caught in the perfectionism trap. It becomes important to do a perfect job, to be a perfect caregiver…adding an extra layer of stress.
I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t familiar, at least to some extent, with the notion of not feeling good enough.
Today I’d like to share a story of how the need to do it right can contribute to overstepping boundaries.
In the last little while I’ve been counselling and supporting women who are navigating that life transition piece of becoming a caregiver.
The story of Joan (name has been changed) illustrates how perfectionism, or “extremely high standards” can be driven by the need for approval of others.
Joan’s mother is a widow in her late 70s. In the months, she’s been struggling with vision loss and recently she broke her ankle. Because mother hasn’t felt very safe to go out on the streets alone or to do her shopping, Joan has stepped in and has been taking care of providing her with groceries. Now that mother is fairly immobilized with a broken ankle, Joan has taken over the cleaning of her apartment as well.
When Joan came to see me she was feeling very frustrated. Her mother was complaining to everybody that all she was doing was cleaning. Here I am trying so hard and all my mother does is complain, Joan shared with a mixture of sadness, anger and confusion.
Then the other day Joan and mother had a big fight about mother’s housecoat. In her efforts to keep everything clean and tidy, Joan had also decided to wash mother’s robe. It was then that she noticed that the robe was starting to look a little worn and ratty.
She told mother that she thought she needed a new housecoat. But mother didn’t agree. Not only did she love that housecoat – it had been a gift from Joan’s father. She thought it was still good enough. Joan spent about 30 min. arguing but couldn’t sway mother.
So she decided to take matters into her own hands. The next time she visited, she replaced the housecoat with a new robe and took the old one with her for disposal. Instead of being grateful and pleased about the gift, Joan’s mother was furious and Joan felt very unappreciated.
As we worked together, Joan was able to identify what had happened. She’d been afraid that someone would come and visit her mother and see her old worn-out robe and decide that Joan was neglecting her parent.
Her cleaning frenzies had been motivated by the same fear. So rather than enjoying time with mother and keeping her company, she’d been driving herself crazy cleaning the apartment from top to bottom… even though her mother had asked her to stop.
Have you ever experienced anything similar?
Have you felt embarrassed by the behavior or circumstances of someone close to you because you felt it was a direct reflection on you?
Perhaps you worried about being judged a poor parent, an incompetent pet owner or a “not good enough” daughter or son. While this is a good example of how the desire for approval can activate perfectionism, it also illustrates the loss of boundaries.
The next time you feel an urge to step in and fix something or somebody, or take care of something for somebody that isn’t really your responsibility, stop and take a deep breath.
In fact take several deep breaths. Then connect with this mantra or truth:
“I don’t have the power over, control of, or responsibility for other people’s lives. I was taught that I had these powers. This is a lie I now tell myself.”
Of course you are responsible if you’re caring for an infant or child. But as the child grows and becomes more independent or when you deal with adults who have full mental capacity you are no longer responsible for their well-being, appearance or feelings.
While you may mean well when you step in and fix something, as the story of Joan illustrates, you’re not really doing the person a favour. Furthermore while it may look like it’s all about them, upon closer examination, you will most likely discover that you’re meeting a need of your own.
If you’d like to ease the stress that perfectionism can create, I invite you to check out my new tele-seminar series about “Embracing the gifts of imperfection and letting go of perfectionism” in the Events section.
As always I welcome your comments and feedback to this blog post.