As parents, we want our kids to be authentic—to recognize their unique gifts and use them to create a meaningful life for themselves, rather than caving in to peer pressure because they lack confidence or don’t set boundaries.
Perfectionism makes it difficult for our children to set boundaries and be their authentic selves because perfectionists are more focused outward on others, rather than inward on their feelings and inner knowing.
As perfectionists, “we can’t always feel what we want, so we rely on information gathered by looking to others—what’s popular or what our friends like. We desire the belongings/lifestyle of people whom we admire, mistakenly believing that having those items or copying those behaviours will bring us the confidence and traits we esteem in those other people.
We compare ourselves to others and feel worthy if we measure up, and woefully inadequate if we don’t. Likewise, we feel superior when our comparison determines we’re better than others. For example, we may see ourselves as better at parenting, or building a successful business, or getting good grades.
Being unable to feel my feelings accurately meant that I didn’t have a robust sense of my “self,” or strong self-esteem or self-worth. Self-esteem and feeling worthy as human beings are contingent upon being able to feel. This includes not only recognizing our emotions but also having the ability to feel associated physical sensations such as heaviness in our chest when we’re sad or knots in our stomach when we’re anxious. We can then instinctively use these felt sensations as a guide for our actions—to act authentically and to set boundaries when others want us to do something that doesn’t feel right for us.
For example, the ability to feel your fatigue signals a need to stop and take a rest. If we’re aware of and able to feel the exhaustion, we’re more likely to heed our body’s message and stop for a rest. However, perfectionists are often more acutely aware of their mental goals, and their tendency to drive themselves often causes them to override the physical sensations of fatigue. They may not even be consciously aware of fatigue as they push onward relentlessly. This can lead them to put work goals or others’ needs before their own self-care.
Now let’s look at a parenting example for how your children can instinctively using feelings as a guide. Imagine that your daughter is on a date with someone who feels ready to kiss her before she’s ready. If she’s aware of and able to feel her body sensations, she can heed the anxious knots in her stomach or other signals, listen to her body and say, “I’m not ready.” If she’s unaware of or unable to feel her sensations, she’s left deciding what to do based on other influences (e.g., peer behaviour, her date’s desires) that may not be congruent with her true feelings. The ability to feel our body sensations is necessary for identifying our own needs and meeting them; the inability to feel them is crippling.”*
What Can You Do?
Our children stay connected to their feelings when we allow them to express all of their feelings, even the uncomfortable ones such as anger and disappointment. We can also help our kids stay connected to their feelings by drawing their attention to their feelings in various circumstances. For example, if your child gets selected for the swim team, instead of saying, “great!”, you might ask “how does that feel?” Focusing on feelings rather than analyzing a situation helps us stay connected to our feelings.
The key to setting boundaries is being connected to and fully feeling our emotions and body sensations.
*Excerpt from Freeing Your Child from Self-Criticism and Perfectionism, © Colleen Adrian, 2018
If you recognize the pattern of perfectionism in your family and are ready to break the pattern for yourself and your children, I’d love to chat. You can book a free 30 minute discovery session here to find out more about what I offer, and whether it might be a good fit for you.