Getting to the Roots of Perfectionism

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jtkunley

I want to try to describe to you what is going on in our house. I had a lovely post last Monday about love on the move in our house. It is. But also, it is hard-won.

Friday afternoon I had my first counseling session. We talked a lot about the adoption and my perfectionism. She suggested some reasoning behind it and I did not connect the dots at all with what she said. But, spending the weekend with it, I see that it’s the truth.

My perfectionism is not so much a need for approval, although I do think that’s a resulting addiction of perfectionism. The perfectionism, at its roots, is a way to avoid negative emotions, both in myself and in others. I will go through hell and high water so you don’t get mad at me or be disappointed in me. I would not know what to do with such emotions.

I  do not like feeling angry, out of control, disappointed, or sad. These are not ok emotions, I tell myself. I am a good girl. I will forgive quickly and have patience and move on. So I did the perfect thing, the right thing, instead of the true thing so no one felt anything bad.

This worked out nicely for everyone up until now because when I tried to be perfect, I got good grades, and put others first, and volunteered, and worked extra, and said nice things, and went the extra mile. They were happy, I was happy and we were all good. Except I wasn’t being true to myself. I was doing things I didn’t really want to do. I was angry inside and stuffed it all in because I didn’t know what else to do.

God forbid I would actually say no to a request or confront someone when they did something wrong. That might make them mad and that is not ok at all!

So here comes Jacob. He actually doesn’t care if I’m happy or sad. He has zero filter and enough issues that whatever he is feeling is coming out. There was no more room for me to manage his feelings. I’ve been trying to be a perfect mom with the perfect meal he likes and the perfect clothes and the perfect toys and I’ll be patient and kind and guess what? He still gets mad and frustrated and doesn’t do what I say. This makes me so entirely angry and I’ve been trying to stuff it down, really, but there was no more room for stuffing.

I feel like I’m imploding. My joy is gone. I can’t feel any good because I’m so busy stuffing the bad.

Sunday morning after the 3rd time telling him to do something and him ignoring him, I yelled a guttural yell I have never yelled in my entire life. Frankly, it surprised and scared me.

I’m not exactly proud of yelling, but I am proud for once in my life that the emotions on the inside matched the actions on the outside. At the very least, it was my truth in the moment.

And the big surprise to me was no one hated me the rest of the day. No one turned on me. In fact, everyone got their stuff together for the rest of the day.

I went to bed Sunday night in tears. I was trying to tell Scott all I was seeing—that Jacob is showing me who I really am. How he exhausts me and I’m not really sure I can do it. He tells me of course that I’m being hard on myself, but I feel like I have to be right now because I’m starting to wonder who I really am. And I don’t mean that in a way to say I’m lost and should I really be in this family and am I really Christian? I’m just truly wondering what life would look like if I wasn’t hiding from all the emotions.

I have to learn how to bring my true self to the table, not just with Jacob, but with everyone. I need to learn how to handle all the negative emotions in a healthy manner. I need to learn to feel the emotions first, actually.

I think the Lord has been trying to teach me this over the years through Brene Brown and Emily Freeman and Momastery. But I think it’s going to take parenting a little boy for me to learn it.

I thought when we adopted that we’d be saving a little boy, but as it turns out, I think he’s saving me.

Singing with the Psalmist: For Days that Feel Downcast

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I’m never sure when I stop writing if it’s because I’m overwhelmed or because I get overwhelmed because I stop writing, but I always know that after not writing for several days, I am overwhelmed.

I’m not stressed and I’m not crying and I’m functioning ok, but I want to say with the Psalmist, Why, oh my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Somewhere down deep, I feel like God is writing a bigger story in me.  It begins somewhere with a little girl who was desperate for approval and attention.  Even though I had a wonderful, Christ-loving, stable family, I came into teenagehood craving approval.

I didn’t get it through promiscuity or being loud or rebellion.  I tried through perfection.

Grades were everything to me, trying to have the right clothes like the popular girls, getting the boy I liked’s attention or the teacher’s attention or really, anyone’s attention.  I wanted to be accepted. I wanted everyone to be proud of me.

This need for perfection led to an addiction of approval from people.  We all know that spiraled for years until someone finally took me up on it, giving me as much attention as I wanted.  He craved the power of seduction and I craved being seduced.  I’m not proud of it.  It doesn’t feel good to be desperate, particularly when there was no reason to feel that way.  I had parents, family, a husband, and children that all adored me.  But it was never enough.

God saved me from myself that season and taught me that he alone was enough.  He loved me until my heart was overflowing.  Oh, how he loves us, I would sing with tears rolling down my face.  And I believed it. Full and content and overflowing until I was ready to pour it out on a little boy who needed to learn the same kind of love.

Even though He is shouting through feathers that He loves me and is with me, some days I still feel that emptiness. I’m pouring out and it feels like I’m not getting filled back up fast enough. I don’t think I  have learned yet about the manna–about the every day pouring in.  I’m trying.  I open my Bible and I journal and I listen and it seems like it should all be working.  But these past days, I still feel down. I feel like I can’t hear God quite as loudly.  Oh my soul, why are you downcast?

God is not a geanie or a formula. Have I not yet learned that I can’t do all the right things and have it come out just so?

I don’t have a positive conclusion for you today, just an honest reflection.

Some days I burst with his love, and then other days I sing with the Psalmist.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

 

 

A Call to Deeper Waters

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A new online community was born this week.  Deeper Waters is a sisterhood of women who want to go deeper in their faith, marriage, friendships, creativity and motherhood.

The founder is Denise J. Hughes, a university writing professor. She tells the story of how she prayed to the Lord for his Church to come together.  She has traveled around the country meeting women and has felt led to bring them together in an online space to encourage other women. Deeper Waters is the answer to her prayers.

The hope is that everyone is welcome, everyone is encouraged and everyone grows in their walk with Jesus. It’s just my kind of place. In fact, I’ll be sharing some stories over there in the coming months. If you’re reading this, I think it’s your kind of place too.  Meet you over there?

 

Love on the Move

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Love is on the move.

When I wrote this post about our 6 week update, the night before I had a bit of a breakdown.  I see clearly now that that evening was simply a step in the grieving process.  Even though we have gained so much through this adoption, we have lost too.  Jacob lost his family, our family of four is gone and the family of five that I thought we would be is not.  I had to allow myself to give up those things.  I needed to say goodbye.

Since then, the Lord has asked something of me. He asked, “Are you ok even if Jacob never changes?  Do you love him for who he is not how he performs or how he treats you?”

His questions rattled me.

We have (rightly) been working so hard to get him the help he needs.  His issues are not small.  Educational, medical, emotional, spiritual.  We have big mountains to climb.  But he is not a project.  He is a person that we are meant to love.  And true love is unconditional.

It loves even when he sins, even when he doesn’t change, even when he doesn’t trust, even when he turns his nose at good gifts, even when he’s ungrateful, even when he doesn’t want to do the work to get better.  We must love at all times.  Because that’s how God loves us.

I thought I was ready for this adoption–that I had this love thing figured out. I have learned the past few years how God loves me and delights in me, but I don’t think I truly knew how much his love covered. He is showing me he loved me the same when I got my act together and was ready to receive that love as when I couldn’t understand his love and sinned against him.

My progress didn’t grow his love, but his love did grow me.

And I see that love on the move in Jacob.

Last week he hurt his elbow after a fall on his scooter. He came in and plopped on his video game, I think to hide it.  I walked by and he calmly said, “Mommy, I hurt my elbow.” He stopped playing and presented his scrapes to me.  I saw how bad it was and told him I’d get him some cream to put on it.  He didn’t question it, didn’t cry, but let me do it.  This is progress.

Last night he needed to do some online assessments for some help we’re getting him and he asked me to sit with him.  This is progress.

At bed time the past few nights, he has asked me to lay with him first instead of Scott. This is progress.

And then last night he’s sitting beside me and he calls for my attention, “Mommy.” I turn to look at him and he winks at me.  He winked at me with a grin on his face.  It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life.  I’ve heard of sons flirting with their mothers, but this was a first.  This, my friends, is love on the move.

I’m seeing it now–love loves anyway, even though, just because, in spite of. It doesn’t wait, it doesn’t require, it doesn’t demand.  

And that is the irony. If we wait to love until the change, the change never happens.  But when we let go of the demands and love anyway, love goes on the move.

 Love loves and then it moves mountains.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

 

Winning at Whack-a-Mole: How to Pray for Peace for All of Life’s Worries

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I told one of my friends on the phone a few weeks back that I felt like we’ve been playing whack-a-mole in our family.  It’s really apparent since we’ve adopted but thinking back, it’s been true across the board.  It seems like every single week there is something new to worry about.

The first week was the food and the next it was his trust of me, then it was the sibling rivalry and then it was, well, sibling rivalry never went away, but this week it is his education and medical treatment. It feels like a game of whack-a-mole where once you think you sort-of, kind-of have one issue tamped down, another pops up.

This happens with our house.   You have a water leak in the bedroom, and then your van needs tires, and then there’s a hail storm and you need new siding, and then the dryer doesn’t work, and then, well, you know, it just keeps going.  There is always something.

Our moles, if you will, lately have been bigger and scarier and very unknown. I don’t know which hammer to use to tamp it down and honestly, in moments it feels like they are too big to be tamped down at all.

I have been clinging to these verses in Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I desperately need the peace of God.  Guys, my hair was falling out this summer and my dentist told me this week that my gums are inflamed–probably because of the stress!  He didn’t even blame it on flossing they were so bad!

What we need to understand, and what I have to preach to myself, is that not being anxious takes work.  It is not a given.  Scripture tells us it is only when we come to him with both petitions and thanksgiving will our heart and mind be guarded with his peace.

I don’t have this mastered, but I have been practicing prayer in a new way these past months that have helped. It’s tangible and structured and it helps me keep centered on what this Scripture asks of us.  Sometimes prayer is simply a silent conversation, but sometimes I need it like this.

In my daily journal, I make a list of all the good things about the situation I’m worried about.  In fact, sometimes I go further and list any good thing in my life at the moment.  Even if I’m sick, I list the ability to go to the doctor and having insurance and having money for the prescriptions and having a car to drive to the doctor and the job I have to give me the insurance and money.  Even in our lowest moments, we have something to be grateful for.

Sometimes I get through this step and my problem doesn’t even seem like a problem anymore!  A cold? Pshh.  No big deal.  God was pretty smart when he told us to present our petitions and thanksgiving together!  Sometimes gratefulness is all we need to whack our mole.

Other times, we are still burdened.

I write a list of things that are true next.  These are truths that are particular to my situation based on Scripture.  Things like:

  • God is all-powerful
  • We can do all things through Him
  • We are more than conquerors
  • God never leaves us
  • God knows his plans for us
  • God works all things together for our good

Then, I list my petitions.  What are the moles in my life right now?  I’m sick or I can’t find Jacob a pediatrician or Lexi and Jacob won’t quit fighting or even,  I don’t know what to make for dinner.  Anything that comes to mind that might be worrying me.

And then, I thank God for all those good things I listed. I tell God all the things I believe about him and then I pray and give those worries over to him–the One I just told was all powerful, all knowing, loves me so much and has good things planned for me. Sometimes I even put my hands over the words I’ve written and tell Him I’m giving it to Him and ask  him to show up. I tell him I know he sees my worries and my desires and would he please show himself in the situations.

And then, his peace comes. There is some sort of inner release that He gives when I truly make an effort to give my worries to him.  I sigh out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding.

If a worry begins to pop up, it’s like those good things and truths act as a shield to deflect the worry.  They remind me to keep my mind on the good things and remember who is with me.

Sure, the moles rear their ugly heads the next day and I have to do it all over–and sometimes I don’t, but Jesus only ever asked for daily bread so I never expect more than that either.

I can’t imagine you don’t have your own moles right now.  Something that you have going that could be causing you worry.  God cannot lie and he promises if we pray with petitions and thanksgiving, that his peace will come.