So here’s a question for you as you begin this process of self-exploration: Do you want to be perfect, or do you want to be real? I hope you are laughing, because no one is perfect. Of course our logical minds know this, and yet so much of what we do indicates that perfection is, in fact, what we crave. I fully advocate dedication to excellence and the realization of potential, but our attempts to manage appearances of perfection can take a lot of energy and leave us terrified that we will be “found out” as imposters. Such terror and related cover-up efforts are exhausting and can keep us from doing what it takes to overcome obstacles and push our limits to succeed at the highest level.
I want to propose that living authentically, being real, and showing willingness to learn and grow demonstrates true strength. Working towards ongoing progress, not perfection is as good as it gets. Real people can make genuine changes in themselves and their lives and have genuine relationships. Real people can learn about what they actually want and need and find ways to be fulfilled. Real people aren’t afraid of being revealed as flawed, because *surprise*–we all are.
So what is so seductive about appearing perfect, and why is change so difficult? Deep down, we are all complete. Not perfect, but complex and whole. We fear that this is not true, and that actually we are unlovable and inadequate. Our mind tries to protect us from the vulnerability of feeling pain because it isn’t sure that we can handle it or survive it. To combat this, out of fear we project an ego-based false front to keep from being revealed as flawed and broken. Unfortunately, this mentality can keep us from connecting to our true selves and we can get stuck in the mind instead of the body. We can begin to ruminate, replaying the same limiting thoughts about ourselves, others, and “the way things are” over and over like a broken record. These ruminations can be so depressing and dark that we are compulsively led to seek oblivion or respite through any number of acting out behaviors. Food, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, and relationship drama are a few of the usual suspects. As we all know, these strategies don’t work for any length of time, and actually create more reasons for us to fester and ruminate upon negative thoughts…perpetuating the negative behaviors. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
The good news is that vulnerability and feeling exactly what we have been working so hard to avoid can set us free of limiting thoughts and behaviors quickly and easily. Years ago, I learned from teacher and spiritual coach Blair Knies that pain is actually simply energy in the body. She teaches feeling and releasing the energy without judgment or thought. Another Austin teacher and therapist Lynne Arial, works with emotions like an Aikido master to identify and release negative energy and emotions. Similar techniques, encouraging people to use triggering events in their lives to serve as gateways to feel and release toxic old emotional energy, are described in the book Undefended Love, A Practical Guide to Exceptional Relationships, by Dr. Jett Psaris and Dr. Marlena S. Lyons. Using what I have learned from these and other sources, I have been working with feeling, accepting, allowing, forgiving, and releasing any negativity that comes up inside me for a few years now, and helping clients to do the same with great success.
Client example: One very masculine, courageous client sat across from me at the beginning of a session to explore his fears in order to change some undesirable behaviors. He said to me that he was more terrified in that moment, about to face his fears and inner “demons” than ever before in his life—more afraid than when he was a solider in Vietnam, engaged in battle. When he left my office, radiant and relieved 45 minutes later, he realized that that which he had feared so vehemently was, in actually, simply not that big a deal. Why? He had already survived the traumatizing incidents we revisited. All we did was connect to the stuck and stored negative energy so that he could accept, acknowledge, forgive, and release it. Freed from the shackles of the maladaptive behavior strategy by feeling and releasing the energy it was protecting, he jauntily sped off to enjoy his newfound perspective and freedom.
Later that same week, here is the review he posted to my Google business profile:
I came to Dr. Leit because I was having trouble in my job, career, and with my manager. She uncovered problems that stem from specific events in my childhood, of which I was aware, but the degree to which they were disrupting my adult life I didn’t understand. She brilliantly improved my understanding of how these events were triggering self-sabotaging behaviors. She then walked me through some techniques to disrupt the patterns I had created in my life. I have only two regrets. a) That I did not come to her sooner, and b) that I don’t really have a good reason to see her again.
A great deal of my sensitivity to the emotional needs of my clients stems from my own inner work. My clients have heard me tell the story about when I first signed up to run the Austin Marathon in 2007. Much to my great surprise, I promptly burst into tears for 45 minutes. After that, I got up, wiped the mascara smudges from my cheeks, resolutely did the six-month training and ran the race with my friends (very slowly, but definitely running). In retrospect, I believe that, in those 45 minutes, I cried away the emotional wall or block that stood in the way of me realizing my goal. When I decided to surpass what I thought I was physically capable of, the wall had to dissolve. Hence the tears served as a release of fear. Once gone, a new level of freedom and potential was available.
Our ego can take us far…some egos farther than others…but there is always a limit to how far ego-based motivation can go. We can think of this as a type of block, or wall. Ego defenses can keep us from feeling fear and anxiety…from knowing/befriending our weaknesses and limitations. The ego has us posture and defend instead of reveal and connect. Ego will not take us to the truest place of loving ourselves and others. Ego fears that showing others our weaknesses will make us vulnerable to attack, pain, or even death. In some cases, this is true.
Walls exist and can be intimidating. Take, for example, the Berlin Wall. It effectively worked to separate a people for decades…until the fall of 1989 when conditions were ripe for change and the East Germans joyfully and courageously claimed their freedom…beginning the wave that later led to the reunification of Germany. Even the strongest walls are not forever. What walls are keeping you from realizing, recognizing, claiming, enjoying? Deep down, I believe that we all know what we are capable of. I encourage you to gently, joyfully claim freedom and get vulnerable enough to let your walls fall.
What about those that would take advantage of our weaknesses and kick us when we’re down? As my dear friend Lisa says: “Accept all, but choose the best.” My advice is to not take bullies and critics personally, accept them, allow them to learn their lessons away from you, and try to minimize damage from any level of exposure. When you are under attack, it can be helpful to remember that we all act out at times. We have each probably acted at least a bit critical or controlling in the past. Acceptance and compassion is one way to cope. Clear, firm boundaries to protect your interests are important as well. Fearful people are not strong and they suffer, struggling constantly to gain and keep control because they are terrified. The goal is live more in love than fear.
Are you willing to reclaim your life and not allow fear and the shoulds and supposed-to-bes dictate? What if instead of worrying about looking good at every moment, you focused on being the best person you could be everyday? What if you can do more, love more, feel more, and grow more than you ever dreamed? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you don’t have to repeat the same old dysfunctional patterns day in, day out…letting decades pass without any substantial positive changes or shifts?
I want to propose that we all get real and work towards ongoing progress, not perfection. You have far more vitality, potential, and strength than you know! Ironically, uncovering it requires the willingness to look at your blind spots. Uncommon courage is called for in the heroic quest to become real. That said, the path doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might fear. Process, not perfection! This is a way to be ambitious and improve while staying gentle with ourselves. Embracing what is, celebrating your strengths, and seeking help to overcome limitations is very powerful.