As I have gotten older, I find that I must rest more. A friend commented that St. Paul said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." While St. Paul was talking about temptation and I am not, I related immediately. My mind and spirit have boundless energy, but my body needs to rest sometimes. The rest feels like a disruption that I resent, but need to accept. I do so, but not graciously. In order to be my best at doing the things I really want to do, I need to respect self-care, and this takes time. I like to help people and to write, but I acknowledge that self-care is necessary, not just an option.
While allowing time for self-care is not easy, I ask myself, if this self-care is so hard for me, how would a perfectionist feel about perhaps not doing everything on their to-do list to be able to lie down for an hour? For them it would not just be an issue of needing to do it, but of perhaps feeling like a failure for not completing everything on their to-do list, for not incorporating that hour of self-care into the list in the first place, for not being a good person, or worse, calling this laziness. Self-care is hard, but crucial. For a perfectionist, there is a kind of inner judge saying terrible things about the person, making everything more difficult and painful. Like other things, self-care is harder for the perfectionist. If you set a standard that is too high or too ambitious, and you think that to be a responsible person you "should" be able to do everything, you will judge yourself when you cannot.
The frustration and acceptance I struggle with are still there, but the pain of those with the self-judging component is much worse. Part of what I do is to help people with perfectionistic personalities remove the self-judging part. I have listened to many clients beat themselves up because there are not enough hours in a day to do self-care and what they wish they could do. The frustration of that we all live with, but the self-critical part is typical of the perfectionist and creates much more emotional pain.
This is why I love to work with perfectionists and issues of shame. As I say in my book, Fear of the Abyss, these are good, decent people who suffer so much in so many situations, their inner judge always ready to cause emotional pain. Accepting that self-care must be done can be hard enough, but it is much harder with the element of self-judging. Don't let shame and perfectionism take self-care away from you! You matter!
Aleta Edwards, Psy.D.
I am a psychotherapist in private practice, with a strong interest in shame and perfectionism. I will periodically post my thoughts about these topics and other observations relating to emotional health.