The Tyranny of Perfectionism

How many of you have burdened yourselves with unrealistic expectations of perfection? First, what is perfectionism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “[a] disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially: the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.”

Excelling in our endeavors is something we all want; however, a problem arises when we receive messages from our parents – verbally or nonverbally – that our efforts aren’t “good enough.” I don’t think parents realize how damaging those message can be to the self-confidence of their children. Time after time in my coaching practice I hear from my clients about the often devastating emotional effects of these messages and unrealistic expectations of perfection – that some are still struggling with 30, 40, 50 years later. Below is an excerpt from a Psychology Today article, describing some of those effects and their impact.

“Concern with mistakes is a reflection of what Frost [Randy O. Frost, psychologist and professor at Smith College] calls the core issue in perfectionism, the unspoken belief or doubt that arises in a child’s mind: ‘I’m incompetent or unworthy.’ It leads to hypercriticalness and the rigid adherence to strict standards of performance under all conditions. It is the element of perfectionism most linked to psychopathology. And it comes about because a child has been made to feel that approval is contingent on performance.” “Pitfalls of Perfectionism,” Psychology Today, publ. March 1, 2008.

Children who have grown up in this type of environment – where only an “acceptable” level of performance was “rewarded” with approval – grow into adults who are driven to perform by an internalized “acceptable level” at great cost to health, relationships, inner peace and satisfaction. In most cases, no other standard is used to measure a successful life. How many of you suffer from the effects of this early childhood conditioning? And how is it affecting your life to this day? Do you become anxious if you don’t measure up to some internalized standard of performance and/or perfection? Are your relationships negatively impacted by your own unrealistic expectations of perfection of yourself and others in your life? Answering these questions will require your willingness to explore your suppressed and/or repressed emotions that are keeping you trapped in perfectionism. Are you ready?

Want World Peace?

Most of us want world peace. What is less clear is what we must create within ourselves first. We can’t create “out there” what we don’t experience within. That’s not to say we don’t have moments of peace. What’s needed is to expand those moments until peace is our main expression, along with love and joy – all the qualities we’re told aren’t possible in today’s world, or at least very difficult to achieve.

It is possible to cultivate and express these qualities in ourselves. And it does require commitment plus investment of time and energy. First, we need to realize that what we see “out there” is reflecting back to us our inner reality in terms of unfinished business, unresolved issues and the ways in which we don’t love ourselves. Unfortunately, we usually aren’t grateful for these reflections –mostly unaware of them as such – and blame the person who triggered an emotional reaction in us. According to Marianne Williamson: “Others are only mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.”  Panache Desai, an author and spiritual teacher, says it another way. “You’re only ever experiencing yourself.” Try it on. When you have a strong emotional reaction to someone, take a moment to look inside yourself  (with complete honesty) and see if you don’t also have the quality you dislike in that person. It may not be to the same degree, but 99% of the time it’s there.

The obstacle that most people meet when faced with the situation mentioned above is to avoid self-reflection out of fear of what we’ll find. Why? Because the majority of us are prone to judge ourselves harshly when we see something we don’t like and/or that doesn’t “fit” our self-image. Here’s something to ponder: mostly our self-image is based on lies – whether ones we’ve created ourselves or that we’ve received externally in the form of conditioning from parents, church, school, peers, etc.

What I’ve said before – and will continue to say – is that all that “unfinished business” is running our lives. All the emotions we couldn’t handle as a child that we’ve stuffed deep into our unconscious; the hurts we haven’t forgiven; the qualities we can’t accept in ourselves and try to hide – on and on it goes. Dr. Carl Jung, known for his work in this area of the unconscious, very wisely said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” I’ve experienced this to be true in my own life.

It’s not as hard as we’re afraid it is. The amount of inner freedom and spaciousness – the wholeness in your innermost being – is worth every effort to attain it.



Effects of Unacknowledged and Unexpressed Emotions

I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced some pretty unpleasant effects related to being unaware of and not experiencing or expressing my shadow emotions. (If you’re not familiar with that term, I encourage you to read my previous  posts.)

We make the common and understandable mistake of thinking that if we don’t allow ourselves awareness and expression of these emotions, they will not affect us in any way. Not true. I learned that the hard way – pretty much how I seem to learn a lot of things. If we don’t yet even know what those emotions are, a REALLY good clue is to pay attention to what events and people “trigger” us, to which we have a strong emotional reaction. That could be anything from bursting into tears, flying into a rage or milder form of anger, experiencing fear, etc. – all without knowing the cause.

These unacknowledged and unexpressed emotions can also cause damage to our health, relationships, and pretty much every other area of our lives. In terms of relationships, how many of you have felt you’re having the “same relationship” over and over again – like “Ground Hog Day”? ALL our important unacknowledged and unexpressed emotions from the past carry over into the future until such time as we are able and willing to address and heal them – without exception.

The same thing in the area of health. We’re not made up of three separate “parts:” body, mind and soul (heart and emotions). All these aspects interact “wholistically.” Probably the most familiar example of this is how stress affects us. The stressor may be emotional in nature; however, we often experience physical symptoms such as tension headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, etc. And the converse is also true: the stressor may be physical symptoms of an illness and we experience worry, anxiety, fear, helplessness, etc.

A theme I’ll be revisiting in my posts from time to time is that this work isn’t as scary as we think or believe. When the events occurred that triggered such intense emotions, many of us were very young – so young we couldn’t handle them, and stuffed them as deep into our unconscious as we possibly could. As adults, when those emotions start to surface, along with them comes that “I can’t handle it” feeling and belief. The truth is, we CAN handle it now. We may need help at times. For some, a good life coach may be all that’s needed; for others, a counselor or therapist may be the best choice.

This is an exhilarating journey toward experiencing the love, joy and wholeness that is our birthright. You can use the form below to contact me or visit for more information.

Our Conditioning Can Block Possibility

Almost from birth, the conditioning process begins wherein our brains “download” what is presented to us – both consciously and unconsciously. Professionals who study how the human brain works – notably Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., a molecular biologist and former professor of medicine at Stanford University – know that from birth to about age 6, our brains are absorbing information like a sponge – mostly unconsciously. According to Dr. Lipton (from The Biology of Belief):

“. . . the child’s sensory systems are fully engaged, downloading massive amounts of information about the world and how it works. . . . By observing the behavioral patterns of people in their immediate environment— primarily parents, siblings, and relatives—children learn to distinguish acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors. It’s important to realize that perceptions acquired before the age of six become the fundamental subconscious programs that shape the character of an individual’s life. . . during this time of accelerated learning, Nature facilitates the enculturation process by developmentally enhancing the subconscious mind’s ability to download massive amounts of information.”

The statement I want to emphasize from Dr. Lipton’s words is: “fundamental subconscious programs that shape the character of an individual’s life.” In other words, much – if not all – of this information resides in our subconscious/unconscious mind and is only accessible if we consciously focus on retrieving it. Many don’t because that part of our mind doesn’t only contain information – it also stores traumatic experiences and the emotions accompanying them – most of which we don’t want to re-experience and/or feel.

In addition, many of our beliefs can become so deeply ingrained and “automatic” that we’re not consciously aware of them – we just accept them as “that’s the way life is.” Some are “ancestral” in nature. By that, I mean they’ve been handed down from generation to generation. Beliefs about money, love, and other expressions of “how life is” are examples.

At this point, you may be asking what all this has to do with possibility. Conditioning by its very nature is “fixed” or rigid, again as demonstrated by our belief that certain things in our lives are “just the way they are.” That statement doesn’t allow for life to be any other way than what we believe it to be. There is absolutely no flexibility, no possibility that life can be any other way when we cling to what we’ve been conditioned to believe without question – whether consciously or unconsciously.

The Fifth Agreement (written by don Miguel Ruiz and his son, don Jose Ruiz) talks about the “power of doubt.” The exact wording of the fifth agreement is “Be skeptical but learn to listen.” In the context of this post, the skepticism needs to be directed toward our belief systems, to “question everything” with respect to them. If they ever were true, they may not be now. As adults, we can scrutinize our conditioning that was automatically “downloaded” when we were too young to do anything but accept it, and determine whether continuing to do so serves us now. If not, we have the power to change it.

If you want to live a life of possibility – instead of inevitability and rigidity – you MUST be willing to explore what disempowering beliefs and emotions are living in your unconscious mind. Why? Because the unconscious mind “runs the show.” According to Dr. Lipton, “The subconscious mind cannot move outside its fixed programs – it automatically reacts to situations with its previously stored behavior responses. AND (here’s the rub), it works without the knowledge or control of the conscious mind. This is why we are generally unaware of our behavior, in fact most of the time we are not even aware that we are acting unconsciously.”

I’ll leave you with a very powerful quote from Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter contains the treasure you seek.” I personally know this to be true. Entering the “cave” of my unconscious mind and transforming the beliefs and emotions that previously held me prisoner (and sometimes still do) and stifled my creativity has given me immeasurable freedom to create a life I love. And YOU can do that – everyone can. Believe it or not, this process can be exhilarating and fun!

We Manifest What We Believe, Not What We Want

What do I mean by that? We’ve all read articles, attended seminars and/or webinars, read books, etc. telling us “all” we have to do is focus our thoughts on what we want in order to change what we’re manifesting in our lives. That’s true — partially. There’s a deeper level that many either don’t know about or are reluctant to explore.

Our beliefs are much more powerful than mere thoughts because they’re more often than not given more “juice” by our emotions. And these emotions aren’t always conscious. Let’s take money for example. Many people grew up in families where one or both parents lived through the Great Depression during which large numbers of people were unemployed and struggling to survive. My father “rode the rails” from place to place looking for work. My mother was one of 11 children and her family was also struggling to survive. The impact of those experiences on my parents’  beliefs about money was considerable and long-lasting. Examples of the beliefs they carried about money  — and that were passed on to me — were: 1) there’s not enough — there’s NEVER enough, 2) money is scarce; 3) you have to work hard for everything you get in life — nothing is free; and 4) money doesn’t grow on trees, to name just a few. These and similar experiences become deeply imprinted in our consciousness (or, rather, unconsciousness) and are often suppressed because they are so painful.

You may have inherited some of these same beliefs, or different ones — it doesn’t really matter.  It’s essential to identify what YOUR limiting beliefs are and the impact they still have on your ability to live the life you want. These aren’t only about money. We all have limiting beliefs about relationships, religion, people from different cultures and ethnic groups, and so forth.

In the process of looking, pay very close attention to how your beliefs may be currently affecting you in ways you don’t want. What’s critically important is to ask yourselves this question about every one of them: Is this belief true?  At one time it may have been but is no longer, or it still may be true for you. A periodic assessment of your belief systems in this way gives you the opportunity to “clean house,” keeping what still serves and releasing what does not.

Taking this on will alter your experience of life and allow you to begin manifesting more love, freedom, prosperity, joy, etc.

Blessings on your journey..

Spiritual Bypass

Are you doing a “spiritual bypass” to avoid feeling deep emotions you’ve deemed to be “negative” or otherwise unacceptable? In this time of intense spiritual awakening, that’s very easy to do — and it doesn’t further your transformation into a person who is authentically experiencing and expressing her or his total self.

In our culture, many of us have made the mistake of thinking we can consciously will away emotions we don’t want to acknowledge and feel — that they’re in the past and no longer have any impact on our present lives. That couldn’t be further from the truth! For example, have you ever had the experience of cruising along pleasantly in your life and then some emotion unexpectedly ambushes you? “Whoa! What was THAT, you ask?” It was an emotion connected with an experience that’s incomplete from your past — usually childhood. It’s still affecting you in a negative way, and will continue to do so until you heal whatever needs to be healed.

I assert that nearly everyone who is consciously on a spiritual path has tried using the spiritual bypass to deal with this situation — without success. We’ve tried meditation, chanting, pretending this pesky emotion doesn’t exist  and glossing over it with “peace and love” when we really are is angry, sad or fearful. I’m not saying we have to go around “dumping” anger (for example) on other people because that’s what we’re “authenticially feeling.” There are appropriate ways to express it such that we’re not “stuffing” it as well as not harming another person. But it’s crucial that we DO acknowledge and express the emotions that are presenting themselves to be accepted and healed.

We’re more apt to dump on someone when we don’t allow ourselves to be aware of the unconscious emotions we’ve been denying expression. Awareness and appropriate expression of them is key. I can’t emphasize this enough.

In my personal journey, I’ve actually experienced this as exhilarating and incredibly freeing. If you’re interested in exploring this journey for yourself, please check at my Facebook Page: Shadow Dancer Transformational Coaching and my website at


Walking the Talk

What makes me an effective life coach is that I don’t just talk about shadow emotions in the abstract — I’m down there “in the trenches” transforming my own. I did just that this evening. I was watching “Nights in Rodanthe,” a movie based on Nicholas Sparks’ book of the same name. It had a very sad ending that triggered an incomplete experience from my past and the accompanying emotions. (Opportunities are everywhere if we are paying attention and recognize them them as such.)

Most of us have these types of experiences all the time — the trick is to allow ourselves to feel the emotions that are surfacing rather than repressing them out of fear that we’ll be completely overwhelmed and unable to function.

The key word here is ALLOW. We don’t have to “go digging around” in our unconscious mind for shadow emotions; when we are ready to heal them, they’ill begin to surface. Then the process is to allow that to happen, express whatever needs expression, connect the emotion(s) with an event, (if possible or necessary), and then release them. This is not nearly as scary as I always feared it would be — in fact, it’s pretty exhilarating. Joseph Campbell nailed it: “The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek” — the treasure being the experience of joy, freedom and vitality when the weight of these emotions we’ve been carrying is gone. Repression requires a lot of energy.

Blessings on your journey.