Letting Go Of Perfectionistic Demands

by Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

I am a person who likes to do things well.  I generally strive to do all tasks on time and do them to the very best of my ability.  As my time commitments and responsibilities mount throughout graduate school, I am trying to embrace the ideas that it is okay to ask for the occasional extension (as long as I don’t make a habit of it), that there are some tasks that simply require “good enough” work instead of excellent work, and that it is okay to say no to some requests.  I’ve been integrating these ideas here and there over the past year or so.  However, I have more or less maintained my perfectionistic standards.  I MUST be an outstanding therapist, trainee, student, and researcher at all times!

These perfectionistic standards were seriously challenged over the past month when a close family member suffered a series of serious medical issues that required multiple trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations.  I had no choice but to “drop the ball,” so to speak, when it came to some of my many other responsibilities so that I could focus on caring for my family member.  I had to cancel client appointments, miss classes, and take days off from my research fellowship.  During this period, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about work, but I’m sure that there were some irrational beliefs festering under the surface given the hint of anxiety I felt each time work did cross my mind: “I MUST continue to be a good therapist, trainee, student and researcher;” “I MUST prove to myself and others that I can maintain all of my responsibilities, even under extreme stress;” “It would be awful if any of my supervisors thought I dropped the ball!”

Thankfully, everything has started to settle down. My family member is on the mend, and I have transitioned back into my regular responsibilities.  Looking back, I realize that everything was okay.  Sure, I have a ton of work to catch up on, but no one (including myself) seems to think that I’m a bad therapist/trainee/student/researcher because I had to take a break from my responsibilities.  I would certainly prefer to do excellent and timely work at all times, but nowhere is it written that it must be so.  Therefore, I can strive to get everything done and do my best work, but I can accept that there will inevitably be times when that cannot happen.

Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

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