Reader Not Superwoman writes,
I've got two interrelated problems. I take constructive criticism too personally and I'm not gentle with myself when I make mistakes. It is so important to me to be an excellent wife and mother (to my three kids) and be excellent at my job. Any advice on how I can stop taking the criticism so personally and be ok with making mistakes. I am putting too much pressure on myself to be perfect. Expecting myself to be perfect just leads to disappointment, stress, and sadness.
You know what happens when people try to be perfect? The above free image, bizarrely titled "wife," is an indicator. You end up looking like a greenish Stepford wife robot with dissatisfaction and regret emanating from every pixel. (If anyone is discomfited enough by this ghoulish .png to donate to my site so that I can use Shutterstock images, go for it.) Anyway, my point, echoed by the green lady above, is "There is no such thing as perfect. There is, however, a thing called 'anxiety,' and another thing called 'low self-esteem,' and another thing called, 'societal expectations for parents and spouses and workers nowadays in our Western culture are ridiculous.'" You are so wise, green lady.
Reader, you likely respond so poorly to constructive criticism because you have always been an anxious, Highly Sensitive child and now adult, and when you used to get criticized for anything it was the end of the world for you, so you became pretty close to perfect, which is attainable by most anxious, smart girls, although they sacrifice many things, like having a carefree childhood and body acceptance and self-compassion. Now you have one million balls in the air, and you cannot juggle them all perfectly all the time, and so sometimes you forget your kid's picture day like I did, and then you think you are The Worst Mother in the world, and if anyone says they don't like your leftovers, you react like your husband has said he's having an affair with your best friend. Let's turn to why it is impossible and not even healthy to be "perfect" as a mom, wife, and worker.
As I discuss here, there is such a thing called a "good enough" parent that is an important idea in psychology. A child actually does best with a good enough parent. A parent who meets their child's every need is setting up an impossible situation that nobody else will ever be able to replicate for the child. That is why if your mother-in-law didn't make your husband do any chores, he now expects you to do all of them. Here is a printable for good-enough parents that I created as a little nod to Pinterest, which has actual printables up the wazoo, none of which I am perfect enough to print or fill out. Basically: if you love your kids, don't neglect them by forgetting to feed them or ask about their day, don't abuse them, and act nice to all of them most of the time even if you may not want to, you're doing fine.
The perfect wife thing is another rabbit hole. When are you perfect enough? Green lady has abs of steel under that hideous apron, which also means that she cooks, and yet she still feels insecure. Why, Green Lady? Is it because you were taught that you should be a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets and because there is no college curriculum that teaches men that healthy women will likely not want sex 4-7 times a week even when exhausted and monotogamous? There should be. Is it because you are anxious and have self-esteem issues and your husband is right that "nothing is ever good enough for you"? Is it because you don't give two flying F's about his fantasy football team and you would rather read a vampire novel than ask about his day? You are not alone. If you are nice to your husband at least a large percentage of the time, then cut yourself a break. If you have sex with him sometimes when you would rather be sleeping, because he's a good guy and you love him, you just got bonus points. And make him do some housework if you don't already.
In terms of your job, are you fufilled at it? If not, find one that you actually like and then you may be happier. The worst is to obsess over some job you don't even like. If you do love your job, realize what a gift it is to have time where you get paid and you don't have to interact with anyone while you're peeing. God, I love the days I go to work. Then follow some of these tips for working moms, which basically summarize to: ask for help, outsource, and cut yourself a break. But if you're a super perfectionist about your job, you can also try what I did when I got pregnant the first time, and decide to do 50% less than you ever did before at work. (This wasn't a choice, but due to morning sickness and exhaustion.) Then, when nobody blinks at your decreased level of productivity, realize that you were always overworking by at least 50% due to your anxiety, and admit you have been being an idiot and never overprepare again for anything.
If these words of wisdom from me and the green lady don't soothe your overanxious soul, then you can always see a therapist, who is trained to help you Chill The F Out. But she will not write that on your receipt so that you have a chance in hell of being reimbursed by your insurance company. She will write something like, "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Adjustment Disorder With Anxiety." Bam.
Good luck, and keep me updated. And till we meet again, We Remain, The Blogapist And The Green Lady, Who Just Want What's Best For You.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.