For some very strange reason, this happens to me every March. The stars align. My personal, professional, and academic worlds collide. I find myself in my own private March Madness. This past week, I have had giant papers due in my Masters program, grades due for my students’ report cards, and various other major commitments that have managed to fall on the exact same date and time as other major commitments, all being too important to miss. It’s been a perfect storm.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve not been dealing with it all as well as I’d like. In the midst of my perfect storm, I’m feeling like I’m sitting in a boat that’s sprung a leak – I’m baling water out of my boat, but not nearly fast enough. It feels like I’m sinking. The feeling I dread more than any other is one of overwhelm as it triggers in me a death spiral of other fears and negative thought patterns.
In counseling a long while ago, my counselor would talk about “flat spots.” Using a perfect circle as a metaphor for my personality, character, and other areas of personal development, a “flat spot” is an area that for one reason or another (usually trauma or emotional damage) hasn’t developed as fully as other areas. Everyone has them, but recognizing specifically what mine are can help me grow past them. Flat spots cause areas of blindness or weakness in how I deal with specific sets of circumstances in my life. They can cause conflict with other people because of weaknesses in the skill set needed to appropriately deal with specific behavioral triggers – hence my blow up a couple weekends ago.
The flat spot that’s giving me grief this past week: my perfectionism.
I’ve been stuck in a destructive thought pattern of
“perfect” performance = love and acceptance
You wouldn’t really know it to look at me, but I’m a perfectionist. I need that “good girl” pat on the head that comes with what I perceive as a job well-done. I need the validation. And I’m saying the word ‘need’ because of my flat spot. In reality, I don’t need outside validation. In reality, I can do a great job on what’s expected of me without a pat on the head. I’m not going to die or resort to a sub-standard quality of work without it. But somewhere in my life I became dependent on external validation in order to feel OK about myself. Hence, my flat spot. I’m working on it, but it’s still fairly flat.
When circumstances get to the point where I fear I can’t do my best work or my best performance, when I feel (and fear) I’m at risk of losing that “good girl” pat-on-the-head validation, I get overwhelmed and begin to emotionally shut down ahead of my perceived unavoidable loss.
Last night though, I was able to gain a bit of clarity. I guess there’s something about deadlifting weights, rocking the handstand push-up, and running backward down a dark city street that helps me see things differently. And if that’s the case, I thank God for Crossfit.
After I was done with my workout, I realized my flat spots cause me to take myself too seriously. They cause a blindness in me, dimming my focus down to only the drudgery of the task at hand, robbing me of any fun and happiness that’s around me. My flat spots also cause me to have little faith in the people I have chosen to surround myself with in that I place upon them my perception and fear of being unloving toward me if I don’t perform up to a standard that I myself have created. That is just bonkers, not to mention being really unfair to my loved ones.
The good thing is I do realize I have a choice in how I think, regardless of how entrenched I am in the thinking pattern. I can choose to act, think, be different than I have been. There is nothing locking me into the pattern but me.
Getting out of the pattern has to be an active pattern of change. El Jefe tells me to get violent in how I attack the negative pattern, that since I’m so great at tearing myself down, why don’t I use that same energy to annihilate the thought pattern? I can turn the negative pattern on itself. I think that’s great advice. Plus I get to do more ninja kicks!
If I can gain a moment of clarity before I slip into overwhelm, or into my pattern of perfectionism, or into my fear of losing a pat-on-the-head, I can definitely make a different choice than stepping into this sinking boat again. And maybe this can be my last and final March Madness ever.