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I texted my friend and didn't get a response! How could I NOT feel anxious and upset?" The problem is that this statement assumes that everyone would feel the exact same way about this event as you do. Although many people feel anxious when a friend doesn't text them back, some people feel angry, some people are curious, and others don't give it a second thought. Even among those who get anxious, they might be more or less anxious than you. The real question is, what is causing your unique emotional reaction? As you can see, David is a thinker and a doer. Facing cancer, he went through obstacles by looking at his attitude, staying focused, believing in God, and taking action as he sought healing. While his story may be more dramatic, every day we are faced with challenges that can cause our self-care engine to sputter and even shut down. Let's take a look at Janet, a busy single parent who is raising two kids, finishing a degree, and working part time. Her children--six-year-old Jamie and eight-year-old Matthew--are the most important part of her life. She is also focused on losing forty pounds since she is not happy about how she looks or feels. Janet worked with me and implemented a blood type eating plan and a body type exercise plan. She was getting results and had lost twenty pounds. One day she came to me and said she was going to stop because she had too much on her plate. One child had piano lessons. Another was taking dance classes. And she had volunteered to head a Boy Scout troop because no one else would step up. My stress level is at an all-time high, she said, and I just don't have time or the energy involved with doing meal planning and exercising. Some years ago, before I realized I had ADHD, Penelope came to me for help. She is a very nice lady; as it turns out, she was maybe too nice.

She was very unhappy, had some depression and some anxiety, and was feeling overwhelmed. She had many complaints about her husband. In fact that was most of what she talked about. As a good therapist, I tried to help her look at herself more, but she kept talking about her husband. She couldn't get him to do things around the house without nagging. Then if he did them, he wouldn't do them right. He would let important responsibilities slide and spend a lot of time on things that didn't actually matter much. He would take on a responsibility, like paying the bills, and then he wouldn't do it. Eventually their phone service was cut off. He left his clothes lying around all over the house. Without consulting her, he would commit them to doing something and then if there was any work involved, it would fall on her. But if they were ever going to do anything as a couple - go to a movie or out to dinner or on a trip - it was up to her to initiate it and then she had to make all the arrangements. He spent a lot of money on things that she considered unnecessary. They would agree on some budgeting but then he would just go on spending like before as though they had never talked about it. Many of their arguments revolved around money, but also around the things that he wasn't doing and promises that weren't being kept. Now, this distinction between persons and objects can be incredibly important in helping to increase unconditional self- and other-acceptance--which, as Table 3.1 indicates, are antidotal habits for overcoming several different types of perfectionism. Another helpful sage is the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle. One key idea he emphasized was moderation, neither overdoing nor underdoing things. When you go to extremes, you typically end up regretting it. For example, when people act rashly without thinking things through, they generally do something foolish--and later regret it.

Yet if they are too afraid to act, they generally end up regretting that, too. But when people avoid these extremes, they act courageously. Unfortunately, many perfectionists go to the extreme of demanding perfection before acting (for example, requiring certainty or exaggerating the dangers of acting) and therefore defeat their own purposes. Similarly, people who do not obey moderation regarding their emotions generally end up in deep doo-doo. For example, instead of exercising temperance in managing their anger, people who demand perfection of others often self-sabotage by getting too angry when others fall short of their unrealistic expectations. To answer this question, you have to go a little deeper. The second layer of any emotional experience is self-talk. Self-talk is the internal narration of your life. We aren't always paying attention to it, but our mind is always engaging in some kind of self-talk as a way of telling us what our current experience means to us, what we should make of it, and how we should respond to it based on past experience. One good example of self-talk are those internet memes that show a person thinking two different thoughts: the thing they say to be polite and the thing that they really think. To get at the particular self-talk that attends a specific emotional event, rather than asking, "Why do I feel this way?" which tends to simply lead to circular reasoning (i.e., "I feel this way about the event because the event happened!"), it's better to ask yourself, "What does it mean to me that this event happened?" Or even, "What does it say about me that this happened to me?" Both of these questions do a better job of helping us tune in to the self-talk that underlies our anxiety. Granted, this is an extreme response, but it's a surprisingly common one. Maybe you have even felt this way from time to time. Of course, you might have a different response entirely. Another person might answer these questions in the following way. Penelope did have some personal problems that we eventually worked on. She had trouble saying "No". She was always feeling overloaded, doing a lot of things for other people that she really didn't want to do, going places she didn't want to go, spending money on people when she didn't want to. It was hard for her to do anything for herself, to spend money or to carve out time for herself to do what she wanted. She was too caught up in doing things for other people, mostly things she had agreed to do when she really didn't want to.

And she was very responsible. If she said she would do something, she did it. This just made her more angry at her husband because he often wouldn't do what he had promised and she just could not understand that. I asked her not to make a decision but rather to take a week off from her self-care program. During that time, I requested that she use one hour a day to look over her journals, relax, and think about why she wanted to get healthier in the first place. She came back to me the following week with an aha moment. She said that she realized that since one of her primary whys for practicing self-care was to be healthier for her children, she could not put her own program on the back burner. She wanted to be in the best possible physical and emotional state as she raised them. So together we worked on strategies to help her continue her self-care program. She engaged her support network to help with food shopping and preparation and switched to a gym that had a great program for kids so she could exercise while they were having fun. She also acknowledged that to some extent she was using her kids as an excuse to not continuing on with her goal of losing twenty more pounds. She realized that this was actually a pattern in her life. She would lose half the weight, feel better, and then stop before reaching her goal. She then would feel bad about not reaching her goal and put the weight back on. Penelope had learned early in her life that it wasn't nice to be angry. She rarely felt anger. If a patient like that is Christian, as she was, I usually refer to some passages in the Bible that show Jesus, who we were taught as children was "little Jesus, meek and mild," was madder than hell much of the time. He went around calling people names ("whited sepulchers," a huge insult to the Jewish people, as sepulchers were ritually unclean), and kicking over tables, and beating people with whips; so I'm not sure that we're supposed to try to be `better' than Jesus. This approach sometimes helps some people somewhat. Penelope and I were finally able to realize that when she came in shaking her head and wringing her hands, and saying over and over, "I just don't understand him!" that she was really pissed off.

And it wasn't always just about her husband. Many people are not as responsible as Penelope. Aristotle regarded those who avoid the extremes and practice moderation as practically wise, or prudent. Such a person, said Aristotle, is "able to deliberate well about what...sorts of thing conduce to the good life in general" (Aristotle, 1941, bk. 6, ch. 5). So, for example, the mom who demands that nothing bad ever happen to her kids, who spends her life worrying about such bad possibilities, does not reason well about how to achieve the good life, for she ends up messing up her own life as well as her kids' lives! Jean-Paul Sartre states that you freely define who you become through your actions (Sartre, 1989). So the perfectionist who is reticent to act, because she is afraid she won't be perfect, defeats her own purpose through inaction by defining herself negatively--as nothing at all. If instead she stands up to her angst and acts, even though she won't be perfect, she defines herself positively as being courageous. We might well paraphrase Sartre's admonition to the anxious perfectionist as "You can run, but you can't hide!" Obviously, a person whose mind was engaging in this kind of self-talk would not experience much, if any, anxiety about Julia's lack of response. This is usually when my client says, "But how does Karen know she didn't drive Julia away? What if Julia does think she's annoying?" Of course, the answer to this is that Karen has no idea at all what Julia is thinking. She could be thinking one of a million possible things, and "Boy, that Karen and her stupid cat videos really burn my toast" could be one of them. If that were the case, assuming that Karen took the time to ask Julia what was going on, she and Julia could work through it together and become better friends because of it. But how often do we actually stop to ask the other person what they are really thinking before we respond to them -- or even react to them? Most of the time, in the absence of any other actual evidence, we assume our automatic interpretations of the event are correct. We allow our actions to be informed by these erroneous thoughts, often causing ourselves to feel powerless, isolated, self-pitying, and anxiety-ridden in the process. The situation is real, but our interpretation and reaction are entirely self-created. So, where do these interpretations come from?