Category Archives: Perfectionism

Raising Patient Children

The quickest way to stop the crying of a child who is upset for not getting what he or she wants is to just give in and hand over the desired object to him or her. Although this may be the quickest solution, it is by far one of the worst solutions in the long-run. Instant gratification robs your child of the opportunity to learn some very important lessons: (1) we will not always get everything that we want so immediately; (2) our imperfect world can never be set in a way that it perpetually provides whatever it is that we want; (3) the difficult feelings associated with not getting what we want are a normal part of the human experience and they will eventually go away with mindful acceptance and positivity.

Mindfulness and delayed gratification build patience.

Patient Child

Let’s start off by exploring a scenario that all parents are familiar with. You and your daughter are in a toy store. She wants a toy. You say no. She cries because she is overwhelmed by some unfamiliar feeling of discomfort in her heart. What do you do? You help her identify and express her thoughts and emotions by getting her to think about what she is thinking in her head and feeling in her heart. She may be feeling betrayal and rejection because her thoughts are saying, “All this time I thought you loved me. How could you betray me like this by denying me of what I understand to be love?” After she puts these thoughts and emotions into words to the best of her ability, you deliver comfort, not by handing over the toy, but by giving her comforting words of truth and physical affection. You assure her that you love her. You teach her your more mature definition of love. You explain to her that, although it is ok for her to communicate to others what she wants, she cannot expect to always get that from them. You also explain that, in the context of generosity and gift giving, she is not entitled to a reason when others do not give her what she wants. Therefore, in most cases, you too do not give her a reason. Help her then to accept and feel her difficult emotions. Assure her that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help her practice delayed gratification by getting her to wait for some time before she gets that toy. Ideally, you do not want to choose birthdays or special occasions as that will just transfer the sense of entitlement to those specific days of the year (I am not sure if there is any way to avoid that). All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing a sense of entitlement in his or her later years.

The next scenario is one that is not as obviously connected with instant gratification and I see a lot of parents, especially in the past recent years, just “giving in.” You decide to take your family out for dinner at a restaurant. Your son gets bored. He cannot stand the waiting time for the food to arrive and the time after he finishes his own meal. He becomes restless and starts to make a scene as an attempt to create more stimulation for himself. What is the quickest way to calm him down? I see a lot of parents these days just hand over their iPhone or iPad (full of games) to their children. It works like a charm!

Child with iPad

This quick fix, however, robs your son of the opportunity to learn how to recognize and cope with the difficult feeling of boredom and understimulation. So what do you do instead? Like the example above, you get your son to identify and express in words his feelings of discomfort. You validate his experience by showing empathy. You let him know that he will be ok and then challenge him to accept and feel his difficult emotions. Assure him that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help him practice delayed gratification by getting him to wait for some time before he gets his chance to play. All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with inattention, impulsivity, addiction, and escapism in his or her later years. Many gifted people struggle with these problems because, growing up, no one really stopped them from utilizing their instantly gratifying coping methods to their intense feelings of boredom and understimulation.

Finally, the last scenario is one that is least likely to be recognized by parents as instant gratification because it is often confused with something else that is very positive. Your child looks upon the condition of his own work or the work of somebody else. He sees the gap between how things are and how excellent they could be. This gap causes him intense frustration inside. In attempt to remove this difficult feeling, your child takes immediate action and tries to close that gap. From the outside, the closing of this gap just looks like your child has great work ethic. What parent would not feel even slightly proud about his or her child having this from such an early age? What you fail to notice, though, is that your child is removing his own opportunity to develop patience in this area. After years and years of taking immediate action whenever this difficult feeling of frustration arises, your child grows up to be an adult who is incapable of being OK with this gap. The most painful part of it is… this person sees this gap everywhere and all the time. This is one of the main challenges of people with OCPD. So how do you prevent this? You stay close while your child is at work. You examine his motives. Is he doing it out of pure love, joy, and curiosity or is he doing it out of frustration? If it is out of frustration, just like all the examples above, teach him how to recognize, express, accept, and feel this difficult emotion. All of this will reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with obsessive compulsivity, workaholism, and perfectionism in his or her later years.

As a result of all the instant gratification I grew up with, I am not the best at giving 100% of my attention to anything that I am not hyper-passionate about. It all began in elementary school when I experienced the frustration of having to sit still and listen to the teacher. I noticed that, out of all of the words that came out of the teacher’s mouth, only a fraction of them were relevant and interesting to me. I figured that it was pointless for me to give 100% of my attention when I could just get the meat of the lesson with only 30% of my attention. I would then allocate the remaining 70% of my attention on some other activity, usually finishing my homework (to maximize my playtime once school was over). This continued all the way into my later years. But in university, I had a laptop computer instead. During all my business classes, I could now simultaneously work on other exciting activities like video editing. Having always participated in some other stimulating activity in these times of frustration, I now cannot help but feel intensely irritated when I have no way out of others’ communication that is long-winded, uninteresting, and disorganized. One of the most excruciating settings for me is group sharing circles where it is considered very rude to do anything other than give full attention to whoever is speaking. When I share, I make the extra effort to deliver my message in a concise manner by prioritizing the juicy parts of my story and minimizing the irrelevant “filler” parts of my story. But why doesn’t everyone else do this? My frustration then turns into anger and my mind gets bombarded with extremely negative and judgemental thoughts. “Why is it that the least interesting member of this group, who ironically begins her exhausting monologue with ‘I don’t have much to say,’ takes up the most time sharing about her bland life!?” The agony gets so bad for me that my heart rate goes up, I start to sweat, my nervous ticks and compulsions (cracking my knuckles, scratching my neck, touching my face, digging my nails into my head, shaking my legs, blinking my eyes) go on hyperdrive, and I feel sick in my stomach. I feel like running full speed into a brick wall. There have been numerous times when my pain got so bad that I had to excuse myself out of the room to cool down by stepping on patterns on the floor (one of my obsessive-compulsive cooling down strategies). Although this looks very much like ADHD, it is not (ADHD is actually the most common misdiagnosis of gifted people). Nevertheless, it is an area that I really need to work on building my patience in.

Are you that child who grew up with too much instant gratification and now you have very little patience in one or more areas in your life? No problem. There is a solution! It certainly does not come in the form of a small pill that you just convenient pop into your mouth (come on now, that would just be another form of instant gratification!). The solution is to accept and experience the difficult feelings that arise every time you do not get what you want. This may be very painful at first but it will get easier with time.

MORE READING

FOR YOU: “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana
FOR CHILDREN: “A Boy and a Bear: the Children’s Relaxation Book” by Lori Lite

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The Most Important Thing about Raising Gifted Children

It can be very exciting for parents to discover that their child is “gifted.” Often what follows this excitement is a keen interest in creating a stimulating educational environment for the child. Parents, however, can easily get so wrapped up in trying to maximize the potentiality of their child that they neglect to develop the very thing that he or she needs most.

The most valuable lesson that parents can teach gifted children is that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform.

Baby Einstein

Sufficiently stimulating the minds of gifted children should be the least of parents’ worries. Even without their parents’ help, gifted children will find creative ways to keep themselves entertained and intellectually stimulated. Parents may try to implement incentives to help their children maximize their motivation to learn, but there really is nothing that can do a better job at that than the deep curiosity that is already within every gifted child.

Regardless of the kind of educational environment they grow up with, gifted children are born to excel. They will inevitably outperform their peers in one or more areas in their life and attract a lot of attention and praise from others. While this might sound quite promising, the constant highlighting of their performance is likely to cause gifted children to build their identity and self-worth on their outcomes, results, and achievements, all highly fallible external qualities. This is no good.

The self-esteem of models suffers in a very similar fashion. Model Cameron Russell shares in her TED talk that, despite having won a “genetic lottery” (2:50), she and many other models are some of the “most physically insecure women probably on the planet” (8:27).

Giftedness and insecurity is a dangerous combination. Gifted people (including models that are, in a way, “gifted” in their appearance) who do not know that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform will feel immense pressure to create their own value and worth in the area that they are gifted in. For those with extreme emotional sensitivity, which pretty much includes the whole gifted population, that pressure to create value and worth magnifies exponentially. So many insecure gifted people are consequently driven to workaholism and perfectionism. Success then becomes a dangerous reward that justifies their unbalanced lifestyle. Broken relationships, broken families and marriages, health complications, disease, insanity, and even early death are all consequences of this unbalanced lifestyle.

HOW TO BUILD STRONG IDENTITY IN GIFTED CHILDREN (PARENTS):
Whether you like it or not, the world will take notice of the greatness within your child. They will compliment your child for his or her performance. If your own compliments and positive words of affirmation do not outweigh and outnumber the compliments given by the world, the world will usurp your position as your child’s primary teacher in building his or her identity. You need to take that position because, unlike the rest of the world, you KNOW your child personally and you know that he or she is not just the sum of his or her talents. There will be a huge competition for your child’s attention as he or she attempts to figure out who he or she is. You as a caring parent need to win that competition. You must teach your child that he or she is amazing, regardless of what he or she does or does not do. When you are just taking a stroll in the park together, when your child is not performing, you need to tell your child that you are so proud of him or her, that you love him or her so much, that he or she fascinates you just for BEING the person that he or she is. If your gifted child performs poorly in some area, sure it is totally ok to admit and accept the reality and consequences of poor performance. But if he or she is thinking, “I am not good enough as a person” because of his or her poor performance, you need to intervene. You must teach your child that his or her performance does not define him or her. You must remind your child of who he or she is: an amazing person with incredible value. If you (parents) do not know your own value apart from how well you perform, it will be very difficult to raise your own children in this manner.

HOW I BUILT MY SELF-ESTEEM:
Despite my many achievements and talents, I was once an over-achieving workaholic who struggled with extremely low self-esteem. Despite being published in newspapers and magazines and broadcasted on TV and radio, I was once so afraid of ending up as a nobody, a worthless loser. It was when I finally decided to stop trusting my own thoughts and opinions about myself and the thoughts and opinions of all the people around me, including my very performance-oriented parents, that things began to change. Ever since mid-2011, I started to care for and listen to only what God thinks about me. Since my own idea of God was so distorted at the time, I depended on other people in my church to accurately share with me His thoughts about me. People I met for the first time that could not have known such personal details about me told me specific character traits in me that God is so pleased with. They continually told me that God loves me so much and is so proud of me, all during a time in my life when I had hit rock bottom and did absolutely nothing. As I began to more accurately understand how big God is and how small humankind is compared to Him, the significance of His opinion about me grew and the significance of humankind’s opinion about me shrank. My self-esteem now is so good! I have learned to love myself and be so proud of myself, not because of how well I perform, but simply because I am a beloved child of the Most High :)

MORE READING

This is one of my favourite Christian children’s books on performance and identity.

“You Are Special” by Max Lucado

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Amy’s Baking Company: Sensitivity to Criticism Goes Viral

Last Friday on Fox’s reality TV series “Kitchen Nightmares,” chef Gordon Ramsay paid a visit to “Amy’s Baking Company,” a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. Just like he does in every episode, Gordon Ramsay offered his constructive criticism with the intention of improving the restaurant’s success. The restoration process, however, was cut short for the first time in the show’s history because the owners of the restaurant, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, showed excessive resistance and defensiveness to Ramsay’s signature not-so-sensitive criticism. The two restaurant owners then became a viral hit over the internet because of their continued over-the-top display of oversensitivity to criticism even after the show.

Sensitivity to criticism comes from not feeling good enough as a person.

Amy's Baking Company[ Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, owners of "Amy's Baking Company" ]

Although the feeling of inadequacy is shared by many people, those who struggle with it the most are obsessives (highly anxious highly sensitive people) who had been starved of healthy affirmation during their childhood. This does not necessarily mean that their parents all have directed much of their criticism toward their children while they were growing up. No. Their parents could have very well been good-hearted, loving people who provided frequent words of affirmation. The question is “when?”

Although it makes sense to give positive affirmation at the onset of good results, affirmation linked only to performance is very unhealthy, especially for obsessive children who think in extremes. This kind of affirmation sets up children to define themselves by how well they perform. In the video, it seems pretty clear to me that Amy defines her self-worth by how well she performs as a chef. When anything less than perfection is delivered, performance-oriented obsessive people hear a voice in their head saying “you are fatally flawed!” When others say, “This could have been better,” they hear, “You are a disgusting human being! On the show, one of the servers asked, “Are you sure?” to Amy. Amy took this simple question as a hostile challenge and equated the experience to someone holding a gun to her head. People who have lived the majority of their life listening to this kind of verbal abuse inside their head are very broken inside.

The choice of words that Amy and Samy use to attack their opposers and “haters” is a reflection of what they constantly hear inside their head. In their mind, Amy and Samy are simply mirroring everyone else’s insensitive communication. It feels to them like the entire world is out to attack them.

It is devastating when one’s identity gets crushed. I can see Amy and Samy desperately trying so hard to fight against the idea that they are not good enough as people. It appears that pride has made its way into their lives to help them cope better with their pain. They have convinced themselves that everyone else is wrong and they alone are the only ones who know how good food tastes.

My heart breaks for Amy and Samy Bouzaglo. I hope they get to discover soon that they are good enough just the way they are, regardless of how well they cook or run a restaurant. I am bothered by the online world’s insensitivity towards them. Rather than leaving these two poor broken people alone, so many people are attacking them for fun, just to get a kick out of their reaction.

Welcome to the new world of online bullying :(

Watch the entire TV episode here:

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Open-Minded Giftedness

Does it make any sense for Spider-Man to get upset and complain about how nobody else is fighting crime in the way that he fights crime? No. Does it make any sense for Jiro, the world’s most famous sushi chef, to get upset and complain about how his wife fails to make sushi at home in the way that he makes sushi? No. Why then do we get upset and complain when others fail to match the high standards that have been set by our own unique areas of giftedness?

When people fail to recognize one another’s unique areas of giftedness, they tend to get upset and complain when their high standards are not matched by others.

Excellence

I believe all people are gifted in at least one area in their life. Unfortunately, many people go through life never finding out what it is that they are gifted in. You then end up with people who think this way in their respective areas of giftedness:

“My standards are the standards that everyone should go by because I am right and they are wrong. I expect others to work as hard as I do to match those standards. If they fail, I get upset and complain. I quit on people easily if they keep on failing to match my standards.”

This way of thinking can cause a lot of stress, especially on relationships. Because of their multiple areas of giftedness (including orderliness, organization, analytical thinking, logical reasoning, problem solving, and many other functions of the “left brain”), many people with OCPD face this problem a bit too often. This way of thinking is the number one reason why so many people with OCPD have difficult marriages, relationships, and business partnerships.

When people recognize their own unique areas of giftedness, their way of thinking changes:

“I understand that my high standards are unique to me and not shared by the majority of the population. It is not their fault that they cannot see what I see. Therefore, I do not get upset nor do I complain when my standards are not matched by others. I find delight in doing my very best to match my own standards. Since my pursuit of excellence requires only my best effort, I have no reason to quit on others.”

This way of thinking is so much healthier. If more people with OCPD were to think in this way, they would have much less stress and enjoy better relationships. Click here to read an inspiring poem that beautifully captures this healthy way of thinking.

It took me a while to discover my gift in relationships, marriage, family, and parenting. Before I knew I was gifted in this area, I used to get upset and complain to my parents about their poor parenting skills (this never went too well because, in Korean culture, younger people are expected to pretty much shut up and submit to authority). It was when I discovered my gift in this area that I realized that my parents were not so bad after all. I realized that it is just up to me to be the best son that I can be, the best future husband that I can be, and the best future father that I can be. If my parents, my future wife, or my future children cannot be the same for me, well… that is ok. I now understand that we all have “different” areas of giftedness.

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Composure and Emotional Non-Expression

Highly sensitive people experience very strong emotions. Sometimes these emotions can be so overwhelming that they impair these people’s ability to maintain their composure and function at their best. In attempt to prevent the consequences that come with this loss, many of these people do not express these emotions and hope that others do not as well.

People with OCPD may be closed to the expression of certain emotions because their all-or-nothing thinking hyperbolizes the consequences of losing their composure.

Many people with OCPD have adopted the wrong idea from their past that some of their human emotions are unacceptable. They may have once expressed those emotions freely, but were punished with hurtful consequences. Those consequences, however small, were then magnified by their unmerciful all-or-nothing thinking.

People with OCPD then fall for another one of their tendencies: they make it a rule not to express those emotions. Even though it is a difficult rule to follow, people with OCPD do a good job following it because of their strong work ethic.

But to their frustration, it appears that everyone else seems to be breaking that rule. This can feel so unfair to people with OCPD. They question, “Why am I the only person who makes the effort to keep myself controlled?”

If the answer to this question comes from their all-or-nothing thinking, many of these frustrated people will judge that it is because others are “weak.” This is a very dangerous judgment for people with OCPD to make because they will eventually judge themselves in the same way when they break their own rule. This then leads to perfectionism and guilt.

The emotion that I have so much difficulty handling is anger. My father, like many other traditional Asian men, did not let me express this emotion because his culture taught him that speaking in an angry tone around elders is disrespectful. He would shut me up and I would be left feeling unheard and invalidated. I learned from him that the only way I would be taken seriously is if I suppress this emotion, communicate in a controlled manner, and validate all my points with logical reasoning.

After functioning out of this condition for so long, I have become a very controlled communicator. I carefully manage my choice of words, the tone of my voice, my body language, and the expression on my face as I construct what I want to say. Many times, my service of containing my emotions has saved others from becoming over-stimulated while we discuss sensitive topics. Giving others no reason to get defensive, I have been able to efficiently debate with others and be heard.

But others do not seem to work as hard as I do in controlling this emotion. They use offensive words, raise their voice, position their body as if they about to fight, roll their eyes, flare their nostrils, etc. I then quietly judge them in my mind. “You are so weak. How can you possibly think that your offensive language and tone of voice strengthen your pathetic argument? You are not worth listening to!” But as they keep on expressing this emotion that I never got to express, my anger builds up inside of me until I cannot hold it in any longer. I explode. Extreme guilt then follows as I tell myself how weak and pathetic I am.

Now I am moving towards handling anger in a healthier way through a process of forgiving my father and teaching myself that what I have to say does matter, regardless of the perfection of my communication. Along the way, I am also becoming more compassionate for those who express anger.

SO WHAT NOW?

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OCPD):
Be open to others about your difficulty in handling their expression of certain emotions. Let them know how you feel. Let them know your boundaries. Ask them kindly to be more sensitive to you.

HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE OTHER (OTHERS):
When you catch your OCPD friend breaking one of his or her own emotional non-expression rules, let him or her know that it’s ok. Fight against his or her guilt. Help him or her realize that the consequences of his or her loss of composure are not as bad as his or her all-or-nothing thinking makes them out to be. If your OCPD friend gets upset at you for breaking one of his or her emotional non-expression rules, be strong and do not allow yourself to feel guilt. Let your OCPD friend know that you prefer to give yourself more freedom to express your emotions. Let him or her know that the consequences of your emotional expression are not as bad as he or she thinks.

HOW TO FIND FREEDOM IN EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION (OCPD):
Think about that time when you adopted the wrong idea that it was unacceptable to express your emotions. What did you tell yourself? Understand that your all-or-nothing judgments were inaccurate. Forgive the person who made you feel that you should have never expressed those emotions. Tell yourself that you deserve to express those emotions just like everybody else. Whenever you feel those emotions come, face your fears and try to express them. If guilt follows, tell yourself that it’s ok.

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