Quelling Anxiety, Letting Go of Perfection


Imagine your neighbor upstairs left the water running over a holiday weekend and flooded your apartment. The damage is major, and you need to move out and into a smaller apartment with your two dogs, two kids and husband, for four and a half months. Imagine the babysitter you hired to help with your kids the week of the move canceled on you and you cannot find a replacement. Imagine your moving date is fast approaching and you are still negotiating the lease for your rental, coordinating with movers, fighting with your contractor and waiting to hear if insurance will reimburse you in full for your repairs. You are not packed at all for your move, let alone for your upcoming trip for Thanksgiving. Yes, you are going away right before this major move. Imagine the stress, anxiety and panic you feel, especially if you are the type that is super organized. I am talking about an uberorganized person, the type who color-codes everything and loves to make lists. How are you going to pack everything?

If you can imagine all of this, you have taken one step into my world, because I am describing my life right now. My anxiety was so intense that I couldn’t handle it. All of the sudden I realized that there was no way I was going to get all of my packing done, and a feeling of calm overcame me. A perfectionist faced with certain imperfection has no choice but to let go and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I know that the movers will come, and I will move. I don’t expect the process to be smooth or easy, but I know it will get done. There are many different ways to move, and throwing stuff into poorly labeled boxes is one way that I will be getting to know well.

Sometimes you need to let go of perfection.


Letting Go after an Insult


How do you let go after someone has said or done something to hurt you?

Let’s start with an example. Let’s say that your sister-in-law has criticized you. You are all sitting around the table at a holiday dinner, and she says, “Me personally, I don’t love food enough to stay home all day cooking. I prefer to spend my free time at the gym.” This comment comes after your husband talks about the lovely dinner you just made, and you happen to be overweight. Luckily, you only see Darlene at holidays and family events. Your husband is not close enough to his sister to want to get together more often than that.

You find your blood boiling. How dare she say that to me? you think. You decide to confront her, which is something you have wanted to do before but you weren’t quite ready until now. You say, “Darlene, when you made that comment, I felt like you were criticizing my weight.”

“No, I wasn’t,” she responds. “All I was saying is that I am not the kind of person who enjoys cooking.” Darlene has given you a completely unsatisfactory answer. Your blood boils even hotter. Your mind starts flipping through the rolodex of insults she has lobbed at you since you joined the family. You did not know before you met her that your family doesn’t know wedding etiquette, that wearing jewelry is tacky, that children of good breeding should not wear sequins and rhinestones.

Despite Darlene’s response, you explain that what she said was an insult because she was indirectly commenting on your weight by talking about how she doesn’t love food or like to cook and how she enjoys going to the gym. She responds that she was merely talking about herself and saying nothing about you. You have officially gotten nowhere, which should not be a surprise because you know your sister-in-law. You know she is petty and childish, shallow and lacking empathy.

What could you have done differently?

Not confront her. You know your sister-in-law well enough to suspect she would not apologize or take responsibility. There are two questions you should ask yourself before you confront someone: (1) Can you reach the person? and (2) Do you care enough about the person to even try? If the answer to both questions is no, you should not confront. If the answer to one of the questions is no, whether you confront is a personal decision. You may want to confront a close relative whom you love dearly, even if you suspect you cannot reach the person. The relationship may be important enough to you that you want to try.

In the case of Darlene, the answer to both questions was no, yet you chose to confront. Now you find yourself upset that she did not own up to her bad behavior. How can she not take responsibility when you so clearly explained what she was truly saying? you wonder. Does she not see the truth? Does she see the truth and is she merely denying it? There is no sense in thinking too much about the whys of Darlene’s behavior because you will never know what goes through her head. Darlene could very well know the truth and choose to deny it or she could be unaware of the truth because it is buried deep in her subconscious.

How do you let go and move on?

Let’s discuss moving on first. You didn’t like Darlene before, and you don’t like her now. Nothing has changed, except for the fact there was an open confrontation, but so what? At least now, your feelings for her are out in the open. You will find out soon enough if Darlene chooses to control her critical tendencies or unleash them at you with full force. Your future interactions with her could be more hostile if she is angry at you for confronting her. Oh the irony—you call someone out on bad behavior, and the person ends up upset with you.

Now about letting go. How do you let go? Here are some suggestions. Don’t replay the scene over and over in your head, and don’t replay the scenes from the past either. Replaying will only fuel your negative feelings. Try not to share the story with your friends or family, especially if they tend to escalate situations rather than deescalate. Remind yourself that Darlene is not that important in your life. After all, you see her only at holidays and family events. Tell yourself that she is not your problem, and focus on what you care about in your life, the goals you are working towards.