I’ve got to be honest, this week has been pretty crappy.
My husband was away in California for work and the time difference made it tricky for us to talk and stay as connected as we usually do.
The night he left, I fell down the 3 steps into our bedroom. It was the middle of the night and I was still half asleep. I’d safely navigated these steps in the dark for 10 plus years, but not this night! I gave myself not only a nasty shock, but some pretty gnarly injuries to my leg and arm. Not the best timing with a week of solo-parenting ahead. 😖
“Ok”, I thought, “not ideal, but I’ve got this….”
Famous last words!!
The next day, our PA called out sick with a stomach bug and 2 of my kids (so far 🤪) also got sick. Our middle son spiked a 104ºF fever, which of course impacted my sleep and in turn, my ability to function and work effectively during the days.
My kids have always come first for me, so I jumped right back into mama-mode, giving snuggles, making soothing teas, cleaning up and coming nowhere close to conquering laundry mountain…let alone checking my emails.
On top of that, when my hubby did return, we went in for a parent-teacher conference we’d requested to discuss some challenges one of our kids had been having in his classroom. We didn’t quite expect a whole panel of staff – stressful to say the least.😯 (But it did go great!)
The more things piled-up, and the more exhausted I became, the more my heart sank and my feelings of futility grew.
“I was doing so well!” I told myself. “I was focused and creative, I was meeting deadlines, I was even back to my regular workouts and feeling great!”
I don’t know about you, but as a survivor of complex trauma, even after many years of healing work, I can go down a deep, dark hole of futility faster than a rabbit being chased by a fox.
Perhaps you can relate?
Maybe you’ve experienced this kind of thing where a day, a week, or a month unravels before your eyes and you feel helpless to stop it?
Growing up, survivors often develop perfectionist tendencies and routines in an effort to keep themselves safe.
For me it felt like a desperate attempt to hold everything and everyone (me included) together.
I’d eat the same meals on the same day of each week. I’d study late into the night to get straight As. I’d clean the house manically every day after school. Routine soothed me and gave me a sense of safety and control. I learned to be all in or all out. In control – or falling apart.
But no matter how hard I tried to keep things spotless, get straight As, be invisible, and fly under the radar, nothing worked. The abuse still happened, Chaos still reigned. I had zero control.
That’s why things like this past week are sometimes still triggering for me and perhaps for you too.
When things happen today that are beyond our control, they can catapult us right back to our past. Reminding us of a time where things were out of our control. When things were unsafe.
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Firstly, it’s important for us to acknowledge and process the emotions we’re feeling when we face challenges and setbacks. So that we can better understand what’s really going on beneath the trigger.
For example, perhaps you’d set yourself a healthy eating goal, but at the fourth birthday celebration in a week, the cake won! Maybe what’s being triggered are old feelings of deprivation or failure around food? Tapping on these feelings will help honor and then release them so that future celebrations are less likely to trigger these old feelings or end the same way. Meaning that one cake extravaganza doesn’t automatically lead to over-eating as self-punishment..
For me – the futility I felt all week was about my ability to either work OR be Mum. My all or nothing thinking from childhood said “you can’t do both, you have to choose”. And so, a 2023 goal I’d set to get consistent with my weekly emails – something I’ve sometimes struggled with – felt like it was being ripped away. I needed to process the feeling and belief that I’d be letting myself and others down if I did not stick to that goal. As well as opening myself up to the possibility that I could both work AND be Mum.
As you can see, the all or nothing thinking from my childhood was proving to be out-dated and unhelpful in my adult life.
The truth is that control is an illusion, just like perfectionism. They are constructs that we often build as children (and as adults) in abusive situations, to create a sense of safety and agency in our lives. In those situations they are adaptive coping strategies.
But now that we are safer and more resourceful, those same coping skills have likely become maladaptive; that is, hindering our growth instead of helping us.
A large part of healing from past traumas lies in this acknowledgement that we cannot control all aspects of life. Things will go wrong. Kids will get bugs. We will face obstacles and setbacks along the way. But does this really mean we’ve failed? That we need to quit?
For the longest time I fully believed this to be true. And it seems that many people still feel this same way. Take New Year’s Resolutions for example.
Did you know that for resolution-setters, January 17th is known as “Quit Day”?
3 weeks in to January – setbacks, obstacles, life happens and many people give up, feeling like it’s just to difficult to keep on trying.
But what if there’s another way we can view setbacks?
What if a setback is not an all-out, irredeemable failure, but simply – a setback? One that we can bounce back from?
What if, when we’re faced with a setback we can pause and imagine that we’re an amphibian suddenly out of water. Yes, at first we may struggle to adapt, but eventually, using skills like Tapping and somatic mindfulness, we can develop the resilience needed to thrive in any situation, overcoming any obstacle.
So many times though when we face a setback, we grind to halt. It feels like it’s over. We’ve failed. For me, it felt like: “If I can’t do it perfectly, I’d better not even try.”
But perhaps we can re-frame a setback as an opportunity to pause and take stock of how things are going.
For example, do new diets or workout plans HAVE to start only on Mondays? Or could I start today?
(Are you guilty of this one? I know I was for a long time! 😀)
I know, adopting new beliefs is easier said than done, especially when we’re working with trauma responses and triggers. But over the years, I’ve come up with a few beliefs that have really helped me to pick myself up and get back on track after a setback. And maybe they’ll help you too:
My favorite this past week has been the expression “done is good enough”. Whether it be getting takeout for dinner instead of cooking, or letting the dishes sit in the sink, it’s good enough.
Struggling to write this to you, I again told myself, it’s ok if it’s not long. Just write a few lines. “Done is good enough.” Done keeps the momentum and consistency going. And surprise, surprise, once I tapped and let go of the pressure I’d put on myself, the words came flowing out!
Here are a few of my other favorites that might help you if you’re struggling with some obstacles in your life right now:
-If I can’t clean a whole room, I’ll clean one drawer.
-If I can’t shower, I’ll brush my teeth or wash my face
-If I can’t listen to the whole webinar, I’ll listen to 5 minutes.
-If I can’t read the whole chapter, I’ll read one paragraph.
I had a client a few years ago who wrote his entire first novel this way. He told himself – all I have to do each day is write one sentence. And he did! Yes it took a while, but with consistent effort, he got it done! 😊
Obstacles and setbacks are inevitable, but we do have control over how we face them.
No matter what we’re trying to achieve, it’s progress and consistency in tiny increments that matters, not perfectionism.
When we can be gentle and kind, giving ourselves permission to make mistakes, to get off-track, we also make it possible for us to pick ourselves up and get back on track again. One tiny step at a time.
I used the tips above to help me check-in with myself and re-group. In addition, I took the following small and simple steps to get myself moving forwards again:
-After a week of no exercise, I started with just a 10 minute gentle bike ride.
-After eating too much sugar (my kryptonite) to cope with stress, I added in a salad for lunch.
-I made sure to get to bed earlier so I could get some much needed extra sleep.
-I took a break from social media
-I upped my self-care (and took my vitamins)
-I gave myself permission to write just a few lines which created space for words and creativity to flow.
I know it’s not easy and with a history of trauma I understand all too well the feeling of futility and spiraling downwards. But please know that a tough week (like the one I just had), or month or year does not have to de-rail us entirely. It doesn’t have to define us. Today is a new day and we can begin again.
I believe in you and I’m here for you, cheering you on! ❤️
Thank you Karen,this came at the perfect time. Like you I had an injury this week that has stopped me working and unable to do much around the house. I too came from trauma and learnt alot of now unhealthy coping strategies but as a child helped me to survive. I have been doing a lot of healing work,but yes still get triggered especially this week,so it’s great to be reminded that it’s OK to do just one small thing and not the whole lot and also asking for help and delegating to my 2 young adults. Its still a learning process and I am getting better at recognising the triggers. Thank you for your encouraging post today,it was just what I needed 🙏🙂
Oh I’m so glad this post resonated with you Lorraine. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to recognize your triggers more easily and asking for help is monumental! Wishing you a speedy recovery. Much love, Karen ☺️
As always, the universe has my back. Messages appear when I need them. Even though I feel like my whole life has been a setback, after reading your post, I have given myself grace and acknowledged the positive things I’ve done in the last few days to take a gentle step forward. In the last five days I have enjoyed three gentle yoga sessions & tapped four times. Even though some health issues are flaring up…again, not too long ago I was seeing some improvement. It’s giving me hope that there is a possibility that I may see improvement again soon.
Your post has given my mind and body an opportunity to reassess
Thank you for sharing your experience Patty. ☺️ I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a flare-up in your health issues. I love that you’ve been able to tap and enjoy some gentle yoga. Keep taking gentle, nourishing steps forward whenever you’re able and soon it will add up into improvements that you can both see and feel. Acknowledging and celebrating all the positive things is so important. Keep going – I’m cheering you on! ❤️
This is great! So totally relate! I have come to love—and identify more and more —with the word “resiliency.” 🙂
That’s wonderful Sheri! ☺️
Thank you for making time and space to create and share this post with us. It’s overflowing with wisdom. One of my favorite sayings that’s served me well for a long time is ‘Keep marching’. As you may surmise, I first heard it from someone who was in the army. It was an admonission for soldiers who were exhausted to keep going forward despite fatigue and setbacks. I’m technically a pacifist, so the military aspect is not what was meaningful to me. But it has helped me visualize the importance taking one step at a time. That’s how this get done anyway, right? But slow, individual steps are okay too. Pauses are okay. Regrouping is essential! Also okay if the entire goal isn’t achieved in one fell swoop. We just need to keep pressing forward towards the peace and joy we all deserve.
It’s so great that you’ve found an image that works for you to describe the whole journey. The pauses, the rest breaks, the setbacks, the re-grouping and moving forwards – or marching on again – one step at a time towards joy and peace. ❤️
This is so good! Thank you for taking the time to get this out there. Reminders are so helpful to me. I learn something then kinda move on but there needs to be action or its just another book on the shelf in our minds. Reading this and sharing it and starting to connect with others (I recently started a healing from trauma group in my home) is where I’m at right now. I have studied for so long. And got a degree and working on my 3rd certificate. I think that was feeding the perfectionism and trying to get it all right. After this certification I made a goal to make some business cards and am starting to apply. That’s been my sticking point. I worked for 6 months being a personal trainer kinda forced into this job I felt prematurely but I did see how strong I was and learned some things. Im ready to start again in the near future. Ebb and flow not black and white thinking is my new programming. Thanks again for giving me something to reflect on! Blessings!
Awesome insights Sabrena! I love the idea of ebb and flow and if it helps – you can always share a photo of your new business card with me via my email. Sometimes a buddy to help us with accountability is just the gentle nudge we need. I believe in you! 🤩
Thank you for sharing this! I connect oerfectly with my willing of control of perfection. I has trauma in my past and I do therapy what it’s becoming better, but when the professional touches something I can heal, I slip hurrying up to another mental place, just to avoid the healing. In this terms I can do it better, but not now.One thing at a time is perfect for me not being overwhelmed by my thoughts and emotions
This makes sense – we often have a flight response to the idea of healing and what it might bring up. Gently does it. ❤️
Thank you, Karen. Phew…this resonates with me – the perfectionism, the need for routine/structure and what occurs when life happens contrary to my neatly organized plan. And why do I resist doing the things (self-care) when I get triggered? The old familiar habits somehow feel comforting. Lately I’m noticing the important, subtle signs I’m triggered when I’m not consciously aware of the anxiety. These are small things that I have probably been doing all my life like holding my breath, the urge to rush whatever task I’m doing and cleaning. So much clean ing while rushing and holding my breath. omg
Blessings for all of us
It’s such a great thing that you’re noticing subtle signs you’ve been triggered Sunny, instead of it taking a huge thing to call your attention. ☺️
Perhaps see what it might feel like to practice pausing before cleaning. Notice any discomfort or anxiety not cleaning might bring forwards. I use this technique often with people who are working with patterns of over-eating. It’s very effective. You can still clean (so no deprivation) but – just take a moment or two (to begin with) to notice what emotion you might have to feel if you didn’t clean. many times when we’re able to even observe the emotion, the charge around it begins to lessen. ❤️
Oh no Karen your week was even worse than mine, I am so sorry to hear about your fall! My furnace went out and for once I didn’t freak, just called right away to get a repairman out. Turns out it needed to be replaced, the migraines I’d been experiencing were due to carbon monoxide escaping into my home (which led me to discovering it was time to replace the CO alarms too). Surprisingly things flowed through the weekend, but the minute the problems were addressed I proceeded to get sick. I just surrendered and rested for a couple days, then had to deal with being off track and feeling behind again. I tried to slowly ease back in but it seemed like everything took twice as long as usual. I said to myself “housework incorrectly done still blesses my home” and did a good enough pass. I’m also incorporating the mindfulness senses exercise you gave me last week into my walks. The pain and grief hasn’t bubbled up yet, but when I am grounded in my senses I slow down and really appreciate the air and beauty around me so I’m feeling more invigorated and the chatter in my mind goes away. I keep telling myself, there’s no reason to rush, even if I do one small thing each day it’s okay. Hope your next week is much better! Thank you for these posts.
Oh Mary, I’m so glad you’re safe.☺️
I love that your cleaning efforts were “good enough”. Yes!!
And how great that you’ve been affirming that there’s “no reason to rush.”
Keep taking things as slowly and mindfully as you can. You’re doing great!
Big hug to you.
I can so relate.
I can have the thought: Why even bother?
So the suggestion, to do a tiny bit instead of giving up, totally speaks to me.
I’ll try that.
Wonderful reframe Winni! Let me know how that goes for you. Yes a tiny bit is never wasted and only adds up the more tiny bits we can manage over time. Keep going! ☺️
Thank you Karen for your openness and honesty! This post made me cry as I saw my little self desperately trying to control things in the midst of chaos. Back then, I “needed” to be perfect believing it would all fall apart otherwise. And that need to be perfect has followed me throughout my life. But I’m working on it and perhaps a setback doesn’t have to be catastrophic and maybe I don’t need to conquer the mountain all at once. Baby steps, right?
Absolutely Kim – baby steps are the way! ☺️ Thank you for sharing your connectedness to the desperation of your little self and your old need for perfectionism as a way to hold your world together. Keep going – you’re doing amazingly! ❤️
Thanks so much for these wise & kind words Karen. I’m having some issues with communication with my daughter & I tell you, it really drags me down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, failure, sadness, stress & anxiety. I know it triggers a trauma response from childhood, teenagehood etc. when I had to walk on eggshells with my father who couldn’t tolerate the fact I wasn’t his idea of perfect.
In complete contrast, my family is very close … husband, son & daughter & it’s extremely rare for us to have communication issues, so when it does happen, I feel like a complete failure & instantly go back to repeating all that negative self-talk
I know I’m a perfectionist & find it very uncomfortable to not be able to control everyone else’s emotions. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning & drag myself to our gym… my husband went anyway & is very chilled & understanding. I then feel like a failure all day for not exercising, but it’s only Monday (here in Aus) & I’ve got the whole rest of the week to get my exercise in, so tomorrow is a new day!🤩
Thanks again 🌻
Thank you for your honest response Pauline. 💕 It makes so much sense why any lapse in communication now (partly because it’s so rare these days for you)would take you right back then.
Perhaps see what it might feel like to you when it next happens, if you can pause and bring in a little, tiny bit of compassionate self talk. So instead of repeating all the negative talk you heard and learned back then.. try to interrupt it with something like:
“Yes I know back then I heard and told myself….. (fill in all the blanks)
BUT, what if what’s actually true is that….. eg (I had a tough morning, but that doesn’t define my whole week. We got off on the wrong page, but I’m still a good person….etc)
Notice how this changes your day. And let me know how you get on. 😊
I am enough. I am me and I am ok!
Yes you are! Awesome you! 🥰🤩
Thank you for all you shared in this post Karen. I was deep in a rabbit hole the day I received your email. I had never connected my perfectionism with my “everything is going to hell in a hand basket” mindset. Your words helped me understand why I’m frequently in downward spirals. The best part is that you provided me with tools to avoid or come out of the rabbit hole. Much gratitude for sharing your truth. It was deeply helpful for me!!!
Oh I’m so glad you found this post helpful Christine! 🥰