I am a recovering perfectionist. As such, I have a lot of experience with anxiety, depression and other issues that perfectionism can trigger. My love for my beautiful daughter has pushed me to get to an even healthier place of healing from perfectionism. What I don’t heal, she picks up on and adopts as her way of dealing with the world. Seeing her become perfectionistic and hard on herself has been a powerful motivator for me to change.
Parents who are perfectionists are prone to many issues such as depression, anxiety, weight issues, etc. Ironically, we are susceptible to these issues because we are trying so hard to be perfect. Yet not only do we suffer from this impossible goal we set for ourselves, but we inadvertently put our children at risk for serious issues as well.
Fortunately for me, I have learned a lot of tools for dealing with depression, and taming the perfectionist monster when it rears its head. This tool is very effective for dealing with children and depression, as well as helping with anxiety in children.
The tool I use is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT or CT as I abbreviate it). The premise behind CT is that our thoughts lead to chemical changes in our brains that cause depression, anxiety and some other mood disorders (manic depression is one of the exceptions). Powerful new brain scanning technology has confirmed that our thoughts do lead to chemical changes. Even more powerfully, brain scans have proven that cognitive therapy effectively changes our brain structure. This means that CT does not just make our symptoms bearable, but it actually changes our brain in a healing way.
I just had a bout this weekend of feeling down. Some issues triggered those feelings, most profoundly my tendency to overwork myself. That can be another side-effect of perfectionism, being driven to work and routinely taking on too much. Fortunately, after 3 days of struggling with my mood, I remembered to pull out my CT. The effect was quick and highly effective. As my girlfriend, Kathleen said, “It’s quicker than Adavan.”
I immediately wished that I had pulled out the CT even quicker. Then I reminded myself to be gentle with myself. I am only human, and I learned my perfectionistic ways as a young child. Although I am dramatically better than I was, I can still get triggered into feeling down for a bit. The more gentle I am on myself for even going there, the quicker my recovery is.
Every person who suffers from anxiety, depression, weight issues, etc. owes it to themselves to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CT). The techniques are simple to learn, can be done at home by yourself or as part of counseling, and are highly effective for many people. Medication may well be needed as well, in the short 0r long term. However what CT offers that medicine does not is a chance to permanently alter your brain structure so that our brain can function optimally without medicine. You owe it to yourself to see if this powerful method will work for you.
Before signing off I’d like to recommend a few authors for more information. I learned CT through David Burns’ wonderful 10 Days to Self-Esteem. I took 10 weeks to work through his book and it was the turning point for me and allowed me to get off the anti-depressants that I needed for a few months. Byron Katie’s brilliant book The Work utilizes a very similar method, and I have used her method often in recent years.
Three last thought-leaders in this field whose work has profoundly influenced me are Doidge, Amen, and Seligman, listed in the order that I encountered their work. Norman Doidge’s fascinating book, The Brain that Changes Itself, is one of the resources that talks about the effectiveness of CT for changing people’s actual brain chemistry. Through a wonderful YouTube series, Daniel Amen outlines a great technique for getting rid of ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts, that lead to depression and anxiety. Both Doidge and Amen highlight the fact that our brain can change and work better, and we don’t have to accept that we have depression or anxiety for life.
Finally, Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has done brilliant work on optimism. In his books, he outlines methods of changing moods that are also powerful. His work helped me to recognize my residual pessimism, which fed into some down or anxious thoughts. Even more of a concern to me was recognizing that some of the problems I saw in my daughter had their roots in my way of coping. She copied what she saw modeled, and in order to help her find better coping mechanisms, I needed to start with me. Of course, that has been a gift for me as well.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with children and depression, anxiety in children, and your own mood issues. If you have questions about CBT, I’d be happy to answer them as well.