Need help with my dominating perfectionism...
February 28, 2016 1:34 AM   Subscribe

Help. I am in a heavy stress short term situation, working closely with others for long hours. I need immediate coping mechanisms to keep from dominating every situation and making things worse.

This can't and won't change for a little while. That is okay but I have not handled myself as well as I would like so far. I am not used to the stress or group work. My worst qualities are heightened and exacerbated.

Basically, I am an insecure perfectionist (all of the varieties - you're not good enough!, i am not good enough!, they must know i am not good enough! I come off as a controlling and intense know-it-all. I am often "right" because I am so thorough, which could be fine, but being right is not always the point, and I need to dial it back and let others shine. I overstep, talk too much, am competitive, critical... You get the picture.

Long term and in my normal life, I manage pretty well with self-awareness, writing, exercise, etc. But this isn't normal and I need immediate coping skills. I have no mental illness or depression (personally or in my family). Day to day, issues come up once in a while and I work through them. I am nurturing and not usually so intense. Yet with very little personal time and heavy stress I am not able to reign myself in with gentle reminders. The odd instance of criticizing or being rude has become constant. For example, my work is in order. If someone asks me about contract 33-B, I might make a passive agressive statement about how important being in order is. Or, when a group is asked a question, I might be the first and loudest to speak.

I do my best to drink water/eat and sleep and get air, walk a bit. Meditation would be nice, but I almost don't have time to even think. It would be difficult to take 1 minute long meditation breaks in a bathroom. You know how easy it is to pick up your phone every 5 minutes? Lately, I go 8-10 hour stretches without even thinking about it. This is exhausting. I am not using cigarettes/alcohol/drugs/excessive amounts of caffeine.

Being less controlling and worried and micromanaging would make this whole thing easier on everyone involved. It would be great to have some things to do or think about it during the heavy group work. What coping (lifetstyle is as good as possible) skills or tips would help me avoid always talking and being such an annoying perfectionist.

Thank you. This means a lot to me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Whenever I felt this way, my therapist would say, "So basically you want to be a different person. But you are you, so let's work with that instead."

This is how you react under intense pressure. You can't require yourself to react the way you usually do — it isn't fair. It's just going to be intense for a while and you can accept and welcome your under-pressure self instead of hating and judging it.

What does that look like? You mention wanting to be less controlling and worried and micro-managing, and avoiding always talking. These are all things I do when I care about the end result, and it feels risky to back off. Recognizing that this is hard because I care (not because I'm inherently annoying) has made it easier for me to find other ways to care for my projects, like by tending my group's interactions and letting other team members "win" on something.

The main question I go to when trying to be less perfectionistic is "Which elements of this are required and which are nice to have but not crucial?" It's like the "take one accessory off before you leave the house" rule. Experiment with finding something you can let go of in each project.
posted by sadmadglad at 4:08 AM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

High stress perfectionists almost always say things "Once this over it will be different". They imagine that their period of high stress is an unusual time-bounded one off rather than a disposition. My wife of 20 years is a perfectionist university professor and every semester she always says "After this semester it will be different". Then I laugh at her. It's one of our scripted cyclical relationship in-jokes and it has been performed close to 80 times now. I'm certain if you reflect you will see that these periods of stress repeat cyclically and are a not exceptions but probably at least semi-predictable.

So start thinking about how to make a better team rather than a better single piece of output. Think about the season rather than the game. Picture yourself as a short relief baseball pitcher who can come in and throw 100+mph fastballs but only for an inning or two once every couple of days. Keep a pitch count. Don't burn out your arm.
posted by srboisvert at 5:34 AM on February 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

If you are interested in trying meditation you can actually do it anytime --- while peeing, brushing your teeth, every time you walk into a room. You don't have to be alone or sitting cross legged or do it for any length of time. 5 secs counts. Try just to think "here I am" and pick on part of your body to check in with (feel how it feels): your breath, your hands, your feet, your forehead are all good.

I do want to note that what you might notice is that you feel bad when you check in. A good next step is to say "I hear you" like your listening to a friend venting. And then try to let the thought/feeling go.
posted by CMcG at 5:51 AM on February 28, 2016

How about apologizing after you say something rude/when you notice yourself hogging a conversation? If you can't stop yourself ahead of time it will still help relations with your coworker's if you say things like, "I'm sorry for rambling on. What do you think, Jane?"
posted by MsMolly at 8:18 AM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

For group interaction: You aren't allowed to talk until three other people contribute (adjust intelligently for the group size). You should not be talking more than 1/n of the time, where n is the number of the people in the group.

You aren't allowed to talk unless you are actually engaging with what those people have said. You do not have all the answers. The very idea is preposterous, and you need to get your head right and start listening more than you speak.

The mark of an actual leader is that she walks at the back of the group, enabling others to walk at the front. Sometimes that means shutting the piehole and letting things unfold as they will.

[Please understand that I say this as someone with similar tendencies who has made some little progress by shutting the f*ck up and observing for a change.]
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:41 AM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Find the physical cues. When this passive aggression kicks in, it's very likely that your body reacts in certain habitual ways which are at their root related to the same way it would have reacted 100,000 years ago in full-on confrontation on the Serengeti mode.

You might clench your jaw, tense your shoulders, furrow your brow, breathe shallow... probably not dramatically so, but I would be surprised if you couldn't find awareness of these sorts of things if you focus during the stressful times.

So... look for them. Build awareness of them, then find the simple, physical counters to them. Breathe more deeply, exhaling more than you inhale. Keep your mouth shut but let your jaw hang slack. Rub the side of your head just above your ears. Shrug your shoulders up and then down as far as possible.

This basic self-awareness and self-control in the physical sphere can then become a cue and a grounding from which to apply these qualities in mental and social ones.
posted by protorp at 10:46 AM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the group is one you will work with for a while, it is probably worth it to talk about process and decision making and also your concerns about your own interactions.

People can be surprising kind if you say something like "The intensity of this work is making feel quite panicked, and that makes me feel like just taking control of everything as a response. If there is something I could just take away and do that might be good, otherwise, feel free to let me know if I a start overstepping and I'll chill out".

And then be humble if someone points it out.

To be fair, sometimes a group just dithers until someone takes charge, OR doesn't allocate tasks because there is no level of trust among the group members ... no one knows if the other people will be competent and get things done. If you can actually use your willingness to take charge for good in the group (i.e. "Can I take this piece away and be trusted to just get it right?") it can be very helpful.
posted by chapps at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2016

(Because if you are a woman you are probably not domineering as much as you think, and might, you know, just be doing what, in a man, is called "leading").
posted by chapps at 5:18 PM on February 28, 2016

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