Dear Amy: I have such a strong drive to be productive, to take action, to keep things organized, and to stay perfectly on top of everything.
This is good to a certain extent, but I am past that borderline.
I suffer from sleep issues — falling and staying asleep. Plus, constantly thinking about what needs to be done makes it difficult for me to enjoy being present in the moment.
I can’t relax unless things are put away and mostly everything that needs to be done is done. My mom was like this, so I know I get it from her!
Years of being an operations manager further honed this trait.
Besides wanting to improve my health by getting better rest, I’m also concerned that if my husband and I have children, I may be constantly stressed out because it’ll be impossible to keep things clean and organized and keep on top of what needs to be done.
In my current job, my work-life balance is pretty good, and during weekends or vacations, I don’t think about work much, so — things could be worse.
I’ve tried meditation, but it didn’t connect well with me. I’ve seen a therapist for years, but he hasn’t been much help with this particular issue.
How do I learn to become OK with being still and to rest better?
— Just Like Mom
Dear Just Like: Perfectionism is often inherited, and this trait can have real, lasting and unhealthy consequences. You don’t mention what your childhood was like, but I assume that your desire to change might be a product of the insight you’ve gained from your mother’s experience.
Did your mother hold a high-stress job similar to yours? If not, her lifestyle might have left more room for making things perfect at home.
You don’t mention what led you to therapy, but — in my view — if your therapist isn’t able to work with you successfully on some of these core issues, you should consider changing therapists. You might see some success with a form of "exposure therapy," where you deliberately leave things undone, and gradually learn to cope with your reaction when life gets messy.
You should also see a sleep specialist. Being rested will help you to stop spinning.
I applaud your insight concerning the impact your tendencies would have on a family. Being a parent is the ultimate in "operations management." It is a 24/7 rollercoaster of challenges, joys, emotional swings, and — yes — the unique pain of stepping on Lego pieces in the middle of the night.
The parenting experience can lead high-strung people into a beautiful softening – but you can’t count on that.
Your kids would be the first to notice how hard you are on yourself, and they could inherit the high-strung anxiety that goes along with that. One root cause of perfectionism is the belief that you aren’t good enough, as you are.
Here’s a quote from Brene Brown’s book, "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are": "Understanding the difference between healthy striving [that’s you at work] and perfectionism [you at home] is the key to laying down the shield and picking up your life."
Dear Amy: I have a friend I’ve known for 20 years. We were lovers on and off for two years, but haven’t been in touch for the past year.
He contracted me recently, saying that he wants me again, and wants me to help him figure out his feelings.
He has a pattern of making plans to meet up — and then nothing.
Should I believe everything he tells me?
Dear Wondering: It is not your job to help this man "figure out his feelings."
Based on your long and complicated history with him, you might choose to move forward in friendship — but nothing more. That’s up to you.
You should be willing to listen, but skeptical, about any statements this man makes. Pay closest attention to what he does.
His actions will speak volumes. Believe them.
Dear Amy: I was intrigued by the question sent to you by "Not Nameless Wife," whose partner of 20 years never called her by her name (but always "Honey").
I immediately wondered if this man has Anomic Aphasia, which is the inability to retrieve words, names and numbers. That would explain his behavior.
Dear Researcher: Most respondents suggested that this man should be tested for a variety of brain disorders. All definite possibilities.