If you follow me on Instagram, you'll probably notice that I talk a lot about perfectionism and my own journey as a "perfectionist in recovery". If you're a fellow perfectionist or PIR who's struggled with therapy for whatever reason, I feel you. The tendency to waver between wanting to be the best client or fu*k it all, runs deep through my veins.
Several years ago, I turned to therapy because I was going through a difficult time in my life. The first time I ever went to therapy, I was very resistant to change, felt like I was a “bad client” and ended up just ghosting my therapist after only 4 sessions.. Talk about being scared of vulnerability and clinging to my perfectionistic perfect/fu*k it all tendencies (also, sorry old therapist)!
Years later, I tried therapy again. I thought.. maybe my old therapist was a bad match.. I'll just try to find someone who has an expensive degree from an IVY league school, definitely PhD level only, supervisor level, charges half the cost of my rent per appointment. I thought nobody would understand me except THE best. After several weeks with said therapist, I found something wrong with them, too.. Dumped them and decided therapy wasn't for me.
Years later again, I gave therapy "one last try". This time I was in graduate school for counseling... (I know, right?) so I felt more in control of the situation (perfectionist tendency) and felt a bit more eager to start looking at ME and unveiling my truth. Thankfully, my therapist was a badass who knew a thing about perfectionism and control in therapy. My previous therapists worked around my control, but this therapist named it. And naming it has meant everything.
I learned that my tendency to want "only the best", most experienced therapist was actually getting in my own way of getting help. Sure, experience is great but when I started graduate school, I learned that the single most important predictor to therapy success (client's subjective experience of how well therapy worked), is not experience, where they went to school, or how much they charge.. it's about the relationship the person has with their therapist. My desire to find "the best" therapist only pushed off my own healing and processing around my stuff for another few years.
I also learned that therapy, like meditation or mindfulness, is a practice. You know what's the opposite of practicing something? Trying to be perfect at it. If you're like me and you've ever ghosted a therapist, had a terrible experience in therapy, didn’t know what to talk about, felt like you “wasted” you or your therapist’s time, or resisted change.. that’s okay! Like with any practice, we get better the more we practice, some days we are on point, and some days we’re just happy we even showed up. It’s a practice. Stay curious about your process. Are your goals aimed at perfectionism or practicing showing up for yourself?
One of the best practices I learned through therapy is to compassionately challenge my inner-perfectionist when her voice comes up. Questions I ask sound like "is this me or my inner perfectionist talking?", "what is it about this situation, person, event, etc. that's causing my inner perfectionist to come out?", "what does my inner perfectionist need right now? (Nurturing, to feel safe, rest, etc.?)". Talking to my inner perfectionist in a kind, compassionate voice that I would use towards a friend has been a game changer. It's turned life from IFEELSHAMEABOUTALLTHETHINGSIVEEVERDONEEVER to a loving, warm relationship with myself more days than not.
When clients first start therapy, there can be a lot of shame language or feelings of shame that end with early client termination, lying or ghosting of their therapists. Owning up to mistakes, speaking kindly to yourself through the process when you have bad therapy days or treated your therapist poorly, is all a part of the practice and work that you invest in yourself. Therapy isn't meant to be a place where you get 100% validation and the warm and fuzzies every week. It's difficult and challenging.. it's a practice. It does get easier the more that you navigate who you are and how you get in your own way.
Therapists know all about this kind of stuff so if you’re struggling with a difficult time in your life or feeling lonely in your process or recovery, just know I see you. Keep seeking your truth. Keep practicing. It’s okay to make mistakes along the way (or even ghost your therapist)... It’s never too late to show back up for yourself.