One warm spring day, I was walking on the upper east side to my favorite cafe to get a cappuccino. I noticed a toddler, clutching a bright orange tulip in his tiny hand. He started squeezing the flower petals and his mother, gently pried the flower from his hand saying “no no, don’t squash the flower, it needs to bloom!”
I smiled and walked into the cafe, her words still resonate in my mind. “Don’t squash the flower.” It was a small statement but struck a profound chord with me. All of us are born with a garden of opportunities for being good to ourselves, but often we fail to give them the water and sunlight they deserve? Perhaps we are overtaken by burnout at work but don’t know how to stop the vicious cycle. Maybe we forgo a potentially life-changing decision because the fear of the unknown is too powerful. Or maybe we avoid true intimacy in relationships for fear of getting hurt. If any of these examples resonate with you, read on to discover how to let go of the tight grip of control, avoidance, and comfort. You can learn to release ‘the tulip’ and welcome the blossoming of growth, change, and acceptance.
Have you noticed the standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy!” Stress has become a status symbol; the message seems to be that the more overworked and tired we are, the more inherent worth we possess. I have found this to be especially true in the bustling city of New York, where I live and practice. The problem with this messaging is that stress and burnout are highly correlated with illness such as viral infections, elevated blood pressure autoimmune diseases.
Although it might seem that logging into work into the wee hours of the morning is necessary for your growth, the research on stress tells us otherwise. If we aren’t taking care of our bodies and our minds, we can’t produce our best material or show up as our best selves. Be sure you are nurturing your emotional garden by having honest conversations with your supervisors when you feel overwhelmed, setting good boundaries, and scheduling some of your favorite relaxation activities when you’re off the clock. If you’ve tried these tips already and still find yourself sucked into the rhythm of stress, perhaps it’s time to discuss a culture change (perhaps a new job!) with a therapist or a career coach. I often tell my clients when they can’t change their frustrating environments: “sometimes the only solution to a problem is to stop participating in it”.
Perfectionist self-talk cripples personal growth because it sets unrealistic standards. “What can’t be done right shouldn’t be done at all.” “I’m not going to be the best, so why bother trying?” “I’ll never compare to them.” Striving for success can be scary because of the anticipation of failure. This fear can also suffocate our creative ideas and plans. I am a perfect (pun intended) example of perfectionism in terms of my blog writing for A Good Place. In the past, when I came up with an idea for a blog, I would procrastinate like crazy. I told myself that nobody would read it and that even if people did read it, it wouldn’t be relatable.
As I self-reflected it became clear that the root of my perfectionism was fear of rejection. Each time I let my negative thoughts get the best of me aI chose not to write, I reinforced the idea that I wasn’t good enough. I decided to take my own advice and practice a tool called “opposite action”. The idea of opposite action is to do the very thing that you are avoiding while accepting that you may feel uncomfortable. I decided I was going to give myself permission to write for 10 minutes a day about anything I wanted and not judge myself for it. The first few days were rough, but not only did I get more comfortable with writing, I managed to get out a lot of my root feelings about writing and process them appropriately.
Avoiding Intimacy in Relationships
One of the classic ways we squash our tulips is by not letting other people in. Our fear of getting close and being rejected can take on various masks. Workaholism (“I’m too busy to date”), choosing geographically or emotionally unavailable partners, purposefully limiting or excessively controlling the amount of time spent with someone you’re dating, or deciding a person “just isn’t for us” when things are getting serious, are just a few examples. This is not limited to romantic relationships but applies to friendships and family members as well.
Intimacy is a growth accelerator for us! Being vulnerable, while seeing the goodness and love in yourself reflected back through the eyes of another, can be one of the most healing experiences. But it can be scary! The “what ifs” and controlling parts of us swoop in to remind us that people are not safe, we’ll probably get hurt, and it’s easier to be alone. This is where one of my favorite social workers and authors, Brene Brown, can be of help.
Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher who has written several amazing books that walk us through how to confront barriers to emotional growth and true connection. In her book Braving the Wilderness, she provides a powerful and helpful acronym for ensuring our conditions for trust can be met with people we care about.
(the) Vault. (Confidentiality)
Using this acronym can help provide some order and comfort to the idea of intimacy when we feel it is too chaotic or unpredictable for us.
I hope these tips have helped shed some light on how your garden can flourish in spite of stress, negative self-talk and perfectionism. Remember that, like most plants and flowers, growth doesn’t happen overnight but takes time, attention, dedication, and most importantly self-compassion!
Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness. New York, NY: Random House.
Schneiderman, N, Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). Stress and health: Psychological, behavioral and biological determinants. Annual Review Clinical Psychology, Vol 1: 607-628. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/.