by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD
I once worked with a young lady (I’ll call her Angie – not her real name) who struggled with intense perfectionism. On the outside Angie looked like a well-adjusted, incredibly focused, and successful college graduate, but inside she was extremely anxious, riddled with worry, and constantly measuring herself up to unreasonable standards.
We embarked on the journey of reducing her perfectionism and developing the skill of mindfulness (refer to June blog). Though she was willing to slow herself down and engage in non-judgmental observation and participation in the present moment, this was very difficult work for her to do! She was bombarded constantly with automatic thoughts telling her this mindfulness stuff was a waste of time. By observing her automatic thoughts, she began to realize that her self-concept was largely dependent on her performance. While she wanted to believe that God loved her unconditionally and that she was valuable regardless of her performance, she did not love, accept or respect her own life.
During our treatment, Angie dug deep into defining who she was and learning to radically accept the precious life God gave to her, regardless of her successes. Again, this was really difficult work for a mind that was hard wired to perform in order to earn acceptance. But one day she showed up for therapy with a huge smile on her face and her eyes were dancing. It was in the middle of a cold Iowa winter that she entered my office exclaiming, “Heidi, I just noticed the snow glistening in the sun! It was so beautiful!” We spent several minutes enjoying Angie’s description of her drive to our appointment. The drive started off with her typical mental planning and worry, but as she was taking a curve in the road, she saw it. She really SAW it. The sun was shining brightly and the snow on the ground glistened in such a way that she observed it. As Angie observed it she suddenly felt JOY. At that point, our work together took a positive turn and we did not need to continue treatment much longer. Angie was beginning to connect with her own life, with nature, and with God in more positive, mindfully accepting ways. She was able to appreciate the loveliness available to her right now. In fact, Angie started to call the present moment the “precious present”. Life began to glisten for this young lady. The old mental defenses of worry, toxic comparison, and perfectionism melted away in the light of participating in the blessings of the precious present.
In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus tells us not to worry but to join the rest of creation trusting God and participating in the precious present. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” God himself thinks you are valuable. Enjoy the precious present He has given to you.
Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders.