Psychological Self-Help

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By understanding the development in several ways of our unhelpful
perfectionism, perhaps we can come to grips with it (Adderholdt-
Elliott, 1988). It is probably an old well worn habit. Maybe your
parents were strict and punitive? Maybe you felt you needed to do real
well to make up for weaknesses? Maybe being perfect was a way of
avoiding punishment or getting attention and praise as a child? Maybe
you became very anxious and self-critical when you didn't do well
socially or in school, sports, games, or chores? Maybe trying real hard
helped you feel better…or did it make you feel worse? As the reasons
for your becoming perfectionistic become clearer, you may realize that
you no longer need to keep making neurotic perfectionistic demands
on yourself. Get on with living. Uncertainty is a part of life. You can’t
control everything but you can handle whatever happens. 
Last updated August, 2003 
Guilt and Regret
Healthy, useful guilt is the feeling we have when we do something
we rationally judge to be morally wrong or unfair. Just having the
thought or urge to do something bad can cause guilt. That's good if it
keeps us from doing something inconsiderate. Healthy guilt is our
reasonable, fair conscience. But there is unhealthy guilt too. That is
when we establish unreasonable standards for ourselves, i.e. we
expect perfection, we want to accomplish the impossible, we feel
responsible for misfortunes in other people's lives, we believe we are
"good" only if we faithfully follow all the rules and do more than our
duty. The unhealthy guilt does not allow for mistakes; we expect too
much from ourselves and others. 
There are two uses of the word shame. Some writers use it to
denote the pressure we feel from others to act a certain way, i.e. a
certain discomfort if we do not have the approval of others. Shame, in
this sense, is the feeling of remorse and embarrassment when we
believe our actions have brought discredit to ourselves or to others. Of
course, peer and family pressure is a powerful motivator, but we can
avoid this shame just by concealing our unapproved actions, thoughts,
or feelings from others. The more recent use of the word shame has to
do with self-disapproval, i.e. considering one's self as being
inexcusably inadequate or defective. This is independent of other
people's opinions of us and, thus, there is no way (without treatment
or self-help) to avoid this destructive negative self-evaluation. Guilt is
regretting our actions because we now consider our behavior to be
unfair, immoral, or selfish; shame is a negative evaluation of part or
all of our self as a person. I try to use shame only in this last sense.
Shame is discussed in the next section. 
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