Time to let yourself off the hook? A CBT and ACT approach to dealing with perfectionism

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the blog! Today, we’re diving into a topic close to many educators’ hearts: perfectionism. We’ll explore how perfectionist tendencies can impact our teaching and well-being, and share some helpful tools from both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to find a more balanced approach.

The Perfectionist Trap: Rules for Living

Let’s talk about a common friend – we’ll call her Sarah – who exemplifies perfectionism. Sarah has a strong “rule for living”: “To be a good teacher, I must deliver flawless lessons and have every student excel.” This rule might seem noble, but the pressure to be perfect can be crippling. When Sarah achieves her goals (rarely in the face of perfectionism’s relentless standards), she feels momentary validation. However, any perceived misstep (a student misunderstands a concept, a lesson runs late) triggers intense self-criticism and emotional upset.

This pattern applies to many educators. We might have rules like “I must always be prepared” or “My students’ success reflects my worth as a teacher.” While these intentions are good, the rigidity creates a lose-lose situation. Maintaining the rule fuels anxiety and drives us to overwork. Breaking the rule (which inevitably happens) leads to guilt and self-doubt.

The Downward Spiral: Predictions and Self-Defeating Cycles

Perfectionism fuels negative self-talk. Sarah might predict, “If I make a mistake, my students won’t learn anything.” This activates her emotional “bottom line” – the deep fear of failure. To cope, she might resort to unhealthy strategies, like isolating herself from colleagues or micromanaging student learning. These reactions create a self-defeating cycle, hindering genuine connection with students and sabotaging the very success she craves.

Unhooking from Thoughts: The Power of Defusion

ACT introduces the concept of “thought fusion.” When fused with our thoughts, we believe them to be absolute truths, leading us to react impulsively. Instead, we can learn to “defuse” from them. Imagine your critical thoughts as passing clouds in the sky – you don’t own them, nor do they control you. By observing them mindfully without judgment, they lose their power to dictate your emotions and actions.

Feeling Our Feelings: Expansion and Acceptance

Here’s the key takeaway: it’s okay to feel stressed, anxious, or frustrated. The problem lies in letting these feelings control us. Here’s a technique called “expansion.” When overwhelmed by emotions, visualize them expanding outward, creating space for you to choose a more helpful response. Acceptance is crucial. We can’t change our feelings, but we can choose how we react to them. Think of emotions like quicksand – the more you struggle, the deeper you sink. Acceptance allows you to observe the feeling without getting stuck.

Body Scanning: Tuning Inward

Finally, consider body scanning techniques. Close your eyes and focus on bodily sensations without judgment. This allows you to connect with the physical experience of emotions, fostering acceptance rather than suppression.

The Road to Joyful Teaching

Remember, teaching is a journey of continuous learning, for both you and your students. By letting go of perfectionism and embracing these tools, you can transform your classroom into a space of growth, connection, and most importantly, joy.

This is just the beginning of our exploration. In future posts, we’ll delve deeper into specific CBT and ACT techniques to help you navigate the challenges and celebrate the rewards of teaching.

Stay tuned, and happy teaching!

Ready to Embark on Your Journey to Recovery?

If you’re tired of struggling with Depression, Anxiety, and Low Self-Esteem, it’s time to take action. I invite you to schedule a consultation today to discuss how CBT Therapy can help you overcome these challenges and reclaim your wellbeing. 

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