I’m a longtime fan since I read “Strong Fathers” years ago. I keep it on my nightstand and give a copy to every new dad I know. I write because we need guidance.
My 19-year-old daughter is away at school and recently told us that she’s having real problems: she compulsively plans every aspect of her life (work, exercise, food, etc) in advance for 6 weeks on a daily planner – if it changes she has a breakdown and cries uncontrollably – says she loses control – overall very melancholy – typical overachiever – great grades, internships, etc – but is just overwrought – can’t get her to break free form these negative habits.
Is there anybody on Long island you can recommend we work with – maybe some type of behavioral person? We would be much obliged – I’m very worried.
– Worried Father
Dear Worried Father,
You are not alone. Many parents of driven, bright daughters struggle to help them dial down perfectionism and this is painful to watch. I don’t know of any good therapists on Long Island but I do have high regard for a therapist in NYC named Erica Komisar. She may be able to give you some leads.
I do have a few suggestions for you:
First, learn as much as you can about perfectionism and how you can help your daughter. Many times parents try to talk their daughters out of it by saying “you’re wrong to think that way” etc., and this just frustrates the daughters more.
Second, your daughter may be biologically wired this way and may need medication for a while to help her. Often, perfectionism is tied to obsessive-compulsive traits along with anxiety or depression. When you have two issues intertwined like this, the best results can come from medication and therapy. These decisions, however, are best made between your daughter and her team, not me.
Third, I recommend that she read a couple of books: Brene Brown’s: The Gift of Imperfection or I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) as well as Jon Acuff’s Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. These are great self-help places to start.
In the meantime, one of the best things that you can do for your daughter is listen and ask questions (don’t lecture because she’ll think you don’t understand and will tune you out.) Ask things like: if you fail this course, what is the worst thing that can happen; specifically what things does your mind tell you? Then ask: would you ever tell your best friend or sister something like that? If you wouldn’t, why do you say it to yourself?
At the root of perfectionism is a fear of failure and a belief that she is not good enough as is. She fears that if she lets go of control, she will be worthless or unlovable. These are complex issues to resolve but know that she absolutely can overcome them. If she is hesitant to find a therapist in her area, ask her to see her physician and tell him/her what is going on. Ask for their recommendation to get her started. Her internist can be a great source of help.