You know that “panic” feeling you get when you’re about to take a test?
How about the one right before a job interview?
You know what I’m talking about — the sudden feeling of stress or thoughts of “I’m not good enough” or “What if I screw up?”
It’s real and comes in all shapes and sizes and will decide to say “hey” at any moment of our lives.
Most feelings of anxiety hit us and then hibernate for a while.
Sometimes they’re just a part of daily life.
Who doesn’t tense up when the game is on the line and the ball is in your hands?
But other times, those thoughts and feelings can really lock us down and paralyze us.
The struggle, when we feel it, it’s as if we’re the only one.
I can recall feelings of anxiety as early as first grade.
“What if I forget my lunch?”
In fourth grade, I began smiling with my mouth closed after a male classmate told me my smile was “too gummy.”
I feared more criticism from others.
By eighth grade, anxiety really began to affect the way I show up and function in the world.
I thought I could shortcut the painful awkwardness of my developing teenage years by learning to be perfect and prettier than everyone else.
I had plenty of up-and-coming blonde pop stars to model myself after and began silently obsessing over my appearance.
The anxiety of showing up to class without my best attempt to resemble Mandy Moore caused me to miss school entirely some days.
I’d even take restroom breaks in fourth period to reapply the brown eyeliner I used to darken the mole on my cheek.
I couldn’t cut corners because I believed my worthiness of love and belonging depended on being seen as a Mandy Moore clone.
Anxiety was nothing new in my family at this age. And my parents were always open to discussing it.
But why did I never discuss this particular anxiety with them?
Because I started to believe it was a prerequisite for love and belonging — at school and at home.
“If they knew how hard I was trying, they might say something in front of my siblings. And my siblings would laugh at me,” I thought.
No one would understand.
So, I kept it secret.
In her best-selling book, "The Gifts of Imperfection," Brené Brown says:
“The stories of our struggles are difficult for everyone to own, and if we’ve worked hard to make sure everything looks ‘just right’ on the outside, the stakes are high when it comes to truth-telling.
"This is why shame loves perfectionists — it’s so easy to keep us quiet.”
The intensely painful belief that I was flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging (aka, shame) often drove me in one of two directions:
- Be more perfect next time. Be more pretty, more outgoing, more envied (it was never enough); or
- Avoid situations where I have to be perfect because the unmet expectation leaves me feeling depressed.
My anxiety and fear of not being enough began to manifest itself in other areas of my life.
In high school, the fear of not being outgoing, fun or social enough had me lying to friends to avoid hanging out.
My high school and college sports commitments brought with them performance anxiety.
College exams and soon-to-follow professional work presentations fed the inner demons telling me I wasn’t smart or talented enough.
Life is hard. Life with unchecked anxiety is even harder.
Just two and a half years ago, I was rocking my newborn to sleep, thinking:
“How can I teach him to overcome his inevitable anxiety if I don’t know how to deal with my own?”
This common fear among parents, coupled with my increasingly debilitating anxiety and depression episodes, motivated me to find more help.
It started with "The Gifts of Imperfection."
Several Brené Brown TED Talks later, I found a therapist certified in her work.
This wasn’t my first encounter with a therapist.
But it’s by far been my most enlightening and effective.
I’ve learned that we all experience shame — the fear that our flaws make us unlovable.
So, it seemed, if we all have shame, then we’re all capable of developing resilience to it.
I found hope in the idea that I could learn to move through my fears and anxieties with courage.
Now, I practice courage every single day — knowing that the strongest teacher for my children is my example.
And the best part of being a recovering perfectionist?
Knowing that I don’t have to be a perfect example for them.
I just have to try my best each day to love and remember that awkward, unsure, beautifully imperfect eighth-grader inside of me.
Then give her the compassion she couldn’t find for herself and remind her of her own inherent lovability.
Because I can’t offer to my children what I don’t first have for myself.
Amanda Sanchez is the vision and voice behind Little Miss Fearless. What started as a personal style blog in 2012 — symbolizing her courage to let her imperfect self be seen in a quasi-perfect fashion world — emerged into a “real-life” blog that celebrates struggles, strengths and the courage to be imperfect. You can follow her at https://littlemissfearless.com