Perfectionists: Melinda

Perfectionism Legacy?
Dr. Phil talks to a mother who fears she is passing on her perfectionist tendencies to her 2-year-old daughter.
Melinda, Michael and Abby
"I am a perfectionist," admits Melinda. "I can't be less than what I consider perfect. I walk in a room and I get anxious because something catches my eye that needs to be fixed and the wheels start turning ... Items in my kitchen need to be straight. The cups need to be in line and in order, with the other cups of the same color or the same style."

Melinda says she feels that she has to pay her bills the day after she receives them and they have to be written out perfectly. If she doesn't write out the checks neatly enough, she tears them up and re-writes them.

Melinda also reveals a disturbing compulsive behavior: "One of the habits that I have is to count syllables of what people are saying to me on my fingers," says Melinda. "In my head, I will re-state what they've said until it comes out even [on my fingers] for me. I'm really scared to continue on this path."
"My daughter's name is Abby and she's almost 2," says Melinda. "She likes for everything in our house to be in the same order that I do. She knows exactly where all of her clothes go and she always puts them in the correct place. I don't see other kids her age acting that way."

"She'll take a paper towel and Windex and wipe the windows or she'll take the dust rag and the furniture polish and dust the coffee table," says Melinda's husband, Michael. "I am worried about Abby following in Melinda's footsteps. I don't think it's good for anyone to feel like they always have to be cleaning."
"Talk to me about why you think you do this," says Dr. Phil.

"I don't know," says Melinda. "I used to think that it was for other people, that I wanted people to see me as being perfect. But now sometimes the need is just for me. I just can't stop that need to always straighten things and for everything in my environment to be perfect ... I just equate [perfection] with being successful as a person," explains Melinda. "If I'm not perfect at work and if I don't overwork, and I don't over-clean and all that, then that makes me not successful."

"Are you saying, 'I am so inadequate and so inferior that if I don't make everything perfect they won't let me stay'?" asks Dr. Phil. "Do you think, 'Nobody will like me ... I will be a failure. I've got to get there sooner, work harder and stay longer than anybody else because if I'm not perfect, everybody will go, 'Oh, I see!'?"

"[They'll think], 'She's just ordinary, just average,'" says Melinda.
"Do you think it's a positive for you to model this for your daughter?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Absolutely not," says Melinda.

"Some of it is just modeling mom and that's normal," explains Dr. Phil. "There's nothing unusual about the things she's doing. It's the intensity with which she does them and the reaction she has if something is out of order. Where do you think that's headed? If she's doing that at 2, where is it going to be when she's 12 and 22?"

"It's going to be worse than me," says Melinda. "She doesn't have a prayer."

"So what do you have to do?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I have to relax," says Melinda. "I have to let her be her. But I don't know how to accept myself if everything isn't perfect. How do I live with myself without the constant pull?"

"[The perfectionism] decreases your anxiety," explains Dr. Phil. "You get a fix for a few minutes. What's the cost of that fix?"

"My health, my relationship with my daughter, my husband and my family," says Melinda.
"You can spend a couple of years figuring out that you have to do something different, or you can just do it," says Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil suggests that Melinda try an exercise: "Write down 10 things you would ritualistically do and just do not do them for a week. You will get anxious, because you treat your anxiety with the ritualistic behavior. You'll want your fix and you'll have to put another coping mechanism in its place. You can do relaxation exercises, meditation ...You can pray, run, etc. But you'll realize that even though you didn't engage in the perfectionist or ritualistic exercises for a week, you are still here and so is everyone else and everything is OK."

Dr. Phil then gives Melinda an assignment: "Go out and get a large roll of butcher paper and spread it out. Then get about five kits of finger paint. I want you and your daughter to put on some old clothes and I want you to teach her to draw outside the lines. Just go nuts. I want you to get it all over your face and her face and then go walk around the block."