Self-Judgement and Shame

If you’re a perfectionist OCD control-freak people-pleaser…can I get a “Hell yes!”

I work on myself. I try to make myself a better person. And I beat myself up in the process.

Here’s my latest story:

It happened yesterday. I had volunteered for a “feed the people” event. It was for a local organization supporting patients and family members of patients who are visiting Nashville for medical services. The task was to prepare lunch for guests at the facility.

We were to prepare a taco bar. There were lots of moving parts…cooking the meat, chopping onions, slicing tomatoes…you know how it goes. There were three volunteers at the start with more arriving soon.

My friend (I’ll call her Sue) was coordinating the event on behalf of her volunteer organization. When we arrived, Sue was busy collecting lost volunteers so I jumped in and started making things happen…as I do. I set up a few work areas for cooking and chopping. Several more volunteers had arrived and we all sort of fell into a rhythm and things moved along nicely. It felt good. Food was served, the kitchen was cleaned, and we all went home. I spent the rest of my day running errands and feeling fulfilled for having supported people in need.

And then it happened. As I navigated my evening, little bits of shame began seeping in. There were scenes replaying in my mind over and over again where I wondered at first – then decided – that I had been more pushy than helpful in a few situations throughout the day.

I mean, there’s more than one way to slice an avocado, right? I thought I was helping because the volunteer seemed to be struggling. Sue was there as well and was moving in the direction of helping her but I jumped in and showed the volunteer my way – because it’s best way. How self-important am I?

Shortly after the avocado incident I noticed the volunteer had disappeared. I never saw her again. Was it me? Had I caused that? In retrospect I felt I should have hung back and let Sue handle it, but in the moment I was just digging in and doing. I hadn’t noticed Sue was moving in to help the volunteer until I was already in motion, and once I’m in motion…

Then there was the ladle incident. It could have been harmless or it could have been another time I stepped on Sue’s toes.

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since my return home last night, even seeping in during one of my bathroom visits in the middle of the night. What’s up with that?

I’ve always considered my take-charge personality a positive trait. It’s served me well in my career. I get things done. The problem is, I don’t know how or when to turn it off. When I’m in the moment, I’m just pushing forward. I’m not always aware of everything going on around me. I’m just doing.

I’m also not good at turning off my self-judgement and the shame that comes with it when my brain replays the event. I may not have been aware of things happening in the moment, but once it was all over my brain got right to work showing me all the ways I had been unaware and potentially inconsiderate. What people must be thinking of me!

At some point in the shaming process I had to stop myself. Had I really done anything wrong? Am I really so narcissistic as to believe a volunteer might have left the event because of me? Or had she not been feeling it from the start? She had come in late and was just sitting, waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Someone gave her avocados. And when she appeared awkward with them I decided to help rather than let her suffer. But – honestly – she would have gotten through it on her own – or someone else could have helped her. But I felt the need to insert myself into the situation.

I know that I tend to take over in situations where somebody needs help or no one seems to be in charge. I feel impatience when there are things to be done and they’re not being done as quickly or proficiently as I feel they should be. I know the best ways to do everything!

I believe my perfectionism and desire to lead springs from a childhood where I felt unheard and discounted. As an adult I overcompensate, hungry for the attention I often receive for going above and beyond. But that’s not always necessary.

After waking this morning with these thoughts tumbling around in my head I decided to meditate. The question I asked myself was, what do I need right now? I’d hoped to find an end to the shame that had now settled into my stomach. Each time I asked, what do I need right now, the answer was, write.

So I decided I’d start with this story. Maybe by writing it I’ll be able to let it go.

In the end I know what I’ll do. What would you do in this situation?

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