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Letters From Listeners

Anxiety and Perfectionism

Experience anxiety? Yes. I think it may be related to perfectionism. I grew up in a household with a narcissistic, anxious, mother who would self-medicate with alcohol and prescription drugs. Dad would just avoid her by being a workaholic and devoting himself to the family business. I learned to cope by doing whatever it took to keep Mother on an even keel. When she would come into the family room where I was studying with a basketful of clothes to be folded, she would dump them on the sofa with a heavy sigh. That was my cue. I would put aside my studies to take care of the clothes, so she wouldn't be upset later. Same with weekend house cleaning. I would always help her first, otherwise I was worried she would be anxious if I didn't help her. Today, I experience anxiety on the job and at home.

I never had children so, fortunately, I am not harming them. But I do have a husband who I worry I may be driving crazy. My husband is retired and has no concerns about being neat and organized. I, on the other hand, am compulsive about it. But, with the demands of my job, I cannot keep my house neat and orderly as when I was single and especially with him being messy and disorganized. I would have to work at it everyday to keep it at my level of standards. I have learned to let things go, but when my husband gets frustrated when he can't find something, I get mad of myself because if I had everything organized he could find it. I even confessed to a priest I was sorry I was always angry at my husband for not being neat and organized. He said with a gleam in his eye, "Maybe your husband is your penance." Perhaps this is true. God put us together for a reason, I need to relax and not worry about the insignificant things in life.

But, my thoughts keep going back to my mother who went from a neat-freak to a compulsive shopper and hoarder. In the end, it was I who suffered her wrath when we cleaned out her house to put it on the market to afford her assisted living costs. This further traumatized me. My parents did not plan for their elder care. Dad was in a nursing home, although he was a WWII veteran, he needed government assistance to cover the cost. My sister had died of breast cancer at the age of 52. This sister, who had been mother's primary caretaker, placated Mother's behavior for years. My father and sister died within a month to the day of each other. Mother lived for two more years in assisted living, during this time I had nothing but demands from her. She was back to abusing alcohol at the assisted living facility which they called me about even after having a stroke and numerous medical problems. At her hospital death bed, she refused to see my brother with whom she had an estranged relationship and never forgave for "taking things from her house" when he helped me clean it out. My oldest sister, who lived out of state, didn't want to deal with her at all. Her last words were before she went into a coma, was "I want my house." She died of sepsis at the age of 82. My brother died of cardiac arrest less than a year later at the age of 58. Yes, he too, in the past, abused alcohol and drugs, He had health problems, but I know he was in deep, emotional pain over his relationship with both of my parents. I often wonder if his death it was related to my mother's behavior toward him in the end.

She has been deceased for nearly three years, yet I still suffer with the anxiety of what I should have done and could have done, differently. I feel sad for my three older siblings who also suffered. I thank the Lord for my very patient husband who reminds me we had to do what we had to do for her well-being that we did the right thing. I guess what it boils down to, is somehow I feel like I let her down. I know I have to let go of this mindset. Maybe this is what's carried over into my life. I have to be perfect at work and at home or I will be a disappointment and I won't be loved. I am still trying to win her love and approval and I have got to stop. Most of all, I don't want to be like her narcissistic and incapable of love.

To help with anxiety? I use prayer, and meditation, journal writing, bird watching, exercise, and art (painting). I also started listening to your show again on podcasts while I walk. Thank you for your wisdom and voice of reason. Now, I need a good cry...

God Bless You,


Tags: Adult Child-Parent, Anxiety, Family/Relationships - Adult Child/Parent, Health, Marriage, Mental Health, Perfectionism, Stress
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