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Life will change. Your needs will, too.

One of the most popular soundbites you’ll hear me say in my sessions with clients is this: "When your circumstances change, so do your needs."


I remember the first session I said it in. The words just came out of my mouth and I thought to myself, dang, that's good.


At first it's a hard concept to grasp for my clients who are mostly perfectionistic women. They're always playing tug-of-war with "I can do this. I'll figure it out." vs. "I can't do it all. I'm not good enough for this."


This combo keeps them on the hamster wheel, constantly striving to prove their worth to themselves and everyone else around them. The end result? They maintain those rigid standards of excellence, regardless of the situation they find themselves in. They feel the need to perform well - excellently, perfectly - no matter the context.


The Dilemma of Perfectionists

For many of my clients, this perfectionism is rooted in their upbringing where they learned to believe that their value is directly tied to their performance. Sound familiar?


Perfectionism is a driver of ambition and a heavy burden at the same time. On one hand, it propels you to have high standards with the hopes that it makes you feel as put together as you look. On the other, it creates a relentless pressure to maintain these high standards without considering the toll it takes on your well-being. The most unfortunate part is that the perfectionism can often be the reason you excel. That's ok! But the important part is giving yourself wiggle room as much as you can. That's where recognizing your changing circumstances comes in.


The Impact of Changing Circumstances

Life is inherently dynamic. The one thing we can be SURE about is that it will always be changing.


Whether it’s a new job, a relationship change, or a shift in personal health or family dynamics, our circumstances are in a constant state of flux. Each change is going to bring with it a new set of challenges and demands. However, high-achieving women struggle to adjust their expectations and needs in response to these changes. Instead, they try to apply the same high standards across all situations, even thought they might not have the capacity, time, or energy.


Then when everything "falls apart", they beat themselves up and berate themselves that they should have done more or should have tried harder.


No wonder we all get so burnt out and frustrated when we don't give ourselves flexibility.


It's Time for the Hard Part...Flexing your Needs

Adapting to new circumstances requires a shift in mindset. Here's where you can start!


1. Identify the change(s) at play.

The first step is to recognize that a change has occurred! Really open your mind to all the possible changes. It might be one big one, or a few small ones that have added up. Look at all areas of your life and pinpoint exactly what the changes are.


P.S. - Denial or resistance only worsens the stress and prevents you from learning how to cope well! Allow yourself to

2. Reflect on what's working... and what's not.

Just because your high standards have "always worked" does not mean that they're working now. Understand that what worked in one situation may not be applicable in another. Be nonjudgmental of yourself when you look at how your mindset or behaviors perpetuate your stress or anxiety. (It can be a humbling experience. I've had to do this lots of times myself!)


Some examples of what might not be working:

  • Constantly rushing yourself, i.e. "I have to get everything done by [insert imaginary deadline]"

  • Trying to juggle too many tasks at the same time, creating constant overwhelm

  • Prioritizing everyone else's happiness before yours

  • Putting all of your energy into your relationships instead of yourself

  • Forcing yourself to "get it together" when you can't even see past today


3. Pinpoint your new needs.

Given the change and what's not working, what could?


What could work?

What new needs have come up since the changes in your life?

What do you need?


Adjusting your standards to match your current reality is not a sign of weakness but a necessary adaptation. Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion involves recognizing your struggles, treating yourself with kindness, and understanding that imperfection is a part of the human experience.


Here are some examples of new needs I've seen arise for clients going through change:

  • Taking things off your plate to decrease overwhelm (this includes everything from delegating to deleting menial tasks off your to-do list)

  • Spending time alone to recharge before social hangouts

  • Exercise during the day to help you think more clearly about the challenges you're navigating

  • Boundaries around your work schedule to let your brain rest

  • Scheduling the babysitter more often so you can get out of the house for uninterrupted time with your partner


Wrap-Up

Understanding that your needs change with your circumstances will be a game changer for your mental health. It makes you more flexible, resilient, and capable of handling the inevitable ups and downs life will unapologetically hand you. It's okay to adjust your expectations in these times and take care of yourself as you navigate it all. I promise!


 

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Greta Strickland, MS 

Licensed Professional Counselor  


Greta has managed her own private practice in Blue Springs, MO since 2015 providing therapy to high-achieving women who struggle with anxiety and perfectionism. When she's not working, you can find Greta watching Big Brother with her husband, singing made up songs to her daughter, and sneaking "people food" to their golden retriever.

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