A Call Out to All Perfectionists and Overachievers

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I’ve been noticing a trend lately while working with women suffering from health issues. I coach women with pelvic pain issues of any variety, and I can’t help but notice some commonalities. I am no longer surprised when I hear person after person describe herself as a perfectionist, an overachiever, a type A personality, an anxiety sufferer, or someone who is very shy. Though not every client has all of these traits, these do seem to be the most common issues shared by women dealing with pelvic pain issues. I actually have all of the above personality traits. As I’ve pondered the connections between these traits, the health issues, and my coaching knowledge, I have begun to develop a theory.

I remember being described one time as a somatizer by a medical professional. The definition of a somatizer is “a patient with frequent physical complaints for which no organic basis is found.” Well, that definitely did describe me, I agree. However, that didn’t really help me understand myself or move toward healing. Having learned Martha Beck’s coaching tools, I can now connect the dots between my personality, thought processes, and illness.

The main Martha Beck tool you need to understand this connection is called the Body Compass. It is really an awareness of your own physical self, and where your deepest unhappiness and greatest joy reside within you, physically. Literally. If you think about the worst event in your life and gently scan your awareness over your body, you will discover that somewhere in your body, you feel a physical sensation. This is your body’s way of alerting you to things in your life that aren’t good for you. If you think about the best event in your life—your happiest memory—you can scan your body and discover the physical sensation that equals joy. Mine is this awesome spiraling sensation that begins in the center of my chest and grows wider and wider as it moves upward toward my head. My body registers negativity in my stomach—I feel like there is a pile of rocks in there. If you tune in to your Body Compass regularly, it literally works like a compass. You can imagine the things on your to-do list and see what your body thinks of them. Laundry – not quite rocks in the stomach, but pebbles for sure. Writing—ahhh, big spirals moving up, up, up.

The key phrase there is “tune in to your body.” Did I do that, previous to my health crisis? No, no, and no. Definitely not. I was not one iota aware of my Body Compass. Well, when would I have found the time? I was too busy scheduling my never-ending list of activities that needed to be completed perfectly, then beating myself up over the results, which never, ever matched my expectations. I was too busy anxiously analyzing everything I did, scheduling more things to do, hating myself for not being perfect, (because though nobody is perfect, I really should be), and looking for the next thing I could achieve to make myself feel better about myself. I’m getting exhausted just remembering.

I remember feeling the rocks-in-my-stomach feeling in high school, but I did not recognize it as my Body Compass. I thought I had an ulcer or something, because my stomach hurt all the time. Strangely, that disappeared when I stopped dating the wrong-for-me person I was dating at the time. Then, in college, I had a recurrence of that stomach issue, right as I was pushing myself to take every class offered at the university and get straight A’s in all of them. Hmmm. Did I listen? No, of course not. No pain, no gain, right?

I did not listen, and I did not listen, and I did not listen. So my body got louder, and louder, and louder. It refused to let me ignore it. First I got carpal tunnel. Then I got bladder symptoms. Next was lower back pain. Followed by increased vaginal itching (which always popped up along with the rocks-in-the-stomach), followed by vaginal pain. Then, vulvar pain and burning. My body was so sick of me not listening, that it was literally sick. And it only got sicker, and sicker, and sicker, until finally, I stopped everything and tuned in to the poor physical home of my very confused self.

Since that first moment of communication, my body and I have developed a fantastic relationship. For about a year after my vaginal symptoms went away, I would get a little twinge of burning anytime I contemplated something that wasn’t right for me. I listened. Now, it’s back to just the rocks in the stomach. I sit up and take notice, believe me. I never want my body to have to yell again. Ever. It was not a pleasant experience.

My definition of a somatizer is this: someone whose body is screaming at them to listen to its messages. Why are we type A, overachieving, perfectionist, anxious, shy women prone to illness? My theory, and it’s new and as yet unrefined, is we are the women who do not listen to our Body Compasses. We are too busy, we are focused on our achievements; we are thinking about making everything perfect, we are stressing about every little thing, we are worrying about everything possible, and we are not confident within ourselves. We do not listen. It’s time to tune in to these magical bodies that know much, much more than our minds. These genius bodies will keep guiding us, always, to our own North Stars, which is really just code for true joy, comfort, and happiness in the very core of your being.  


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