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Perfectionism in Relationships
Presented by

Lauri Disman – Second Sense

Moderated by

Larry Muffet

March 28, 2013
Larry Muffet

Welcome to Seminars@Hadley. My name is Larry Muffet. I am a member of Hadley's Seminar Team. I also work in Curricular Affairs and Veteran's Outreach for Hadley. Today's seminar topic is Perfectionism in Relationships. Our presenter today is a familiar one and certainly one of my personal favorites, Lauri Disman.

Lauri is the Manager of Counseling Services for Second Sense in Chicago. Lauri has a Bachelor in Science Degree in Telecommunications from the University of Florida and a Master of Arts Degree in Counseling and Organizational Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology where she teaches Career Development and Counseling.
Today Lauri is going to give you some tips on how you, or the perfectionist in your life, can start to break free from the rational expectations. So now let me welcome Lauri and turn the microphone over to her to get us started. Lauri.
Lauri Disman

Am I working? There we go. Well, thank you very much for that wonderful introduction, and I am very excited about doing this seminar. If it's anything like Alcoholics Anonymous I must have to say that my name is Lauri Disman and I am a perfectionist.

And many people wonder, what's the difference between, say, being a perfectionist and, say, being somebody who strives for excellence? Is it one and the same? Is there a difference? And the answer is yes, there definitely is a difference. And my goal today is to help people understand what the difference is in terms of perfectionism versus striving for excellence, and hopefully to sort of shed some light on ways for us to shed the perfectionism in us and instead learn to strive to be excellent and to be the best person that we can possibly be.
I am curious, too. If anybody wants to participate or if anybody wants to contribute and take a stab in the public chat area and sort of put forth their feelings or in terms of what they think the differences are between perfectionism and striving for excellence, feel free to contribute, and we will get to those in just a moment.
But to kick start this, I wanted to read a poem. It is a poem by Shel Silverstein called Almost Perfect. And I think this is going to shed some light in terms of what we are talking about when we think about perfectionism. Almost Perfect.
“Almost perfect… but not quite.”

Those were the words of Mary Hume

At her seventh birthday party,

Looking ‘round the ribboned room.

“This tablecloth is pink not white—

Almost perfect…but not quite.”

“Almost perfect…but not quite.”

Those were the words of grown-up Mary

Talking about her handsome beau,

The one she wasn’t gonna marry.

“Squeezes me a bit too tight—

Almost perfect…but not quite.”

“Almost perfect…but not quite.”

Those were the words of ol’ Miss Hume.

Teaching in the seventh grade,

Grading papers in the gloom

Late at night up in her room.

“They never cross their t’s just right—

Almost perfect…but not quite.”
Ninety-eight the day she died

Complainin’ bout the spotless floor.

People shook their heads and sighed,

“Guess that she’ll like heaven more.”

Up went her soul on feathered wings,

Out the door, up out of sight.

Another voice from heaven came—

“Almost perfect…but not quite.”

So I think this poem by Shel Silverstein sort of reflects quite well in terms of the way that people who are perfectionists think. And I ran across this really great PowerPoint presentation by a woman named Jennifer Martin. She is from the Clemente, Massachusetts public school system. And she did this PowerPoint called It's Okay To Make Mistakes, Overcoming Perfectionism. And I think it reflects really well, you know, in relation to this poem in terms of how perfectionists think. And she lists some sort of common ways that perfectionists think.
It says, "If I can't do it perfectly, what's the point? I should excel, but everything I do, I always have to stay ahead of others. I should finish a job before doing anything else. Every detail of a job should be perfect. Things should be done right the first time. There is only one right way to do things. I am a wonderful person if I do well. I am a lousy person if I do poorly. I am never good enough. I am stupid. I can't do anything right. I am unlikeable. I better not make a mistake or people will think I am not very smart, or very good or very capable. If I goof up something is definitely wrong with me."
So you can sort of notice here in how Jennifer Martin lists these thoughts. And you can notice the language that is used in those thoughts, words like should, always, every and can't. If you can imagine, these are words that sort of set up these impossible feats in our minds and sort of these unrealistic expectations or unrealistic goals that we set for ourselves. Not just for ourselves, but think about this, how it could be set for others as well.
Martin goes on to talk about how a perfectionist feels. And if this rings true, or it might ring true for someone that you know, chances are they may have perfectionistic tendencies. For example, if someone feels deeply embarrassed about the stakes, or is disgusted or angry when criticized they are just, you know, disgusted with them really. They are anxious when stating an opinion, so afraid that they are going to say the wrong thing. Maybe extremely worried about, you know, making sure they take care of every single detail.
They get angry if a routine is interrupted. They get nervous when things around them are messy. Maybe fearful or anxious, maybe exhausted, unable to relax, plagued by self-hatred, afraid of appearing stupid or incompetent. Maybe afraid of being rejected, ashamed of having any kind of fears may feel discouraged or often feels guilty when they let someone else down.
So, again, we are kind of getting an idea of where a perfectionist comes from as opposed to someone who is striving for excellence. This comes from the Counseling Center from the University of Illinois, and I really think they summed it up really well when you think about a perfectionist. It says, "If you are a perfectionist, it is likely that you learned early in life that other people value you because of how much you accomplished or achieved. As a result, you may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people's approval."
Again, "You may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people's approval. Thus, your self-esteem may have come to be based primarily on external standards. This can leave you vulnerable and accessibly sensitive to the opinions and criticisms of others."
So I think we are starting to get an idea of what is going on with a perfectionist, you know, in terms of feeling like there is this need to please someone else in your life, that this strives from, you know, an adult, somebody very influential in your life, who may have loved you or shown their affection for you, but in a very conditional way. You know, "I will only love you if you get all A's, but if you get F's, you know, I am disapproving of you." There is this disapproval of you and your character.
Often the words guilt and shame are used in conjunction with this. If someone uses guilt or shame as their means of manipulation then oftentimes that can have a result for how someone feels that, "Oh, well, this must be how love is earned. I must behave this way in order for me to have love."
And so it often can be very maladapted. In fact, some of the implications of perfectionism could include avoidance. So if you are someone, say, who, "I would rather not go to this networking event because I am afraid I am going to appear imperfect or I am going to say something ridiculous or stupid," they may not want to go because of their fear of feeling inferior. There is sort of a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, a fear of disapproval.
If perfectionists let others see their flaws they fear that they will no longer be accepted. There is sort of this all-or-nothing thinking. And, again, emphasis on the should or these rigid rules for how life should be led.
Oftentimes, people that are perfectionists sort of think that other people can do it so easily. You can live your life so easily and make it happen so well for you. I don't think I could ever do that for myself. Those who have perfectionistic personality types, these are people who feel that they need to be in control in all times to protect themselves, to ensure their safety, to ensure the safety of their family. These are control-freaks oftentimes, and that control is coming from the fear of not being perfect.
So oftentimes perfectionism correlates with things like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive/compulsive personality disorder and in some rare cases it can lead to attempts of suicide because they just feel that they are not meeting up, that they are not as equal as those that are around them. So it is a very tough way of thinking. I mean, just think about how oppressive this kind of thinking can be.
The University of Illinois Counseling Center goes on to say for perfectionists life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks, a one-way ticket to unhappiness. Perfectionism is typically accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation.
And love isn't a refuge. In fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfectionism is usually transmitted in little "messages from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A."
So you can imagine, you know, what this must be like for someone who might be living in a household of a perfectionist. I don't know if you lived in a household perhaps like maybe where the adults in your life criticized you a lot, maybe criticized others a lot, gave the kind of praise that was really not genuine. It was just sort of false praise or may have praised you in public, but didn't praise you in private when it really mattered. Maybe had strict rules in terms of how you were supposed to behave.
So things like, you know, "Yeah, that was great, but you should have done this better." You know, sort of that yes-but attitude. And maybe the household that you lived in didn't feel very safe or very calm. So oftentimes perfectionism stems from just the idea that there are conditions placed within the home or within you, or on you or on that loved one that is unrealistic and may make that person feel ashamed if they behaved in a certain way.
There is some research that says that perfectionism comes from other things, too, such as your perceived birth order or just the messages maybe that media say that how we must behave. If you think about how cyber bullying and how the media, you know, you log onto the latest tablet and it talks about who is looking horrible in their bikini. You know, these are things that can impact how we feel about ourselves because our society may shame us for behaving in a certain way versus another.
And also this sort of all-or-nothing culture that we live in can often make us feel sort of less than. You know, we don't feel like an equal is really kind of what this is all about. So then the question is, how does this impact our relationships, whether that's you as the perfectionist or if you are living with a perfectionist. It can oftentimes be very difficult for that person. It can be a stressful situation either for you or for the person who is living with the perfectionist.
For example, there is maybe this fear by the person that you are living with that they won't be accepted if they don't do something in a certain way, that they won't be loved, that they won't be supported in their goals and in their lives. They may try to do things that may feel unnatural to them just to win you love and approval.
Basically they may procrastinate because they feel that I know that I have to do this and I have to do that in order to please mom and dad, but it just is so overwhelming to me and it is so against what I believe in or what I feel that I am just not going to do it. I am just going to procrastinate.
They may have sort of this all-or-nothing feeling that if I make this mistake, it's a catastrophe. "Oh, my goodness, I am not meeting somebody's expectations." So there is definitely a stress that can go on in the house.
And what I want to do now is I want to sort of open discussion if anybody has any comments, especially with if you think about how this impacts you, especially if someone who is visually impaired or blind, in terms of this need to be perfect. If you know someone who is a perfectionist in your life, or if you can admit like I am that you are a perfectionist, that this can impact this sense of wanting to be perfect in public and how that affects you or how your family may be responding to the fact that you are losing your eyesight and your lifestyle is getting different. It's not "as perfect" as it was.
And I am just curious if anyone has any comments or any reaction to this in terms of how this is impacting their own life. And, Larry, I don't know if you want to sort of take over in facilitating that, but I will turn it over to the crowd.
Larry Muffet

Yes, I am going to turn loose of the microphone here. Also, if people would like to ask a question, Lauri, I am going to turn the microphone loose and you can take turns. We will do this for a while. Also if you would like, and you don't have a microphone today and you would like to interact, please use the text box and Lauri and I can make sure that those questions get answered also. So I am going to turn loose of the mike here and go ahead and ask your questions.


I guess if I were to admit to that, I mean, I am the kind of person who, you know, if I put something, like I try to schedule my school work, and if I put something in my schedule that I want to be doing things, have things done by 12:30, say, and I don't get it done, then there are times that I don't do it because I am late or I just don't feel like doing it.

Lauri Disman

Yes, and that is obviously a very common feeling for a perfectionist is I have this expectation that I had to get it done on time, and I didn't get it done on time. Therefore, what's the point of even doing it? So I am just going to put it off because I couldn't succeed or get that praise or those accolades for doing something in that timely way.

Any other questions?

Hi, this is a wonderful presentation. I think many of us who grew up at a time when we were maybe in the first generation of blind or visually impaired students who were kind of setting a path through schools that weren't always accepting of us, or even families that expected a lot of us, I think it was almost impossible not to feel all those things that you just described. I mean, if you had hung me up on the wall it couldn't have been more perfect. Thank you.

Lauri Disman

Thank you for sharing your comments. I appreciate that, Margaret.

Larry Muffet

Lauri, there are a couple of really good ones. Crystal and Deborah both had some pretty good comments in the text box that you might want to comment upon.

Lauri Disman

Well, I see Crystal. She says, "As a totally blind person since birth, I had to explain to my parents that they didn't have to protect me at all times. I am also a perfectionist because if I make a mistake I get really frustrated and sometimes kick myself."

Yeah, and I think that that's another element to a perfectionist for your parents. You know, obviously your parents didn't believe that it sounds, Crystal, that you had that capability and so hence that control over you was their showing of perfectionism, that even though you know you could do it, obviously your parents didn't believe it or couldn't trust it, or give you the chance or have the courage to say, "Let's just let Crystal do whatever and so what if she falls? So what if she, you know, burns her hand on the pan of what she is cooking? She has got to learn to do this for herself."
And obviously that translates into your adult life because you felt that your parents' love was definitely conditional, so I can understand that.
From Deborah. She says, "I have spent my life trying twice as hard to be half as good. Now that my vision is compromised, how do I accept that I occasionally need assistance?"
And that's actually a really good question that I think when we get into the second half of this, we are going to talk a little bit about we haven't addressed your comments in the chat box about the difference between perfectionism and excelling. And I think when we talk about excelling, that's going to hopefully answer your question about when you accept assistance and when you know when it's right to accept assistance versus not.
Matt says, "I can relate. I am also recently unemployed and it's a very scary time becoming more and more reclusive as the rejections piled up. Also being diabetic, I am a control freak and the need to follow a strict diet and exercise regimen and watch my weight contributes to my perfectionist tendencies. What can I do about it? I have probably been a perfectionist my entire life." So, and I can imagine that with diabetes this in itself, in our society there is this stereotype of diabetics, especially for Type II diabetics in terms of "it was because you didn't eat right that you are a diabetic" or "there is something wrong with you."
And I remember when I was pregnant I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and I kept thinking, "Oh, my goodness, what did I do wrong? You know, what's wrong with me?" And the reality is that we just have organs in our bodies that our pancreas just isn't working right. And for some people that's what is happening and we can't blame ourselves and can't blame that. We can blame the disease, but it is trying to take the blame off of ourselves and find the blame on the actual event itself or the true cause of what is going on with diabetes.
And so diabetes can definitely make us think, and especially society's perception of diabetes can often shame us or make us feel guilty. And so the key here is to try to figure out where to focus that blame. And it looks like we have got some great comments here. I am going to turn off my mike again just to see if there was anyone else who has a mike who wanted to make a comment. If not, then I will just simply continue on. I am going to turn my mike off.

I would just say that, you know, I used to be a high performance athlete and stuff, and so people just always think I am amazing. And I always feel like I have to constantly try to live up to that. And when I don't, and not even necessarily whether I've done something that made them realize that maybe their hero has feet of clay, but even if I've done something that I think they are going to perceive that even before they maybe have, or before they let me know they have, that causes a lot of anxiety for me. And it's just like I feel a time like I have to keep topping whatever I did yesterday, or an hour ago or last week or whatever.

Lauri Disman

Yes, I mean it's definitely when you are ensconced in a certain lifestyle or you have a certain talent or what not, and you get this feedback from others, it definitely is like a way of fueling how we feel about ourselves. And we really love to bask in that positive feedback and many people really live their lives sort of wondering, thinking how they are doing is based on, they used other people's feedback as their barometer to sort of determine how they are doing in life.

And I think that is where that perfectionistic tendency comes from. And I think more of us have this perfectionism in us than we think. Many of us have had a person, or a loved one or just simply an expectation that has been placed upon us by the outside that just sort of sticks with us. And I think that really does play an impact in terms of how we feel about ourselves in given times.
Now, it doesn't always apply in every situation in our lives, but it can definitely apply say if it's the workplace or if it's your family. Or you may feel like you are doing great at work, but now as soon as you get home and you are with a critical spouse it can be very oppressive. And so you may feel less than in that environment, but feel fantastic at work.

So obviously this can impact itself in different places in our lives and not necessary as a whole. So there's definitely so much going on.

But what I wanted to do was, I asked at the beginning what you thought the differences between being a perfectionist and being someone who strives for excellence. This is what Gloria says. She says, "I believe perfectionism is putting yourself down if you happen to make a mistake, close to OCD perhaps. Striving for excellence is accepting your own humanism."
I love that. That's a really great definition. Larry said, "Don't let perfectionism be the enemy of the excellence." I like that. I don't know who Tmcisaac at is, but they said, "At the school for the blind it was pounded into our heads we had to be better than sighted people just to be equal. That has stayed with me my whole life. I do think it causes compulsive behavior." Everything she is saying is me. I would love to open up the floor and I would love to get your comments and your feedback to say do you feel that as someone who is blind, that you have to work twice as hard to be equal. I am really curious about what your reactions are. I am going to open up the floor for that. I am going to turn off my mike. Crystal, go ahead.

No, I don't feel that I have to work twice as hard. I just feel like I have to be twice as confident about myself and other things. Like yesterday I went in for a volunteer interview and it was just I went in there oozing self-confidence like I knew what I was doing and didn't show any nervousness, but I was scared to death inside because I was going, "Oh, my God, my first interview in like five years." So it's not that I have to work twice as hard to give that, but I need to exude twice as much confidence as probably the normal signed person would.


This is Jeanette in Virginia. I will tell you as a small business owner myself the difference from what I am facing now being blind compared to what I faced when I was signed, it is different. It is not so much that I feel like I have to work twice as hard to do what I have always done. I have to work twice as hard for other people to realize that I can do what I have always done.

Lauri Disman

Anybody else?


Hi, this is Donna. And I feel like I do have to work twice as hard and twice as long. It takes me more time and I am ready to work. I am willing to put in that effort, but then at work I feel like I am almost overworking, you know, in the sight of everyone else and would almost feel like I am trying to show out or something, which I am just trying to do the very best I can. And I feel like that sometime maybe I even expect other people to work as hard as I do. You know, I think this is where it comes in that maybe I am expecting perfectionism out of everybody.


This is Christy. You know, we are talking about this whole -- I never had it drilled in my head that I had to be twice as good as a sighted person, but I didn't go to the blind school either. But instead, in some cases, and I think this is where some of mine comes from, my perfectionism comes from. I guess when I was in school, in high school, the standards were kind of lowered as far as like if I said I wanted to do a certain career or something, the high school counselors, "You can't do that." The PR counselor, "You don't want to do that because of this." You know, just the excuses. And I think that's where a lot of mine came from.

Lauri Disman

Yeah. I mean, it definitely, those messages that we get from others, that it can definitely make us feel like can we do this or can we not. And it's interesting because when I did this seminar for the first time in front of a live group, the first thing that people said was, "Wow, you know, now I understand how this applies to me as someone who is blind, that I feel this pressure, that when I am out in public, or when I am in an interview that I have to appear like I have got this. You know, that I have got this under control because otherwise it makes other people either feel uncomfortable or they feel, "Oh, my goodness, they are going to think that I am just the stereo-typical blind person."

And a lot of people feel that there is a lot of pressure in that. And, again, it's because of how society views blindness and the stereotypes that are out there can often contribute to those reactions that other people might have. And these people, a lot of people, are talking about the workplace and it is very challenging for someone who is visually impaired because there was an article just recently, I think it was in the New York Times, that there was a study done that basically stated that employers definitely have a bias against people that are blind or visually impaired because of just an ignorance, you know, that is a lack of understanding of the capabilities of somebody who is blind.
You know, is it going to be a liability? Are they going to be slower? You know, there is sort of this preconceived idea of already, I already know what is going to happen rather than giving somebody a chance and taking a risk. And so I can understand there is this extra pressure of performing, as you would, to the others to the world around you to sort of prove to them that, yeah, I have got this. That, yeah, I have got this under control and sometimes you are not.
And I think that is the hardest part is that if you let it flip that you are not under control, but that is where there is that fear of what is somebody going to think if I do bump into that wall, you know, or if I can't find that elevator button, or if I do spill a cup of coffee on the table, I am going to look like I am not perfect. And so oftentimes that can be very real and very legitimate thoughts that might go through your head, especially someone who might be adjusting later in your life to a lifestyle of being visually impaired.
Any other comments? I sort of took up a lot of time there. I definitely want to open the floor. We definitely have some more comments coming through, through the chat area. Deanna says, "As a blind person we know that society judges us and it is an additional pressure to excel at what we do. If our children get dirty, have a stain on their shirt, we fear that there will be people who say, 'oh, poor child, her mother is blind' or we try to keep a perfect house because we don't want a neighbor to think it is dirty because we can't see.
Learning to say, 'Well, kids get dirty, and if I don't have time to vacuum I will get it done when I do' is hard. So perhaps we need to stop worrying about other people's opinions and get on with living. Everything we do doesn't hinge on our blindness and we need to do the things we do because we want to do them instead of worrying about what others think."
Sometimes I think that is great advice. Sometimes it may be easier said than done. Which kind of brings me to the second part of this which is to think about we talked about, well, what is the difference between perfectionism and someone who strives for excellence? And this is a quote that I found by someone named Tom Greenspon. He is a psychologist in Minneapolis and he is an author of a book called Moving Past Perfect. And he says, "If you are worrying more about how you are doing than what you are doing, you will stumble."
And I think this sort of epitomizes what we have just been talking about is that we are so worried about what other people think how we are doing versus what we are doing and that's when we will stumble. And so when we think about striving versus perfectionism, perfectionism based on this article by [Jay Shermansky] from an article called Perfectionism, Healthy or Hurtful, this is from the Harvard Business Review. He states that, "Striving is reaching for high, but achievable standards that result in feelings of satisfaction and increased self-esteem. Matching your time and energy to tasks that mask your strength and interests, having a sense of what you value and what your priorities are and devoting the lion's share of your time and attention to these areas, reaping payoffs from your efforts that are greater than your costs."
And so I think what we see here in this language is it is you, what you believe, what are your values, what are your interests, what are the things that are important to you and living life based on your own person goals, your own personal values, what you truly believe in rather than what other people want you to believe. And that's a really tough thing to break is to get away from living your life based on how others want you to live your life.
I am going to go back to Martin again. And this, I think, is so excellent in terms of comparing excellence versus perfectionism. It says here, "Excellence is risk. Perfectionism is fear. Excellence is effort. Perfectionism is anger and frustration. Excellence is openness to being wrong. Perfectionism is having to be right. Excellence is spontaneity. Perfectionism is control. Excellence is flow. Perfectionism is pressure. Excellence is confidence. Perfectionism is doubt. Excellence is journey. Perfectionism is destination. Excellence is acceptance. Perfectionism is judgment. Excellence is encouraging and perfectionism is criticizing."
I just thought that was such a great way to compare the two. And, again, one is excellence shows living life for yourself and for what you believe in and for your acceptance and your values whereas your perfectionism is that worry about what other people think.
This is a great quote by David Burns. "Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can paradoxically make you far happier and a far more productive person. So I think this is a great transition to start thinking about. Okay. So how can I shift these perfectionistic thoughts into thoughts of excellence or thoughts of striving? And it is really sort of taking the time and really thinking about where that perfectionism comes from.
I am a therapist and so I really believe in the power of therapy. I, myself, have been through a lot of therapy to work on my perfectionism, and I have to say that it has been the most wonderful gift that I have given myself because it has helped me to take the blame off of myself when something goes wrong, and to learn about how to look at just why something happens. Sometimes stuff happens. And being able to have that kind of attitude to say, "Well, that person wants to think of me as weak because I bumped into the table or my carpet is dirty," so be it. That's their problem and not mine.
And it's about shifting that attitude that that's their problem, not mine. Or it's their concern in terms of how to look at it, you know. I just didn't have time and that's just the way it is, and I am not going to worry about what someone else thinks. So it is helping you to really redefine or reframe is a word we often use in the psychology world. The irrational thinking of where your thoughts come from and why your thoughts are leading to the way you are feeling.
And sometimes if you can alter the way you are thinking that can alter the way that you are feeling. So, for example, you know, in the example perhaps of "oh, my goodness, I am looking foolish because I knocked a cup of water on the table," its "darn it, that cup of water was just in the wrong place and it was not placed in the proper place." So putting the blame on the cup of water as opposed to putting the blame on yourself, finding ways to do that I think is just a really helpful tactic. And I really believe that sometimes just seeing a counselor or seeing a therapist can often be a great way to that.
Also just setting realistic goals and setting those goals based on your own wants and needs and not based on someone else's, not based on what you think others are going to think of you, choosing a career that is right for you rather than I have to choose something because that is what my parents think I should do, or choosing a hobby or participating in an activity because you think it is something you want.
When you do sense that you are feeling anxious and depressed, instead of just wallowing in the feelings, use that as an opportunity to ask yourself, well, why am I feeling this way, what is going on right now that is making me feel this way, what is the action that is happening and what is it and how am I thinking about it and maybe try to think of alternative ways of thinking about that situation so that you can again take that blame off of yourself.
And think in a situation, what is the worst possible thing that can happen. In most situations, I would say 99% of situations the worst that can happen is not absolutely catastrophic to a point where you can find an alternative way of doing something, so the outcome is a little bit more palatable. So that's just another little bit of advice.
And then finally if you recognize perfectionism in others, one way you can help them is just help them learn to laugh at themselves and say, "You know, you are being silly. So what if you knocked that cup of water on the table? It's not a big deal. That cut is just in the wrong place." You know, and you just laugh it off and you make that person feel at ease. Help that person find courage to face their fears. "I am afraid to go out because to use my cane because I don't want to look silly to the public." And if you have a loved one who is visually impaired say, "You know what, let's go out together. I will go out with you. I am going to stand proudly by your side. Let's just go do this."
You know, and so just that in itself, to face those fears and to be out and then to ask, "So, did you feel weird out there? Did anybody make you feel strange?" And chances are they are going to say no. But if they did its like, "So what, that's your problem, not yours." You know, they have an issue with someone who is blind. Most of the people out there, they are pretty friendly and pretty nice.
And also learning the art of constructive criticism, helping to either give criticism or to accept criticism in a way that is constructive. To learn how to use things like I statements when you are feeling frustrated with someone rather than blaming them. "You are making me feel so frustrated because you never put your dishes in the sink."
Instead you can say something like, you know, I know it's hard for you with your vision loss, but I have a really hard time because I wish that you could do the dishes because it makes me feel like I am the maid around here, you know, and taking responsibility for feelings and having your spouse taken responsibility or your friend take responsibility for their feelings rather than blaming you for that. And teaching them how to speak to you in a more dignified way.
So those are just some advice. Any other questions, any other comments? It looks like we have some others that came into the chat, but I will open up the mike if anybody has any other comments in terms of just sort of some solutions to the proposed issue. Gloria.


I am a Braille transcriptionist for the visually impaired and the blind. And I have seen such a variety of ways that these children are treated from the parents being overly protective to teachers that have no clue how to handle the situation. They are not the TVI's, they are the Reg Ed teachers. I mean they will do such things in the classroom as PowerPoint presentations and not give me the material to Braille for these students.

So I a lot of it is a problem of people that aren't aware, not getting on the same page or not having the education how to deal with children that are visually impaired or blind. And I have even seen it go to the other end where they just expect way too much of these kids thinking that they have all this ability. They have all this spatial, what would you call it, orientation and things. And it's very frustrating to me in my job.
Lauri Disman

I can certainly understand. You know, here you are, and there are people again that are dealing with and its ignorance. And I use that word not to say that those folks are deliberating being insensitive or being mean or what not, it's just that they don't know. And I think that that's what a lot of this has to do with in terms of society's acceptance of people that are blind or visually impaired is that it's ignorance and it's a lack of exposure or lack of interfacing and interacting with people that are blind or visually impaired.

And I think that the more that you can get those teachers and TDI's and those parents to witness the interactions of people that are blind or visually impaired in a "normal situation." I am such a proponent of putting people that are blind and students that are blind in just regular classrooms so that they can be learning right side-by-side with their peers. Their teachers are learning to adapt as well as their peers.
Also, being comfortable with somebody who is blind in the room because eventually it just becomes very normal and very natural. And I really feel that there is a need for that, and I think that will help to offset some of this anxiety because society's perception is a very big part of this. I think I saw someone else raise their hand.

I agree totally. I think that as a person who is losing their sight and now learning to be blind that every sighted person needs a good education and maybe the idea for what might solve that problem might be for everyone to have to wear a blindfold for at least a week.

Lauri Disman

That is how the TDI's and the O&M instructors do it. You know, they definitely have to live their life as someone with a blindfold on and to definitely learn to sympathize and to empathize. And my question for you, I am going to throw this out there, is as individuals who are blind or visually impaired, what do you think your role is perhaps in this education process?


I think that we need to teach sighted people to slow down and listen to themselves and realize. I have tried to teach someone to use JAWS who is sighted and they just don't have the patience for it. So I just believe that they need to slow down and be more confident in themselves.

Lauri Disman

Absolutely. I think just helping someone, being there. In the last presentation I think I talked about how important it was to use your voice and to communicate to your loved ones about your needs. And somebody earlier in the chat asked about, well, when is it okay for me to ask for help or ask for assistance. And because oftentimes asking for assistance can be perceived as you are not capable or you are weak in some way.

And I think that once you become truly in touch with who you are and what your needs are and you can kind of lessen these perfectionist tendencies, you will come to realize that when you ask for assistance it is simply because you are trying to achieve a goal. And there is a barrier in front of you that you don't have the resources to overcome at that moment. And so you don't have those resources or you don't quite know yet how to overcome it, it is definitely okay to ask for help.
And sometimes we have to use that voice. And it also means, too, that we have to tell our peers that you have to slow down a little bit. "I have to do things a little more slowly," or "yes, I know you might be impatient that I am trying to find something on the desk, but please let me do this because I need to learn how to do this." So being able to speak up for yourself is a very, very big part of it.
Debra, she put in the chat room, she said, "It is my responsibility to express to the sighted what my world is like and what I need from them as needed. No major lectures, but as situations arise." I kind of like that. Any other comments, any other reactions to your role in this process?

Okay. What about like when we go into a restaurant I have always been told that people look at blind people more like, for instance, as a sighted person, if a sighted person spills something on their shirt they may not be looked at as much as say the blind person that spills something on their shirt. Or maybe a sighted person that sticks a little too much in their mouth, but if a blind person does and the blind is awful, so to speak.

Lauri Disman

And, again, there is nothing you can do to control someone else's perception. That could be their opinion. And it could be, too, that you may just perceive that that is how someone is reacting to you. There is really nothing you can do to control someone else's reaction. That is their reaction. And, again, it comes from a place of ignorance most likely and you can't control that. You can't tell that person not to act that way.

You can express how you feel if you sense that someone might be responding to you in that way and say, "You know, I can sense that you seem uncomfortable with the stain that is on my shirt" or "does this make you uncomfortable" and maybe have an open conversation about it. But there is really nothing you can do to control another person's perception. The only thing you can do is control your reaction to that perception. And, again, that comes from just letting go of that perfectionistic feeling or those perfectionistic tendencies. Barbara, you have your hand up. Is that you?

I have found that putting a little humor into a situation helps a lot and that when you tease sighted people for being sighted and ignorant because of their sightedness, it helps a lot.

Lauri Disman

I completely agree. I just think humor is such a wonderful mechanism to normalize the situation. Often times, like if I spill something on my shirt, I just say, "Oh, I have a drinking problem." You know, and I am sighted. And I think it is the same thing with, "Oh, obviously I can't see well today. Not only do I have a vision problem, but I have a drinking problem." Or just something to make light of the situation.

And oftentimes that, using that humor and recognizing someone else's awkwardness, or the potential awkwardness of the situation can really normalize it. Because laughing at yourself is often a key to someone else that, "Wow, this person is really secure with him or herself." And so again it's being, it's that comfort level with who you are.
Debra says in the chat, "One time a friend and I were in a restaurant and the waitress asked my friend what I wanted. And my friend told her to ask me because I was able to read the menu better than she could." There you go, speaking up on her behalf. I love that.
I hope I pronounce this correctly. Maylee George says, "I cannot afford to see a therapist, but wondered if you could recommend any books available through NLS, authors who write on the topic of perfectionism. I don't know of any authors who specifically write on perfectionism. I bet if you Googled perfectionism or went into Amazon or searched for that term you would probably find some good stuff, but unfortunately I don't know.
I know that the self-esteem part of it, the self-esteem and adjusting with blindness that is offered through the Hadley School is an amazing course. I would highly recommend that course because that can help with the adjustment process and helping to build up self-confidence. Any other questions? There are lots of hands up. Matt, did you want to ask a question?

I think that what we need to do as blind people is we just need to get out there in the sighted community and prove to the general public that we as blind people are just as capable of doing most things. We can't do everything the sighted can do, but now more than ever we are very, very capable of doing things, most things that sighted people can do.

I mean, you know, I like to go downtown every once in a while and have a couple of drinks to unwind after a long day. You know, I can't tell you how many times I have gotten comments about "you get around this place really well" or "it's really cool to see you come out and have fun just like everybody else." And I say, "Well, you know, that's just because I am like everybody else." You know, I perceive myself as just a normal guy who just happens to carry a five foot long stick in his hand, but other than that, you know, I enjoy getting out and having fun and making new friends.
And I think that is what we as blind people need to do. Because if you are sheltered all the time you are letting life pass you by. But, you know, too, that is a very negative stereotype that a lot of people have that I think we as blind people need to overcome.
Vollie Nelson

And also if you are totally blind and you shelter yourself you are letting your blindness slow you down. I mean, you are not giving it time to be able to get out and socialize. This is Vollie Nelson. Sorry, I came in late, by the way. But anyway, yeah, you are not giving yourself time to enjoy life.

Lauri Disman

Vollie and Matt, I think what you are saying is get out there and enjoy life. And, yes, there are going to be times when you might "make a fool out of yourself" and you might spill something on your shirt or trip over a curb, but those are ways of learning and those are ways of learning how other people are going to reach. And the more that you are exposed to the ignorance, the more that you can kind of slough it off. You can build that resilience to it, that resistance, and just say, "You know what, that's just someone being ignorant."

And you realize that that isn't the norm. What you are also going to learn is that there are plenty of people out there that are very warm and welcoming. You know, yeah, there is that ignorance and, in fact, Gloria put an example up here. She says, "My son is in O&M and I had the opportunity to go to a restaurant with him when he was blindfolded, part of an assignment. The waitress was beside herself and spoke to me constantly. And when I told her to speak to him she spoke louder as if he was deaf also."
So these are the things you are going to encounter, but the more that you encounter them the more that you can deal with them and actually even laugh at them. Because obviously, you know, that would just be again ignorance at its best. And it would be a way for that waitress to learn. It would be interesting to learn what that waitress though after Gloria and her son left the restaurant. You know, maybe she learned something from that experience. So it is your opportunity to be an advocate on behalf of people that are visually impaired.

Hi, it's Tim from Winnipeg. I typed this in the chat window, but I think the thing I struggle with the most is, having never had sight, I feel like I really have to get feedback from other people to kind of understand sort of what is going on because you can't just watch people, whether they want to be watched or not. And so it is hard for me to determine lots of times when I need feedback from other people, first of all, and second, when I should be incorporating it into what I believe my expectations of myself should be based on what I think the expectations of other people are of me, and I wonder how you deal with that.


Once I spoke to a group of grammar school children and one of the children asked me, "How does it feel to be blind?" And my answer to that is I feel just the way you do. I am just like you except I can't see. So I think that is what we need to do is let people know how we feel and what it is like.

Lauri Disman

I couldn't agree with you more, Barbara. And sometimes just saying that is the way to say, "I feel just like you do. I feel normal and I am just like everybody else. It just so happens I have a five foot stick in front of me." You know, I mean that is what it is really all about.

And, Tim, in answer to your question, if you are concerned, being blind your whole life can definitely put that limitation in terms of getting that, what do they call it, those nonvisual cues in terms of how you are doing. And if you can find someone you trust to give you honest feedback perhaps of how you present yourself publically or how you appear in your dress or what not.
Because there is a benefit to sort of, I don't want to say fitting in, but learning proper social skills and etiquette to get along with others in the world. And just because you are blind it doesn't remove you from learning good manners and learning how to be polite, and learning to eat properly and not be a slob. I think that there is definitely an advantage to asking someone for their opinion or taking some courses and just learning how to better function, and then that way you can sort of overcome some of those feelings, if you will. Any other questions? It looks like we just have a couple more minutes left.
Vollie Nelson

Yes, I do. And what I am going to say is, I mean, I will wrap it up in two minutes. But what I have got to say is, Helen Keller, the famous Helen Keller, was deaf and blind. She had double handicaps. But Helen Keller might not have been responsible for all technology that we have today as blind people. But the way she lived her life and the way she traveled need not stop you from achieving what you want to achieve and getting out there.

Larry Muffet

Lauri, we don't have a hard time limit on this, but we probably shouldn't, you know, maybe one time for one more question and then we should start thinking about wrapping it up.

Lauri Disman

I have one here from Gloria. She says, "I am gaining such great insight from all the participants. Thank you. From my experience working with the visually impaired each person's acceptance or how they deal with their blindness is so very different. My question is, what is the perspective of one born blind as opposed to one who loses their sight at a later age?"

That, I think, is a question for an entire seminar. That could be one for another later seminar. I don't know if we would have time to share that, but it would be really great to have a seminar on something like that to get the perspective from someone in both situations, so, absolutely. Any other final questions?
Larry Muffet

I think we have time for just one more so I am going to turn loose of the microphone. Whoever gets in here first, gets dibs on it. And then I am going to come back in after Lauri answers and we will start wrapping up.


Someone was asking about when is it okay to ask for help. And I think the answer to that one is when you need it. And if you don't need help you can always smile sweetly and say "thanks, I have got this" and go on. But that was a hard one for me. I am an overachiever sometimes and I was raised in a military family I was the only little girl that knew how to curtsey. You know, there were lots of "little girls have to do this, little girls have to do that" and no flat cut for blindness at all.

But I think that sometimes we can get so independent that we push people away. And so if it is not a big deal you can just say "oh, sure, thank you," well, just like anyone else does. If someone wants to do something like open a door or help you in some minor way that you really don't need, you just kind of go with the flow and not be so determined to show everybody you are perfect.
Lauri Disman

I agree. I think that is a great way to wrap it up. What do you think, Larry?

Larry Muffet

I think that is an excellent way to sort of wind down. This has just been awesome. There has been so much that has been said here today that I certainly can identify personally and I am sure many of you can, too. I want to let everyone know that this seminar, like all of our seminars at Hadley, will be archived on our website and be available for your use anytime around the clock. Also, each Hadley seminar is now made available as a podcast which you can download to your computer or mobile device. If today's seminar has you interested in hearing more, please check out the Hadley website, the seminar archives and Hadley's course list.

Lauri and I thank you for your participation. Your questions and comments were outstanding and I think really added a lot to the value of this seminar. Hadley values your feedback so please let us know what you thought about today's seminar and please give us suggestions for future topics. One way you can do that is by dropping us an email to I am going to hand the microphone back to Lauri for some closing comments. Lauri.
Lauri Disman

I just want to thank you all so much for tuning in. I love when it is interactive and people have questions and comments and hopefully you will invite me back. I would love to do this again.

Larry Muffet

Oh, we will definitely invite you back. In fact, we are always a little afraid not to overplay our hand because we just think you are tremendous and what you have to offer is of such great interest, we just don't want to go to the well too often. So I guarantee to everyone out there that Lauri will definitely be back.

I want to personally thank you all for taking the time to be a part of this seminar. As I said before, your questions and comments really, really added a lot today. And goodbye for now.

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