The Black Swan and the Pursuit of Perfection, by Howard Schubiner

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This page contains the thoughts and opinions of wiki member Howard Schubiner and is reproduced (with permission) from his blog. The editorial standards that apply to the rest of the wiki aren't enforced on this page, but other guidelines and rules apply.

An image of Practitioner Howard Schubiner
Practitioner Howard Schubiner

Written by Dr. Schubiner on March 7, 2011

If you've seen the Black Swan, you will probably recognize many aspects of Mind Body Syndrome in the protagonist, Nina. She lived in a world where she denied herself pleasure because she had placed too many demands upon herself and her body. Her's was the world of ballet, but it is truly a metaphor for the millions of women who are trapped in a world of work, child and parent care, financial issues, difficult marriages, and troubled relationships with parents, children or siblings. A common thread often seen in the development of chronic pain or other mind body syndromes (such as fibromyalgia, neck or back pain, irritable bowel or bladder syndrome, pelvic pain, headaches and migraine, chronic fatigue, and insomnia) is the pursuit of perfectionism. People who grew up with emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive events or with love being given primarily for performance tend to have low self-esteem. They tend to try extra hard to please and to prove that they are worthy, good, and lovable. Unfortunately, their quest often becomes never ending as they may seek love from those who have criticized or abused them or from people who act in similar ways. They frequently repeat their childhood experiences and continue to feel even more unworthy and unlovable.

The only way out of this horrible cycle is to recognize this whole pattern and take control over it. There is no such thing as someone who is unworthy of self-respect and of love. We all have those things as part of our birthright. The most important thing that I teach in my Mind Body Syndrome program is “be kind to yourself.” Cultivating kindness to self, acceptance of self and forgiveness to self are key aspects of healing. Without this, we are often stuck in an endless search for relief from pain and suffering. There are several exercises in the program (see Unlearn Your Pain) that help to create these qualities. When people are kind and accepting to themselves, they feel so much better about everything in their lives. Research confirms this as work by Dr. Kristin Neff at the University of Texas shows that self-compassion improves motivation and happiness, while decreasing anxiety and depression. There are a couple of excellent books that I recommend. The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Chris Germer offer great insight and exercises to help those who tend to “beat themselves up.” Dr. Neff is publishing a book entitled, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.

In The Black Swan, Nina sacrificed herself for her art and plunged into the depths of insanity. I have seen people who were so consumed with guilt, shame or fear that they were held hostage by these powerful emotions, stuck in chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, and/or depression. Developing a healthy sense of self, giving oneself the benefit of the doubt, taking time for oneself, and accepting our faults are all critical steps in the process of healing. Do yourself a favor by doing yourself a favor!

To your health,

Howard Schubiner, MD

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