The Gist: 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do (Part 2)

By Olivia Schmid | | Layout Assistant

Photo Courtesy of Barnes & Noble.

Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? Do you avoid being vulnerable because you don’t want to seem weak or too emotional? 

In the midst of COVID-19 (and in normal times, too), perfectionism and invulnerability are qualities many individuals possess rather unintentionally, especially in college; however, I have the perfect two chapters for you in the second part of my mini-series reviewing 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin. So, if you struggle with the aforementioned qualities or are just curious about them (in which case, lucky you!), you’ve come to the right place!

The following commentary is centered around the second and third chapters, “They Don’t Insist on Perfection” and “They Don’t See Vulnerability as a Weakness,” of Morin’s bestselling book.

Morin starts by listing the reasons women may strive for perfection in the first place. The biggest problem that Morin highlights is the desire women have to be loved and accepted. Furthermore, there is an actual biological disposition encouraging the not-so-great trait of perfectionism in many individuals (in other words, perfectionism can run in the family), as evidenced by studies outlined in 13TMSWDD. And, even if perfectionism doesn’t run in your DNA, the way your parents raised you can also influence your levels of it. Lastly, regardless of genetic predispositions and family influence, trauma history (ie. if you maintain complete control of everything, you won’t be hurt again) and the sensationalism of success (“go big or go home” mantra) can also contribute to unhealthy habits stemming from perfectionism.

I found Morin’s extensive list of downsides of perfectionism to be particularly eye-opening. Some examples from it include: 

  • Self-destructive behavior (procrastination, binge eating)
  • Higher risk of burnout (less engagement in new things, resulting in lower achievement)
  • Fear of trying new things (perfectionists engage in “avoidance coping,” meaning they avoid doing the things they fear they’ll fail in)
  • High risk of mental health problems (the more people identify as perfectionists, the greater the risk is of widespread mental health struggles in our society, too)

The easiest way to take a step in the right direction? Ask yourself often, “What would it mean?” Seriously, what would happen if you fell short today? What does perfectionism cost you?  What opportunities do you skip out on and what insecurities affect your relationships with people?

If you’re like me, you might think perfectionism helps keep you motivated. When you struggle with perfectionism and the hardships it causes you, you’ll eventually find yourself stuck in a fixed mindset: the constant belief that whatever you do is never good enough. Yet, you keep pushing forward anyway for no other reason than just to say you did something. With a mindset that keeps you from growing, you fall into the danger of avoiding rather than overcoming, reacting rather than learning, and feeling threatened by the success of others rather than finding inspiration in it.

If you’re worried about what other people think, keep in mind that most of the time, you’re the only one making a big deal about your weaknesses. This may sound weird and rude, but you and I are not so important that other people watch and critique our every move. This draws me to the word “sonder,” which isn’t something Morin covers in 13TMSWDD so much as a word that I think would help the reader see the bigger picture.

Sonder can be defined as “the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.” It is the realization that in the grand scheme of things, we are all on different, complex life paths, and that most of the time, we live our lives preoccupied about ourselves and not even realizing that’s what everyone else is doing, too.

At least for me, I am able to be more vulnerable knowing that everyone else has a complicated life of their own, so they are probably not on the look-out for “Olivia Schmid’s Greatest Weakness” as often as I may feel they are.

Later, Morin poses some great questions to help strike up vulnerability in our lives:

  • What’s getting in the way of me being vulnerable? (Do you fear what others will think? Are you not sure how to begin?)
  • Who are the people I can be vulnerable with? (You can open up to a few people, not everyone at once)
  • How can I take care of myself when I am being vulnerable? (Go for a walk, take deep breaths, write in a journal, watch a funny movie, have a spa day. It’s called self-care, baby!)

Let’s start with today. What is one small thing you can do to be vulnerable today? COVID-19 makes this especially hard. In a world that is mostly run online and lacking in personal face-to-face connection, you have to put an even bigger effort towards being vulnerable. Start by asking for help when you need it or asking to meet someone for coffee. #onestepatatime

All this is to say that it’s not helpful to suppress your emotions 24/7, maintain a tough exterior so people can’t hurt you, or avoid social and emotional risks because you worry you wouldn’t be able to handle rejection and disappointment. Experiences that force you to be vulnerable are the ones that will help you most, serving as a catalyst for the future you envision for yourself.

Let’s be real. Unreal expectations lead to a difficult downward spiral. We’ve been there. We’ve done that.

True mental strength is about giving yourself some well-deserved grace and cutting yourself a break when you need it (even if you think you don’t.)  Forgive yourself when you make a mistake and know that you’ll be okay.  As you’ve probably heard a thousand times before: the way we are living right now is not normal – we aren’t living in a normal world, so refrain from holding yourself to the same high standards that you did in the pre-COVID-19 world of our past.

That’s the gist, everybody!

First-year Olivia Schmid is a Layout Assistant. Her email is oschmid@fandm.edu.

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