Autism, Perfectionism, and Yoga: “Settling For” vs. “Settling In”
By Sean M Inderbitzen APSW, Member of MINT
This month, rather than discuss autism and mental health along with its many layers, I wanted to offer you a solution. Her name is Bibs. She is a wonderful human being and part yogi. I invited her to share with y’all an account of the practicality of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skillset we use to begin to notice our thoughts which are usually a combination of projections and ruminations about the world.
And those of you who have ASD I suspect know full well about the challenge of not getting sucked into your repetitive interests or ruminations if you will. That stated, take a read, and enjoy this month with my friend Bibs. She has wonderful tools that hopefully can help you begin noticing your thoughts too.
Settling For or Settling In?
“Don’t settle for anything less than the best. You deserve the best of the best.”
Did anyone else hear this a ton growing up? Especially once we hit the glorious life stage in grade school when people started dating each other?
I recall hearing it beginning at that point and all throughout my college and post-college years. I still hear it now from time to time, usually from a well-meaning adult that thinks I’m in need of some life advice when it comes to my relationships, my job, or the place or home I’m thinking of settling into.
It’s not bad advice. I understand where people are coming from. It’s the easiest thing to say when someone comes to you uncertain of what path they should take next in their life. And I don’t disagree. People do deserve the best.
But what happens when ‘the best’ is not clearly defined for us, particularly when we’re young?
For those of us with spectrum predilections, ‘best’ is often synonymous with ‘right,’ or the ever fluorescent ‘black and white’ thinking pattern so present in this population. For me, I understood ‘the best’ to mean ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ (or, as close to perfect as possible) according to how outside factors (my parents, my church, the media) defined perfect. And then I was to strive to go get that, and show people I had it.
And if what I had in my life didn’t seem to be ‘the best,’ I really struggled to move forward without completely disowning it. You know that other saying, ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’? I did not listen to that advice…
Another thing: and I’m not sure if this stemmed from my desire to make my parents proud
or keep up with my peers around me,
or my aversion to making ‘mistakes’ and failing at life.
Perhaps it was my religious upbringing and deep-seated fear of disappointing God and winding up in hell if I made a wrong misstep on the path God had determined to be mine.
Maybe it was because of how I saw the world at the time: as a purely ‘black and white’ place with ‘good or bad’ decisions to be made. (As those of us with PTSD or ASD know, ‘ambiguity’ or ‘nuance’ aren’t necessarily things that come easy to us).
But for whatever reason, possibly all of these reasons, I never viewed this advice to find ‘the best’ as an exciting thing to go after. I always heard it as a thing to be afraid of. A warning. A threat. Not something to aspire to, but something to urgently get to, or else something bad would happen.
You better find the best job soon, or else you’re going to be too late.
If you don’t find the best boyfriend soon, people are going to start to wonder what’s wrong with you.
Don’t prematurely settle down in a home that’s less than the best, otherwise you’ll miss your chance to get to the place you’re actually supposed to call home and settle down in.
Go after and hold onto ‘the best.’ Stat.
Or else you’ll miss your chance.
Or else you won’t measure up to those around you.
Or else you’ll let God down.
Or else you’ll be considered a failure.
Or else or else or else.
Sound extreme? It was all I knew back then.
Unfortunately, this determination of mine to never settle for anything less than the best, led me to never feel comfortable settling into, well… anything.
I never settled into a job. I was constantly on high alert at work, waiting to discover something about the company or the people there that indicated it wasn’t ideal. And when I inevitably discovered ‘a flaw’ that I thought would cause this job to be dubbed as less than the best by those outside factors I mentioned above, I bolted. I was after the best job and this was clearly not it. So? Onto the next one.
I also never settled into a relationship. I dated a few people, and tried to find ‘The One.’ At the time, The One in my mind had to be a good Christian man. Someone who read his bible every day, went to church every Sunday, treated people well, would be considered good-looking to the people in my life, was funny, and didn’t sin. It won’t surprise you to hear that my relationships never lasted longer than 6 months for the first decade of my dating life. Only the best for me.
I never settled into a home, either. I once moved 4 times in one year. I went from Beverly to Woburn to Wakefield to Lexington, MA. I was constantly on the move. Trying to find a place that checked all the boxes: had the perfect roommate(s), was the perfect distance from my family and friends and job at the time, was the perfect temperature, was the perfect size, and on and on.
I was living in a world of binaries. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living in a state of what Aaron Beck calls cognitive distortion. Trying to simplify in my mind what is actually a very complex world, where things are rarely all or nothing. And I was hurting myself in the process.
If you’ve experienced anything similar, then you know how absolutely exhausting this is. It made for a lonely existence. One where nothing was ever good enough and it was never safe to settle or relax into anything, for fear that it was the wrong thing; that it was less than the best.
By my mid-twenties, my nervous system was shot, and I was quite sad. Constantly in a state of hyper-vigilance, waiting to discover if the thing I had thought might be the best, revealed itself to be less than that. Which, of course, in time, it always did.
I didn’t have language for it at the time, but my body was exhausted from being in a ‘fight or flight’ state so often, and from my parasympathetic nervous system being in overdrive.
Thankfully, due to a variety of factors, for the last five years or so, life has shifted my path and has taught me a few things. I’d like to share a few of those lessons with you now. I hope some of them support or resonate with you on your own path.
1. ‘The best’ — as it’s portrayed to us in the media or by those around us — is a display of other people’s understandings of the best.
Whether it’s the best for themselves or what they believe to be the best for you. And while I wish it was as easy as outsourcing our definition of ‘the best’ to figure out what our lives should look like, it just doesn’t work like that. Nobody else has the right answer for you. Just as each of us are unique, our ultimate desires are, too. Which leads me to my next point…
2. ‘The best’ is and should be defined by each individual. Your best is yours to define.
There are endless questions that we can ask ourselves, to invite ourselves into discovering what ‘the best’ looks like for us, in any area of our life. ‘What makes you personally feel most fulfilled, most cared for, most valued, joyful, or true in this moment?’ I’ve found this to be a good starting point. Move closer to whatever thing(s) show up in your answer to this question.
3. ‘The best,’ in the sense of simply being perfect or flawless, is an illusion.
It’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. As long as we are living in this current reality, we are going to run into things in our job, home, or relationships, that aren’t ideal. And as long as we are interacting with fellow humans, things are bound to get messy sometimes. The question isn’t ‘Is this the best?’ or ‘Is this perfect,’ but rather ‘Is this what I desire in my life, right now?’ and ‘Does it support me in moving in the general direction I desire to go in, right now?’ And, ‘Do I feel that myself and this thing or person are actively co-creating the world I want us to live in?’
4. What is best for you is allowed to change.
You’re allowed to say yes to that, fully, for now, and no to it in the future if it doesn’t feel like the best for you in the future. For so long, I thought the thing I said ‘yes’ to now had to be the thing that I would want in my life forever. Always trying to find my forever home, my forever person, my forever job. What if we just asked ourselves, ‘What feels best for me, in this now present moment?’ and then said yes to that. For now. In this present moment. In my experience, changing courses throughout your life is going to happen whether we see it coming or not (which, most of the time, we don’t). But have you ever not been able to navigate through those changes? We are much more capable of handling change than we think we are.
5. It is safe to settle for what you want to settle into.
If you want to settle into anything (or anyone), you will inevitably need to settle for it (or them) in the process, too. And that’s a beautiful thing! If you’re anything like me, it’s possible you have messages coming up in your mind right now, reminding you to, NO, NEVER settle for less than the best! (You deserve the best of the best, remember?).
Yes. AND — I’ll speak for myself here — as we discussed, my old definition of the best meant holding people and things to an impossibly high standard. No one, not even myself, could ever live up to them. And if I were to continue to hold things to that high standard, I would be resigned to a life of constant seeking for what doesn’t exist, and by default, a life full of isolation and inconsistency. And I don’t want that.
Do you? Whenever these messages come to the forefront, I remind myself of all the lessons I’ve learned since I originally heard them.
Repeat after me:
I release the notion that anything or anyone is perfect.
I deserve to seek out and settle into
The best job.
The best partner.
The best place to live in.
Here. Now. In this moment.
Only I know what this looks like for me.
If what feels like the best for me today changes tomorrow,
I will honor that change.
I am excellent at navigating change.
I allow myself to settle into what is best for me today
(and also settle for it in the process).
Settling for something is not necessarily bad.
Settling for good things is what allows my nervous system to calm.
And I deserve calm
and peace and rest.
Even if these things feel foreign and scary to me at times.
I am committed to settling into spaces that allow me to
create the world I want us all to live in
alongside those around me.
I want the best for myself and also for
everyone else in this world.
I allow everyone to define the best for themselves,
just as they allow me to do the same.
I am grateful to support them on their path,
as they support me on mine.
Is this something you relate to? If so, I‘d love to hear from you and hear how. I’m also curious to hear how you have learned to overcome this.
For me, doing and teaching yoga is something that helps bring healthy nuance into my life, and helps me determine what’s best for me.
I currently host online yoga classes a few times a month, and I’d love to practice with you if you’d like. These are donation-based, psych-sensitive yoga classes that I aim to make as neurodiverse-friendly as I can.
If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to me by filling out this form (and let me know in the second-to-last question what you’d like to see in a yoga class in order to feel safe and comfortable!).
If you prefer to keep in touch over social media, I’m on Instagram @bibs.live. 🙂
Sean is a Behavioral Health Therapist, and lives with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has a caseload with 33% of his patients that live with ASD and varying comorbid psychiatric conditions. Prior to being a mental health clinician, he was a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist for Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for 3 years. He was also appointed by Governor Walker to the Statewide Independent Living Council of Wisconsin. He is an incoming member to the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers, and provides training on motivational interviewing, ASD and employment, and ASD and comorbid psychiatric conditions. For more info, find him at Seaninderbitzen.com or on LinkedIn.