Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Recovering Perfectionist

Obsession, Regret, Anger, Projection: My Latest Breakthrough

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Hot angry tears were rolling down my face as we went back and forth, round and round. It was one of those conversations that needed to happen but was hard for both of us. We were both hurt – although, I probably more than she. We were both struggling to understand each other. The tears mixed with sweat as I walked around and around the track at the YMCA – the adrenaline from the conversation mixing with the adrenaline from the exercise. Near the end, in a huff by the lockers, I found myself uttering these words in anger:

“I’m not angry with what happened. I’m angry at myself!”

Her quiet response was something along the lines of, “Well then, you need to deal with that.” 

It took a few minutes before the full weight of her words set in. But when it did, I was racked with such intense emotion and grief that I sat on the bathroom floor of the Y and sobbed.

I’ve spent a lot of time here on my blog over the last five years peeling back the layers of my heart and soul, trying to get to the depths of the biggest issues that touch my life. In so doing, I have attacked some big ideas:



Attachment parenting

Naturalistic mindset

Pinterest perfection

I have attacked these ideas because my espousal to them has brought me grief, exhaustion, and pain.

But there’s one thing that these have in common that I didn’t really realize until that moment, last weekend at the Y.

It’s me. 


This is what my Type-A self does:

Insert NEW THING here. We will call it X.

Step 1: Learn everything I can about X. Find resources to help me with X, especially resources others may be unaware of.

Step 2: Analyze. Analyze. Analyze.

Step 3: Organize said knowledge into a mental framework. Create a plan of execution. Color-coded spreadsheets. Schedules. Lists. Notebooks. Documents. Folders.

Step 4: Execute plan with ultimate precision. Or watch plan not work at all.

Step 5: Feel accomplished, smart, and utterly exhausted. Or feel devastated, disillusioned, and utterly exhausted.

obsession 2

Exhibit A

When I was in high school, I attended a Bible ministry camp for teens. One of the events at that camp was a scripture memory competition. My favorite. Of course, I won. I really rock at cramming my head full of 80+ scriptures in a week. I was called on stage in front of camp and was honored by the college president for my accomplishments.

But this time was different. I remembered how in years past, no sooner than my dirty camp clothes are thrown in the laundry, most of those verses have disappeared from my memory. What a waste. Ugh. This time, one of the speakers had shared a Bible memory plan that had my name written ALL OVER IT. I determined that I would take all 80+ verses that I had “memorized” at camp and truly commit them to memory.

The plan went like this:

  • Say said verse 25 times, then 20 times, then 15 times, then 10 times, then 5 times, 5 times, 5 times. (each being a day)
  • Say verse once a day for 7 days.
  • Say verse once a week for 4 weeks.
  • Say verse once a month for 12 months.


For the next two years I worked for about an hour each day on this process, tattered green memory verse sheet and color coded Excel document right beside me.

You see, legalism is a problem. It is a problem that teens are rewarded for scripture memory and put into an environment where spirituality is a competition. It is a problem that the praise of men is used as a motivator for “walking with God.”

But the problem was also with me. I turned a good thing into an obsession.

Exhibit B

After my first cesarean section (and it’s accompanying problems with breastfeeding issues, recovery, and postpartum depression), rather than resting and enjoying my baby – I turned to analyzing and obsessing. I “did my research” about all topics birth, breastfeeding, and natural parenting. These systems catered to my perfectionistic tendencies and were more than happy to tell me all of the ways I could have done things differently. I ate them all up.

When Ezra was a baby, I spent hours at my laptop pouring over these websites. I drove well over an hour on several occasions to go to birth forums, attachment parenting get-togethers, and breastfeeding meetups. I had a folder in my e-mail client just for VBAC resources in my area.

I wasn’t even pregnant.

{Related: Checklists, control, and motherhood}

But when the time came, I was going to be ready. The line between proactive preparation and obsession was crossed and then some.

It’s really easy to point fingers at a parenting method that reduces parenting to an alliterated list of 7 easy steps and places followers in the realm of “good moms” and dissenters in the realm of “bad moms.”

It’s another thing entirely to realize that alliterated checklists are my Achilles heel that send my brain off into the Land of Obsession – it’s like they reward the pleasure center of my brain or something.

Exhibit C

When the time came and I actually WAS pregnant and planning for VBAC, there it was. The obsession fueled by extra doses of estrogen and five years of “research.”

It was never enough. There was always another exercise to try. Another podcast to listen to. Another walk to take. Another trip to the chiropractor to make. Another Spinning Babies move to try. Another meditation track to listen to.

I didn’t just make affirmations to meditate on. I printed off about 20 different packets of affirmations AND made my own, then laminated them, then meditated on them while I walked. AND saved affirmation images onto my computer. AND made a screensaver of them for my TV.

At least this time, I was far more aware of what was happening. I KNEW I was reveling in obsession. I tried to be balanced, but it was like this train I couldn’t quite figure out how to get off of.

{Related: Balancing being proactive and being obsessive about preparing for VBAC}

obsession 7

In the 16 months since Little Brother’s (repeat cesarean) birth, I’ve looked for flaws in the process and further shunned everything from optimal fetal positioning to chiropractic to breastfeeding.

Anger and Projection

Which brings me back to that tear-filled angry conversation at the Y. She told me that perhaps, my experiences with legalism were coloring the way I viewed the world. That I was seeing things through that lens – through my hyper-sensitivities to that system.

There may be some truth there. But maybe it’s not so much that I see legalism everywhere I go, but rather that I take myself with me everywhere I go.

The truth is, I’m not angry that I didn’t “get my VBAC” with Little Brother. I’m angry at myself for trying so hard. I’m angry that I put more value in the process of birth than the result of a healthy baby. I’m angry for how much time, energy, and money I now feel like I wasted because I wanted to be able to feel accomplished and empowered by a birth “experience.”

obsession 3

But, rather than deal with that anger, I have projected it. I have attacked ideologies that I previously held to because I poured my heart into them and they didn’t pan out (for me).

Each ideology I have attacked has serious flaws, that I still believe. And I will continue to speak out against ideologies that I feel are harmful to other moms or other Christians.

But – perhaps – their biggest problem is that they have catered to my natural proclivities for obsession and perfectionism. That the combination between a Type A person and certain ideological systems is just dangerous.

In short: it’s not them, it’s me.

I have so much anger. But it has only been the last two weeks when I realized that at least some of my anger is directed inward.

I’m angry at myself for obsessing over VBAC. I’m angry at myself for enduring severe sleep deprivation for 29 months just so I could breastfeed when I could have just given him a darn bottle. I’m angry at myself for working so hard in college when I didn’t have to. I’m angry at myself for spending hours memorizing Bible verses and sewing up slits in my skirts when I could have been having a far more normal teenage life.

I’m angry because I did this to myself.

My biggest regrets in life are not the times I didn’t try. Rather, my biggest regrets are the times I tried too hard.

My Stumbling Block

As I was still reeling with this revelation, I went to church the next day. I felt physiologically sick from the toll this intense emotion had taken on me. I sat in the pew struggling to focus on the topic of the sermon, delivered by a fellow brother in Christ who was filling in for our pastor.

He was talking about the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 about the weaker brother. It was toward the end of his sermon when I began to really hone in on what he was saying. He said that too often we look at the people who are causing others to stumble, while being blind to our own weak spots.

This right here is my weak spot:

My attention to detail, my strong executive functioning skills, my perfectionistic tendencies are probably my greatest asset. They are what allow me to be able to carry a 9 credit class load and a 4.0 GPA while managing two boys, a husband, and a household while maintaining one blog and three Facebook pages without completely losing my mind.

Yes, balls get dropped sometimes. But I keep up with the big stuff.

It’s a double edged sword: my greatest asset is my biggest weakness.

obsession 4

Because no sooner have I eschewed my perfectionism and obsession with one subject or life event than I am onto the next. I’m doing it right now with my schooling and my blog’s Facebook page. Yup, color-coded spreadsheets and all. (One of which I deleted after working on it for two hours because I realized what I was doing…so…progress, maybe?!) And don’t even get me started on my Pinterest-scheduling-system notebooks. Yes, notebooks – plural.

{Related: in which I rip up my lists and relinquish control}

Breaking the Cycle of Obsession

I think awareness is half the battle.

Zoloft has really helped me be more in tune with the anxiety that goes through my body and mind. While obsession and anxiety are not the same thing, they are highly related. I’m learning that sometimes if I can address the physiological symptoms I’m dealing with (racing pulse, frustration, trouble sleeping, shallow breathing) and treat those with my coping skills, I can more quickly realize that it’s related to whatever I’m obsessing about.

Obsession has a lot of negative impact on my relationship. I find that the times I struggle most to be present with my kids or husband, it’s either related to my introversion or the fact that my brain is racing in “go mode” with obsession. Then, the people around me are more of annoyance because they are a distraction from my stream of consciousness.

obsession 5

While awareness is half the battle, it is only half the battle.

I’m not really sure where to go from here.

How do I lean into and embrace who God has created me to be? How do I utilize my assets but back off before they get me into trouble?

How can I recognize the flaws in a system while still recognizing that my own flaws only make it worse?

How do I deal with the hot anger I feel toward myself for all the times I have failed to see the destructive nature of my ways? How do I move on from regret? How do I stop projecting my anger on to ideologies or people who espouse those ideologies?

How do I forgive myself, especially when I keep making the same mistake over and over again?

obsession 6

Or am I simply being too hard on myself? Am I obsessing about obsession?

Dear Type A people, help me out here. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  • Eli Pacheco

    I find myself toiling in tasks like this, too, at times, which is curious, given that I’m scattered when it comes to most things. My best advice: Recognize the actual moment. We spent so much time and though planning and thinking through possibility, that we forget not only the beauty of the current moment, but the huge impact it has on what will come next.

    • Aprille

      This is great advice, Eli. Do you have any practical or tangible things that you do to help you remember to stay “in the moment”? I feel like I’m really great at realizing my lack of presence after the moment has already passed.

      • Eli Pacheco

        You have to take a barometer of your day. Set a watch to go off every top of the hour. Annoying, I know, but here’s what you ask yourself right when it beeps: Is what I’m doing right this instant making me better, or is it a detriment? If it’s the latter, change the behavior. If it’s the former, reinforce it, and remember it when you have those times when the path your on doesn’t lead to a better you. And by better, I mean less self-induced stress.

        • Aprille

          This is great advice. I’ve been using a timer for all of my different tasks and making myself switch tasks after 25 minutes. This helps break my mental train of thought and keep me from obsessing.

  • Michael Lining

    Hey sis! Big bro here! Quite a blog post! Its very complex. Its very complex, as you know. Step back from yourself for a few moments and take a birds eye view of who you are. By the way, who is dad? You know, spreadsheet master, actuarial guru, the awesome man who comes in the driveway after work, makes the same stops on the way up stairs, stays in schedule, puts his chapstick on the right side of his dresser, puts his belt rolled up in the top drawer, has an order to every process, and if something goes missing, it really can throw him off. OCD? Maybe, but you are your father’s daughter in sooo many ways. His strengths are your strengths: organization, scheduling, processes, procedures, smarts, perfectionism, life in Excel spreadsheets. I knew this growing up with you. You have inherited those traits. You have thrived on schedules, order, procedures, check lists for years and years. Early on, you adopted that as a way of live, a way to make you thrive, in school and the religious systems and legalism we were exposed to fit right into that, and it was cemented into your way of life. It made you who you are. Probably that has a lot to do with when the rug got pulled out from underneath you several years ago, it was such a shock to your system. Now you’ve recognized the religious underpinnings of the legalism but you’re seeing that yourself as a person are who you’ve grown up to be, and maybe that’s why its so overwhelming to you; because you now see that your modus operandi, is your greatest asset but your biggest weakness. But the good news is, you don’t have to obsess over who you are. I’m not saying you’re OCD, but you have some very OCD tendencies that has structured your very way of living since you were a teenager. Its what made you thrive in school, and thrive on schedules and organization. But now you’re seeing that is a weakness as well. Now you see it, you don’t have to try to change who you are all at once – that will lead to a bunch more obsession that you’re not changing enough or fixing the problems and cause more self-directed anger.

    Without doing a bunch of research, think of ways to challenge the self-directed anger you’re experiencing into something else that doesn’t bring you down. You realize I am who I am, I AM this person, and I accept the person I am. You can only make gradual changes now that you see the problem (which is really not really a problem). Lets say you are full blown OCD (which I’m not saying you are). That’s not something that can really be changed, so its not necessary to be self-loathing or angry about. Its partly hereditary, and its partly what your natural response was given the circumstances we faced growing up (i.e. churches, etc). You recognize it, and you know when you’re obsessing, and you work on it a little at a time; but you can’t change the core of your being all at once. You don’t have to be angry that you have responded in certain ways or did certain things. Just like it has taken time (years) for Dad to change the person he was (for the better), it will take you a long time too. Don’t try to change it all at once, it will just cause more anxiety, obsession, and pain.

    Try to reduce your dependencies on your schedules and spreadsheets as a starting point. Don’t feel like you have to research everything. Occasionally, I look something up with parenting, but most of the time we just go with the flow of what we feel in our gut our child needs, and its usually always right. For example. sleep training. I have done some research on the issue and there’s so much opposing research. I say, forget it all, I’m going to do what is best for my child and my family, rather than sorting out all the opposing viewpoints and pros and cons etc. Waste of time.

    Imagine what life would be like without Google. Mom didn’t have Google until you were in middle school. Try to reduce your dependency on tons and tons of research, and trust the Bible first, then your feelings. As you know, you can spend your life researching and trying different things only to fail and then wonder what to try next. You’ll know internally whats right for your family and your kids.

    So for the how questions, start with little things. You know you can’t change how you’ve operated in the past, so there’s no need for regret or anger at who you are. You are an image-bearer of Christ. Your body and spirit are God’s. You’ve had to shed the checklist style Christianity for an authentic relationship with God. You can also shed the checklist style structured mindset you’ve developed for years, but it takes lots of time. You don’t have to and won’t have instant results, any more than I could instantly lose 100 lbs (though I want to).

    Put your brain on pause. Accept who you are and accept the past. You’ve got this – God’s got your back – your sins have been forgiven. Accept imperfection. Now going forward, you realize how you think about life and how you see the world. Where you know that you’re obsessing, stop, pause, and channel the negative energy and emotion into something you can do that will change your thinking about whatever you’re obsessing about. You’ll be fine just don’t be too hard on yourself (which leads to more obsession – vicious cycle!) We’re all works in progress.

    • Aprille

      Wow…LITTLE brother, this comment is SO awesome. I am going to have to read over and over and over it. No wait, that would be obsession.

      But seriously. Thank you for giving me some much-needed perspective (and love) from someone who really knows me. LOVE YOU!

    • Aprille

      Also, you are the second person today to mention OCD to me. That’s something that has never even occurred to me. When I think OCD I think Monk, obsessing about germs, neat freak, etc. None of those things I am. But there is definitely an obsessive-compulsive component to the things I deal with in this regard.

  • Caroline

    (I found your blog through the series on legalism and grace. Having gone through the same process in the past few years I really enjoyed it.)

    On the subject of control, obsession, perfectionism, anxiety etc. – I definitely have experience in these areas. And although my mental health has improved in large part through the journey to really believing in God’s unconditional grace, I still have better and worse days in these areas.

    But I wanted to say: for me, it’s become clear that obsessive, perfectionist thinking, or wanting to control outcomes (your experiences around pregnancy and attachment parenting rang a bell!!) are always, always for me about Fear. Wanting to make sure that God’s plan for me doesn’t involve more suffering or failure than I think I can handle. Not trusting that God’s plan for me is good.

    Whenever I have an anxiety or perfectionistic spiral around some issue, I have started seeing very clearly that it’s motivated by this Fear of outcomes, or lack of trust in God’s love.

    But scripture’s so clear on this:

    Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. – 1 John 4:18

    So for me the only antidote is not to talk myself out of the anxiety/obsession, or to conceptualize it more helpfully with some new mental framework. The only antidote is to BASK in God’s love for me. Basking is the only way for me.

    Thought that might help. God bless you!

    • Aprille

      This is helpful. I think my need for obsession and control is less about fear and more about feeling like there are so many things outside of my control (like the needs of my family members, their moods, their behaviors, etc.) that when something falls in my domain, I seek to grasp hard to control it…simply because it’s something I CAN control. I’ve learned that this isn’t completely wrong. For me, sometimes making a spreadsheet or to-do list, organizing a cupboard, labeling things in my home – these are little things that bring a semblance of order and control to my life and help offset the chaos I can do nothing about. The key for me has been a massive amount of self-awareness, stepping away from things (even good things), if my need to control or obsess becomes overpowering and detrimental to my mental health or my relationships.

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