3 Things We Dive Into In This Episode:
What is “perfectionism” - really? And what are the sneaky ways that it might be holding you back in relationships, work, and other areas of your life?
The importance of setting and maintaining boundaries and how to repair relationships when boundaries cause friction
How to let go of perfectionism in relationship to our bodies as they change and adapt throughout our lives
Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (one of Noni's favorite therapeutic modalities)
The Vanishing Half (book)
Safe Word podcast (Noni's favorite podcast)
Alison Roman (chef)
Noni Vaughn-Pollard is a mental health counselor and psychotherapist in New York City. She studied nutrition at NYU as an undergrad, then pivoted to mental health counseling and got a master’s degree in mental health. Noni specializes in working with people who struggle with perfectionism and is passionate about helping people cope with the fear of disappointing others. In switching from nutrition to mental health counseling Noni had to grapple with her own perfectionism and let go of her expectations of herself and others to go after what she really wanted.
You can learn more about Noni and her work on her website and instagram.
How does Noni define perfectionism?
All the different behaviors that restrict your authenticity
When the fear of being fully seen is so great that you self-sabotage so that you don't appear out of control
A lot of it is about maintaining a certain image in the eyes of others, and not necessarily the Type A personality that we often associate with perfectionism.
How to move through the fear of perfectionism to be the most authentic version of you?
Get comfortable with looking silly - not always having the answer, not conforming to a group, not being the best at everything
Cultivate humility through that process by showing others it’s okay to not be all-knowing
Show self-compassion by allowing yourself to make mistakes - you are still a smart and hard working person even if you mess up. Nobody’s perfect!
Boundaries are the ultimate form of self care
Challenge yourself to not be a Yes Man
With perfectionism, it’s hard to set boundaries because you think you have to be available all the time
Be intentional with your time by only giving time and energy to the relationships that are important to you
Boundaries will look different to everyone!
Could look like eating regular meals for energy, getting enough sleep to recharge, checkups with health professionals, not making plans on a Friday night, etc.
There will always be rifts, rejections, and disappointments in relationships - it’s impossible to avoid this entirely!
Rupture & Repair makes it possible for you to continue relationships even if you’ve disappointed them by setting a boundary and vice versa
Relationships ending isn’t a failure - not all relationships should last a lifetime
Repair doesn’t always mean you get back together or continue working on the relationship - sometimes splitting amicably is the healthiest boundary for all
Grieving process is important whether you repair & continue the relationship or repair & end the relationship
Important to sit with discomfort and process, but it can be difficult to practice when you’re used to overcontrolling. Ask yourself:
What's coming up for you?
Why do you feel so upset about this rejection?
What were you hoping was going to happen instead of what actually did happen?
What was your role in that relationship or situation?
How could you have done things differently and how can you bring that to other relationships?
If you didn’t take anything personally, how would your life be different?
Even if you had a “good” childhood, it is still important to reparent yourself
What do you need to make it through rejection that you didn’t get as an adolescent?
How can I nurture myself as an adult?
How can my current boundaries give me what I needed when I was young?
Body Image Changing Over Time
It’s natural for our bodies to change over time - it’s inevitable!
The body is a vessel and it goes through so much - it is not something to be fixed
Your body is your home and it's more than something to look at; it's a tool that carries you through so many experiences and processes so many things for you
Love and acceptance IS possible; it takes time and healing
Thanks for listening! 💖 Stay tuned to my website for more episode updates and other exciting programs and resources.
Noni: Your body is this vessel that holds all this information about you, and it goes through so much. It deserves a lot of credit for everything that it's helped you to get through. And I just think people forget that they're so detached from their own bodies that it's like, this is something I fix. This is something that's just there to be seen. But it's like there's a lot of other functions that this body has. It's really done so much and keep beating it up. I mean, I don't know, like, living longer. It's like you want the body to at least feel comfortable on this long journey of life.
Caitie: Hey, welcome back to another episode of Whole, Full, and Alive. Wherever you are in your day right now, wherever you're tuning into this episode from, I invite you to take the deepest breath you've taken all day. Take a nice deep breath in through your nose. Let it fill your body through the base of your spine. Hold it there for a moment.
And then exhale to release and let it go. I'm really excited for you to hear today's episode. I just want to jump right into it right away. And before I do, of course, I want to remind you that if you are interested in getting started in the journey of healing your relationship with food, your relationship with your body, and cultivating a sense of authentic self worth and body confidence. And self confidence, I have spaces open for one on one counseling at my practice, Full Full Nutrition and also a group coaching cohort is going to be kicking off very, very soon. Keep your eyes out for that.
And as always, we have the whole full and alive toolkit available for purchase on fullsolnutrition.com, which is a collection of journal prompts, actionable experiments, modules that you can use to start feeling more whole, more full, more alive. Regulating. Your nervous system, taking care of yourself, creating grocery lists, doing tangible self care practices in a way that is non rigid, non restrictive, holistic and will truly help you live a life that feels honestly authentic to you.
And today's episode is also going to help you live a life that feels good and authentic to you. Today I am talking with Noni Von Pollard. She is an amazing mental health therapist based in New York City who is going to talk to you today about perfectionism, healing from perfectionism, also defining perfectionism and what the heck that is, because I think a lot of people have misconceptions of what that is. I think some people who don't realize they are perfectionists are kind of operating with perfectionistic tendencies or vice versa.
And she's also going to talk to you about boundaries and the importance of setting boundaries for living a life that feels really good and juicy and wonderful and aligned. And she's going to talk about applying boundaries to your dating life, to different types of relationships, and to your relationship with your body and healing your body image. I am just so stoked for you to hear all of her insights and a little bit of her personal story today.
I was inspired to record this episode when I received some questions about the episode I recorded a few weeks ago related to risk taking. I recorded an episode a couple of weeks ago about the importance of taking risks in your life and how to take risks in your life. And a question that came up from a few different people who listened to that episode is, how do I take a risk in the face of the fear that I might be rejected by people in my life, that I might be making my family members unhappy by taking the risk? And how do I make a risky Pivot in my life or do a risky thing, whatever, when I know that it might not make certain people that I'm close to happy or, yeah, they might disagree with it, they might reject me, et cetera. And so I decided to record this episode with a therapist who I really trust. I wanted to get a mental health counselor or therapist's insight on this issue so that we could talk about it a little bit more.
And so Noni is going to speak to that exact dilemma today, in addition to all the other things I just said. So before we dive in, let me just give you a little intro to Noni. She is, like I said, a mental health counselor and a psychotherapist in New York City. She works with adolescents and young adults. She believes that over control and rigidity in life causes most mental health problems, like eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
And so she specializes in helping clients let go of their internalized perfectionism that keeps them from living a full and embodied life. And she is going to share so many tools for you today to live a full and embodied life for yourself. Let's get into it.
Caitie: All right, noni, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I am so happy to have you here and to be reconnecting with you.
Noni: Yeah, I know it's been a couple of years, I think since we worked together before, so yeah, when you reached out, I was like, I know who you are. I did not forget.
Caitie: Yeah, I don't know, whenever I don't talk to someone for a while, I'm like, hey, remember me? Do you remember me? I think we all come from that place of like, oh, they'll never actually remember who I am. Right. But I remember who you are very well, very vividly, because when you entered the place we used to work together, you had such a grounding energy. And at the time, I was a very buzzy, ungrounded person.
And I think my energy is something that people love about me, how much energy I can bring into a room and also, you had such a soothing presence that I was like, oh, I need some of this. I need to cultivate some of this in my life. You really had probably the most soothing presence in that small office that we used to together, and now you're a therapist. A lot has changed over the last five years since we worked together. So tell everyone a little bit about who you are and what you do, and if you don't mind, sharing how you came to be where you are today, because you actually were in my nutrition program at NYU, and you're not a nutritionist.
Noni: Yeah, I'll start there. I was studying nutrition at NYU as an undergrad, and I remember I was just really interested to understand how our relationship with food changed from childhood to adulthood. And I think a lot of that came from volunteering at a nonprofit with children in an urban garden in a school. And I started taking an eating disorder seminar at NYU that was like an elective in the child and adolescent mental health program.
And I took more of those psychology classes, and I enjoyed it so much. So by the time I left NYU and I was trying these different jobs in nutrition, I was thinking, like, is this really what I want to keep talking about? Because everywhere I would go, people would just talk about their lives to me. I never had to ask them to do that. So I was like, I think this is something I'm good at. I'm good at getting people to open up and share about themselves.
So I started looking into social work programs, and then I started looking at mental health counseling. So I went and got my master's degree in mental health, and then I started working with someone who I met while we were together at the treatment center. And the art therapist there is now my supervisor. And yeah, it's really cool. Now I work with people of eating disorders. I also work with adolescents who are just trying to figure out that transition from high school to college.
And I work with men too. That's a new thing. I never worked with men before, but that's been really fun.
Caitie: Thanks for sharing that. I don't want to go on too much of a tangent here, but there are a lot of female therapists who don't have experience holding space for men. I'm curious how you kind of entered into that.
Noni: I think there was someone who reached out to me last year to work with their sibling, and at first was like, well, I don't work with men. I don't really know what that's like or what emotions will come up for me since I identify as a straight woman. And I started working with this client, and I really enjoyed it. He was the embodiment of every other client who was a woman that I've ever worked with. Very perfectionistic, a lot of rigidity, struggling with expressing emotions and relationships.
And I started reading more about how a lot of young men are going to see therapists because they want to work on just being more vulnerable with other people. So I was like, you know what? I already work with most clients who have a difficult time being vulnerable. And if a lot of young men are interested in therapy, I think that's just going to help all of us. If more men go see a therapist.
I was like, you know what? I think I'm going to take more guys than I do. And it's actually really fun. It's really fun working with men.
Caitie: Yeah, thanks for sharing that. So you do specialize in working with people that are struggling with perfectionism. Is that something that has been inspired by your own personal experiences with perfectionism? And to what extent were you inspired by your own experience?
Noni: Yeah, it definitely was. I always say I'm a recovering perfectionist. I'm still learning how to not be so rigid about things. But I remember especially that in between time, which I think we all struggle with, between getting out of college and figuring out if you're going to go to grad school, if you're going to get a full time job. I was just really stressed. I was having all these panic attacks at work, and I think because I was putting so much pressure on myself to figure out what my path was going to be, I was so confused. Like, I studied nutrition for four years, but I don't feel passionate about it anymore, so what am I supposed to do? I felt like I'd failed if I didn't continue on being a dietitian.
And I remember my dad had said to me, like, it's okay if you change your mind. It's not a big deal. Like, I did it in my career and it worked out fine. But that at the time, was not a good answer. I was like, I don't want to be like my dad. I want to actually stick to one thing and do it. And I realized, like, no, actually, that's not making me happy, so I'm going to change my path and do something else, which was, like, a great idea.
So it was definitely my own feelings around always never wanting to disappoint people. I wanted my family to be proud of me. I wanted friends to look up to me or other colleagues to be inspired by me. So I felt like if I kept changing my mind too much, no one would take me seriously in my journey. But I realized that was actually more detrimental to my mental health than it was to anybody else's.
Caitie: Yeah, and it's like the opposite of the truth, because I remember meeting you at that moment that you were Pivoting, and we were in the same nutrition program at NYU and working at the same eating disorder treatment center, and you were like, oh, and I'm actually going to school to become a mental health counselor. And I was like, that's amazing. I mean, that's something that I also was interested in doing and thought about for half a second and was like, not too complicated. I can't change my mind. Can't.
And I think we'll find that the people with the most fruitful, fulfilling, meaningful careers are those that have changed their mind and changed direction based on what was best for them in that moment. And so I think it's amazing for young people, especially to hear stories of people who have changed their mind. Because I think I remember my first day in my undergrad, I was asked to create like a four year plan or something like that by my academic advisor. And I felt so intimidated by that. I was like, oh my God, this four year plan is going to determine the trajectory of the rest of my life and my adulthood and everything.
And I remember my dad saying to me, and so funny because my dad also said this to me, he was like, Fuck that. You don't need to create a four year plan. Like, just say you're not going to do it. And I was like, I have to do it. Academic advice is asking for it. No, just say you're not going to do it. That's so stupid. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. But yeah, I definitely was inspired by that pivot that you made.
And I remembered it. It stuck with me, for sure. And with that, I think what you mentioned about disappointing other people, it's like the main thing I want to talk about today in terms of boundaries and perfectionism, just how to cope with that fear of disappointing other people. And before we dive into that, I do want to pull over on the word perfectionist for a second because I was actually speaking with a client the other day and I was like, isn't the word perfectionist kind of a perfectionist word in and of itself? Because you're really labeling yourself and you're really putting yourself in this box and saying, I am a perfectionist.
The way my client was using it in that conversation too, she knows I'm sharing this was in a very sort of perfectionist way. She was like, Well, I'm a perfectionist, so this is just how it is. And I'm curious, how do you define that word and what do you think about that? Because I feel like sometimes the word in of itself is a little bit all or nothing.
Noni: Yeah, it's kind of funny how when I usually say, especially on a consultation call, I work with people who tend to label themselves as perfectionist, that someone always say, well, I don't feel like I'm that person because I'm not that type a high achieving person who's always successful in everything they do. And I think it's like that word itself makes people think like, you have to be at the top of everything to be considered a perfectionist.
But I've read in research there's different types of perfectionists, but there's also, like, an over controlled personality, which I think to me sounds better of someone who might be at the top of their class in school, but might also be that person who doesn't like achieving things because they're always afraid if they get started that it might not be perfect. And what's the point of finishing something if it's not perfect? So they might be like a procrastinator. They might procrastinate a lot. They might be someone who's always people pleasing in relationships because they don't want to seem like they're not perfect.
So it's interesting how I think people think a perfectionist is this very specific type of person. But perfectionism to me in itself is all these different behaviors that really restrict your authenticity. It's like the fear of being fully seen is so great that you'll pretty much self sabotage yourself in different areas of your life, so you don't seem like you're out of control.
Caitie: So is a lot of perfectionism and I mean this both in your personal definition and just, like, clinically speaking as well, is a lot of it about sort of maintaining a certain image in the eyes of other people? Is that a lot of what perfectionism is about? Is it about being seen and is it about your relationship to other people? In a lot of ways?
Noni: Yeah, definitely. From my experience as a therapist, I've talked to so many clients who feel so unhappy because they're not being themselves. And there's always this fear of, if I am myself, no one will like me, I won't be successful, I'll be a disappointment to people, or I won't get what I want. And it's just really interesting how a lot of people think that's the key to getting what you want is not being yourself. I mean, I think we're all given those messages very young, whether it's from our family, our friends, school or work, that being yourself is not always healthy or what you want is not always good for you, and you should have willpower and discipline, but you don't fall into your own natural human urges as a person.
But, yeah, it does seem like people who are so afraid to just be themselves, they don't usually realize how that's actually not getting them where they want to be. Like, you're actually getting in your own way by not sharing more of yourself with the world.
Caitie: Yeah. And I think this ties so well into so much of what I was hoping to get your insight on today, which is this idea of taking the risk of being yourself. I think in a world that really, really tells us to conform to certain societal standards of many kinds, it is such a risk to choose to be yourself, to choose to work an unconventional job, to live an unconventional life, whatever that means. And also, risk taking is the thing that brings us the deepest sense of fulfillment and in my opinion, leads us towards much greater mental health.
However, risk taking always comes with the inevitability of disappointing people in our lives. And so when you are choosing to be yourself, take the risk of being yourself. Take the risk of going for the thing that you want to do despite it, conforming to the norms of society or your family or whatever. How do you cope with those fears that come up of disappointing other people? What do you work with your clients on when it comes to coping with that and what in your own life has taught you about that?
Noni: I usually work with clients on being okay with looking silly. I think that's something that a lot of my clients are very afraid of. Not always having the answer or seeming like not always conforming to the community or to the group, to the family, being the standout person. So that's something that I work on with clients. Is it's okay to look silly. It's okay to not have the answer to everything. It's okay if you're not the best at everything that you do.
And the humility that comes with that is so important because you're modeling to other people that it's okay if they don't know everything. Because what's interesting to me is that when I hear a client usually get frustrated with other people that they don't know things, that to me is a signal that that's because for them it's embarrassing to not know things as well. And it's like it's okay to be imperfect. It's okay to be a human being and not have all the answers. And then another thing I work on with clients is self compassion.
Most clients I work with are not very kind to themselves, very hard on themselves. Think that empathy is something you earn through hard work, but it's not something you're just given because you're a person. So it's like you could be nicer to yourself. You made a little mistake. You don't have to beat yourself up for the next week or the next month. But allowing things to be okay if it's not perfect, and knowing that you're still a really smart, hardworking person even when you make mistakes, that's a normal thing to do as a person.
Caitie: So as those two things apply to these two things, being just letting yourself look silly, like being okay with that and letting that be the model for other people versus modeling perfection for other people. What if you model just being a human and being okay with it and letting yourself look a little silly to other people. And then also practicing self compassion and being kind to yourself when you make mistakes. What does that look like in practice for someone who is going to take a risk in their life or take a pivot in their life? I feel like the pivoting is like a theme of this episode. Unexpectedly, what does that look like in practice? If someone does want to make a change in their life, that is risky, financially risky in terms of their sense of belonging with their friends or family, how can someone.
Noni: Big question that everybody is always trying to figure out in every session. It's really about boundaries. That's something that I think most of us are not taught that I don't remember anybody. I mean, I think I remember basic boundaries, like basic consent. Like my mom would teach me or my dad would teach me about things that work. But in terms of especially intimate relationships or even within family, I don't feel like I really knew what a boundary was.
Why would you set a boundary with somebody you care about? That never made a lot of sense to me when I was younger. But that's something that especially a lot of my clients worry about, is if I do set a boundary with a family member, will I ever be invited back into the family? And then sometimes the question even is, do you want to be a part of this family? Because for some clients, the family they're a part of is just too much. It's just too mentally exhausting, and it's just too draining for them. So sometimes that's a different question. But most people who have some form of perfectionism have a very difficult time setting boundaries. Like this idea of I should always be available, I should always be able to help people.
I should always be able to go to all these different social events so people don't think that I'm like some antisocial person and I have a good social life. I should always say yes to every person that wants to date me. So it's like when you don't have boundaries, you really have a difficult time knowing what do you actually like or what do you want to do or who do you want to date, or do you actually like those friends that you hang out with? Or do you really want to go to Thanksgiving and have to explain why you don't want to hear about that diet that your aunt is on or something? But I hear that a lot. Like, clients are very afraid to set boundaries because it might mean that they'll get rejected or they won't be approved of or they'll lose support in their life.
But it's also like, well, you have to reevaluate if these people, places and things are actually good for you or if you're happy with them.