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Chris Linnares, Published November 23 2011

Linnares: Are you your own worst enemy?

I was 9 years old the first time I saw my father cry. His eyes were filled with tears as he was watching the news. After 20 years under a military dictatorship, Brazilians were finally able to finally see their own president on TV.

“Christiane,” he proudly said, “today our dream came true. Now you will have the freedom to express your voice and make a difference.”

He was right. After that unforgettable day, we gained our freedom. Unfortunately, instead of using my voice to provoke social change like my father’s generation did, many times, I used my voice to put myself down and repress my freedom of expression – I became my own worst dictator.

“This dress makes me look overweight … I am not beautiful … My house is a mess … I yell at my kids … I am a horrible mom … I’ll never be able to write in perfect English … I’m not a good enough writer.”

I would never say these things to anybody else, but for some reason I am not ashamed to say them to myself.

While I was living in my country, writing always was my passion. After I moved to the USA, it took me many years – and some therapy – to overcome my self-criticism and embrace the challenge of expressing my ideas in a foreign language. I remember spending a lot of time coming up with excuses that only held me back.

Behind destructive self-criticism there is an unrealistic idea of achieving perfection. If you, like I am, are part of generation X or Y, this search for “Miss Perfect” didn’t just happen by chance.

Journalists Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin in the book “Midlife Crisis at 30” explained that our two generations received the message that we can have it all. We grew up watching shows like “Wonder Woman,” “Bionic Woman,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” That’s why we expect to raise our kids better than our parents did, achieve a successful career, have our home “magically” clean, and at the end of the day, be a passionate goddess with a perfect body.

As a result of having high expectations of ourselves, a lot of us are depressed, overwhelmed and struggling to find balance and peace of mind.

While working on our “Beautiful Women Of North Dakota” book project, I realized how much I needed to learn from previous generations.

I interviewed women who suffered severe hardship during the Great Depression. What amazed me was that they were living in a depressed time, but they weren’t depressed. They didn’t waste their time putting themselves down, but instead they stood up and worked hard to create the country they deserve.

As Macko and Rubin wrote: “When our parents’ generation recognized the problems they faced as flaws in the system instead of flaws in themselves … they changed that flawed system for the better.”

Maybe we are not horrible, messy moms. Maybe we just need to retire our “Wonder Woman” capes and ask for help once in a while.

Maybe we are not overweight. Maybe we need to join forces to change the unrealistic idea of beauty that our society imposes on us.

Even as I write this column, I can still hear those destructive, self-critical voices, but they are not louder than my desire to be an example to my daughters. I want them to know that even though I can’t express my ideas in perfect English the way I would like too, I am not going to allow anybody, including myself, to take away what my father and the heroes from past generations fought for: the freedom to express our voice.

Chris Linnares is an international author, Brazilian psychotherapist and creator of Diva Dance. She is the founder of Naturally Diva and Diva Connection Foundation for women’s healthy and empowerment. Contact her at chris@naturallydiva.com.