Let's show ourselves a little more love and compassion!
The month of February seems to be all about love and the heart…it is the month of fundraising for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, as well as the month when we get to do something extra special for our loved one on Valentine’s Day. And as veterinary care providers, we spend most of our days loving and caring for others, whether it is our clients, patients, or co-workers, often putting their needs before our own. But in doing so, we often forget that we deserve love and compassion as well.
As veterinarians and technicians, we are notoriously hard on ourselves. On a day when we might see 15 appointments and speak with dozens of clients, it only takes one angry or frustrated client to cause us do doubt ourselves. Likewise, we might have 10 positive reviews online, but if just one negative review pops up, we immediately blame ourselves. Lastly, it can take just one error out of the hundreds of medical decisions that we make every day for us to question our abilities as veterinary care providers.
Why are veterinarians and technicians so hard on themselves?
The simple fact is that most of us are perfectionists and set very high expectations for ourselves. Perfectionism is a personality trait that characterizes a person striving for flawlessness who sets excessively high performance standards for themselves (and others). Perfectionists often engage in overly critical self-talk and have profound concerns regarding other people’s views or opinions. They can be incredibly hard on themselves and feel that there is no room to make mistakes.
But isn’t perfectionism a good thing?
While perfectionism can motivate people to succeed and achieve goals, it can also drive people to attempt to reach unattainable ideals or maintain unrealistic expectations. And unfortunately when those expectations are not met, psychological distress can result. A recent study assessing Australian veterinarians found that those who exhibit trait perfectionism are more likely to exhibit moral distress in the face of triggering stressful events. For example, if met with the agonizing task of euthanizing a sick animal because the owners cannot afford medical care, perfectionists are much more likely to experience psychological distress because they are not meeting the unrealistic expectation of being able to save every animal that comes into the clinic. These moral stressors can take their toll over time and are considered the leading cause of burnout in the veterinary profession.