Does perfectionism rule your life? Do you worry about how other people might judge you? Do you exhaust yourself in the pursuit of perfection in your appearance, in your home, in your relationships or in your work life? Do you agonise over how you handled past conversations? As a student did you struggle to get past the introductory paragraph of an assignment because it wasn’t yet perfect? Do you continually hold yourself and other people to high expectations?
As a perfectionist you are likely to be very familiar with feelings and self judgements of ‘never being good enough’. At its worst, perfectionism denies you the joys of accomplishment and the security of self acceptance. It can prevent you from being able to feel at peace or to truly relax. Not surprisingly, if you constantly expect perfection from yourself and others, disappointments, frustration and anger frequently arise.
Perfectionism is a hard and relentless task master. If you do 100 things really well and one thing poorly, do you enjoy and appreciate those things you did well? Or do you focus on that one thing that was not perfect? Living with a perfectionist parent, partner, child or co-worker is challenging. A negative expression of perfectionism can set yourself and others up for ‘failure’ because your lofty ideals are often not realistic or achievable. You may have a tendency to be judgemental, critical and impatient.
“Sonia” sought help for extreme stress and anxiety. Exquisitely beautiful, Sonia was a successful model however the pressures of her impossibly high expectations to ‘always be perfect’ brought her to the edge of a breakdown. Her self image was distorted such that she could not see herself as others saw her. She lived in fear of people seeing her as she saw herself and fear of her partner leaving her if she did not maintain her own strict expectations of herself.
What underlies the need for perfectionism?
Perfectionism is rooted in core beliefs, which are generally taken on board in our earliest years according to what we experience and what conclusions we arrive at about those experiences. Aiming to be perfect can be a strategy for staying safe in the world for example by keeping other people happy or gaining their acceptance and approval. We all have a deep need for acceptance. Perfectionists have made acceptance and self worth conditional upon being ‘perfect’. Some common beliefs are:
- “I’m not good enough”
- “people will only like and accept me if I am perfect”
- “I must be perfect in certain aspects of my work or my life otherwise I am not a worthwhile human being.”
- “ my role in life is to keep everyone else happy”
- “I absolutely must be a good person”
Perfectionists often catastrophise, for example
- “it is absolutely catastrophic if I make a mistake or let someone down and it means I am a failure as a human being”
- “everyone I meet must approve of me and what I do and if they don’t it means I am a terrible person.”
Interestingly, a numerologist would say people with a “6” life number (arrived at by adding each individual digit of your birthdate day, month and year ) carry high ideals with a tendency to be perfectionists. If the primary numbers include a ‘3’ then these tendencies are even stronger.
What can you do about perfectionism?
Overall, I work with you in the context of your relationship with yourself and your expectations. Part of the process is understanding prior experiences, how these have been interpreted, and how they have effected you. There are 3 main keys to break free from the tyranny of perfectionism.
- Adjust beliefs that set you up for perfectionism. Strive for excellence instead of the impossibility of perfection. You can allow your ideals to guide your life instead of rigidly ruling your life.
- Install beliefs that support self acceptance, trust and flexibility. Resilience can be developed and strengthened. You can learn to appreciate the value of learning, and of making mistakes. Acceptance of yourself and your worth as a human being needs to become unconditional. You can learn to replace self doubt with trusting yourself in a range of ways.
- Learn to appreciate the perfection of imperfection. For example a Murano hand blown glass vase is prized precisely because of its’ inherent uniqueness and imperfections.
Imagine how much easier and happier your life could be if perfection had less negative power in your life! Beliefs can be changed. Thinking processes can be adjusted. Fears can be reduced. Working on your relationship with yourself is a cornerstone in strengthening a sense of peace and empowerment. Replacing the pursuit of perfection with the pursuit of excellence holds the potential to experience much greater success and joy in your life.