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?
As a student have you struggled to get past the introductory paragraph of an assignment because it wasn’t yet perfect? Do you obsessively check and triple check work documents or presentations?
Do you continually hold yourself and other people to impossibly high expectations?
As a perfectionist you are likely to be very familiar with feelings of ‘never being good enough’. You probably have a pattern of negative and harsh self judgement. At its worst, perfectionism denies you the security and power of self acceptance. Holding yourself to perfection can deny you the joys of accomplishment. It can prevent you from being able to feel at peace or to truly relax. Not surprisingly, to constantly expect perfection from yourself and others sets you up for continual 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 perfectionist parent is likely to be damaging to your self esteem. You may develop a tendency to be judgemental, critical and impatient. With yourself and with others.
Perfectionism can set yourself and others up for ‘failure’ because perfectionist ideals are often not realistic or achievable.
“Sonia” sought help for extreme stress and anxiety. Exquisitely beautiful, Sonia was a highly successful model. However her private inner world was a torment of constant fear and pressure. Her impossibly high expectations of ‘I must 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. She was terrified her partner would leave her if she did not maintain her own strict expectations of herself. It was exhausting.
What underlies the need for perfectionism?
Perfectionism is rooted in core beliefs. These core beliefs are taken on board in our earliest years. They develop 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 a child may decide “if I am perfect my parents will stop fighting.” Or “If I am perfect it will keep everyone happy. If everyone is happy I will be safe.”
Striving to be perfect is a common strategy to gain acceptance and to avoid disapproval. We all have a deep need for acceptance. We all have a deep fear of rejection. 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 person”
- “my role in life is to keep everyone else happy”
- “people will reject or abandon me if I am not perfect”
Perfectionists often catastrophise situations or future outcomes. For example
- “it is absolutely catastrophic if I make a mistake or let someone down. It means I am a failure as a human being”
- “everyone I meet must approve of me and what I do. If they don’t it means I am worthless and they will reject me.”
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. Certain personality profiles and assessments highlight tendencies for perfectionism. People can be caught up in small details and miss the bigger picture or context.
What can you do about perfectionism?
Part of the process is understanding the effect of prior experiences. We clarify how these experiences have been interpreted and how they have impacted you. New strategies are explored to meet needs.
There are 2 key focus areas to break free from the tyranny of perfectionism.
- Beliefs and attitudes about the concept of ‘perfection’ are explored and adjusted.
The overall aim is to allow your ideals to guide your life instead of rigidly ruling your life.
The ‘program’ of beliefs and attitudes that set you up for perfectionism are identified and adjusted. Strategies include to strive for excellence instead of the impossibility of perfection. Unlike mass produced items, artisan craft pieces are prized because of their inherent uniqueness and “imperfections.”
Make your reference ‘doing or being the best I can’ rather than some external judgement.
Develop an orientation to life that values flexibility and learning. Most highly successful people embrace the value of learning from ‘mistakes’ ! Many great inventions came from learning what does not work. (Thankyou Thomas Edison!)
Successful entrepreneurs advise not to wait until everything is perfect before you launch a new idea or project. If you wait until everything is perfect you may never start. Or others may act on a similar idea and leave you behind.
2. Your relationship with yourself is ‘re-programmed.’
Various beliefs about yourself and your worth are identified and adjusted. A key objective is to develop a comfortable confidence in being you.
Beliefs and experiences that support strong self esteem are installed. Core areas include self acceptance, worth, trusting yourself and loving self support. Your sense of worth needs to become unconditional. You can learn to replace self doubt and fears with trusting yourself in a range of ways.
Imagine how much easier and happier your life could be if perfection had less negative power in your life!