Sometimes it’s subtle – sometimes it’s glaring. But on any and every level, perfectionism exerts a paralyzing influence.
Does perfectionism poison you?
If so, the first challenge is to recognize it. Only when you see it can you apply the antidote.
But here’s the problem; if you desperately want to be perfect, self-diagnosis can feel excruciatingly painful and difficult. Identifying your desire to please, and seeing how it debilitates you, is especially challenging since perfectionism is often highly rewarded in society.
So the best way to start this journey is with compassion. Self-acceptance mobilizes you and makes it unnecessary to seek validation from others. Then, by opening up to an understanding where your desire to be perfect started, you can begin to reduce its power.
Let’s start by briefly examining these origins. I invite you to open your mind and open your heart and remember that perfectionism is overcome with compassion and realism!
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
Perfectionism usually has its roots in early childhood and is generally an attempt to control something that feels uncontrollable. Perhaps in response to criticism or punishment, you attempted to master your environment by providing what was demanded of you. This could set you on a perfectionistic course.
What Behaviors Signal Perfectionism?
When you relate as a perfectionist, you:
- Relate reactively rather than responsively. You waste hours trying to second-guess others’ needs and desires and not enough time defining what you genuinely need.
- Smile stiffly – like an exaggerated grin you might wear in front of a camera. This reflects stress, not confidence or happiness.
- Have increasing difficulty managing anger and disappointment because you have forfeited your autonomy. Punishing behavior often follows right on the heels of efforts to please and control.
- Find it difficult to balance your life, working incessantly and feeling that nothing is ever good enough.
- And in extreme instances, you may become completely paralyzed. The fear and pain of making mistakes drains your incentive to explore and extend yourself.
In the Tip that follows, we’ll explore the setbacks you may encounter, as well as stepping stones you can create, as you move from perfectionism to dynamic productivity.
Evolving Beyond Perfectionism Takes Time
Quite often, “recovering perfectionists” hurl themselves headlong into efforts to become “perfectly balanced” overnight. But changing this lifelong pattern turns out to be a process, like anything else.
You need to provide yourself with generous servings of patience and self-acceptance. A dollop of gentle humor helps, too!
Write Yourself a Loving Letter from your Nurturing Parent.
Why not open a line of communication with the voice of compassion inside you? Simply write yourself a supportive letter, or a series of letters, and offer unconditional acceptance to yourself.
Affirm that you are absolutely worth the work and the effort it takes to move beyond perfectionism. And then, make sure to soak in all the warmth that you feel! Read your self-affirming letter daily, and write new ones as you feel moved to. These are very powerful and energizing tools for getting unstuck!
Free Yourself with Patient, Practiced Steps.
- Observe yourself as you move through your day. Without judging, notice where you allow perfectionism to interfere with your daily pleasure and productivity.
- Jot down several examples and then select one that seems relatively easy and rewarding to work with.
- Focus on modifying this one behavior consistently. As you begin to make changes, notice your automatic self-talk. What arguments for perfectionism do you give yourself?
- Use logic and realism to deflate the irrational objections you raise. For example, suppose you tell yourself that a project isn’t perfect yet. You might respond by noting that there is actually no standard of perfection for it. Then you can add that it fully serves its purpose just as it is.
- Create and use supportive mantras to counter your perfectionism. Some possibilities might be, “Done is better than perfect” and “Excellence over perfection.”
As you see, each of these steps is simple, straightforward, and keeps you moving forward.
By offering yourself these gifts every day, you affirm your inherent worth and empower yourself. Not only that, but you also provide yourself with the breathing room to be human and to grow in new directions!© Copyright 2012 Paula Eder, Ph.D.