Do you find yourself unable to finish tasks or continually ruminating about details that others might ignore? Are you hyper-critical of anything that you produce? When you reach the end of a project, do you feel compelled to do “just one more thing”?
These are all qualities of the perfectionist. If you are familiar with her, then you know how she can paralyze you and keep you stuck. (Please Note: We are using the feminine to refer to all of the subselves in this article; however, their gender generally relates directly to one’s own.)
The perfectionist develops from constant criticism or fear. The perfect child, as I like to call her, is totally preoccupied with being good by doing what’s right. She tries to please at all costs since, at her core, she depends on approval.
This sub-self is reactive, often too nice, and tries to second-guess others’ needs and desires. She wears a smile I refer to as ‘the silent scream.’
In relationships, the perfect child appeases, often becoming frustrated and punishing as a result. A chameleon, she trades her autonomy for apparent safety and acceptance.
This way of relating develops within the familial constellation. Perfection becomes a value highly rewarded. The child learns to obey and follow the rules; toeing the line may bring lavish rewards or prevent punishment. In rigidly performing to win approval, the perfect child forfeits the potential to become proactive, grounded, genuine, and empowered.
From this narrow beginning, perfectionism as an adult leads to what I call ‘perfection paralysis.’ This immobilization eats up large amounts of time. From difficulty making decisions to problems with realistic follow-through, productivity is inhibited.
Since perfectionism is shaped by the verbal and nonverbal messages we received growing up, let’s identify this issue with an exercise.
Take yourself back in time to when you were a kid in your family, and invite yourself to explore these questions.
Start with the spoken messages:
- What were the VERBAL messages you received about being perfect? List them.
- Who gave them to you?
- How did you respond to them?
- What have you taken into your adult life?
Next, recall messages conveyed through actions and body language:
- What were the NONVERBAL messages you received about perfectionism?
- Describe these actions.
- Who manifested them?
- How have you taken these into your adult life?
What do you learn from this exercise about the initiation and development of your perfect child?
I love how, by writing down ancient messages, you can expose and undercut their outdated authority!© Copyright 2009 Paula Eder, Ph.D.