Most of us have a long list of expectations for ourselves every day. Did I get a good night’s sleep and eat a balanced breakfast? Am I doing well at work? Does my body look how I think it should? Am I the best parent I can possibly be? The list is seemingly endless and tailored to each of our lives. Even if you’re a high achiever at work, you’re a domestic goddess and the mother of the year, or you’re a social butterfly with a long list of best friends, you’re not safe from the pursuit of perfect. If you’re someone who feels like you’re always falling short of your expectations for yourself, you may want to examine why. Perfectionism, the refusal to accept anything short of “perfect”, plagues many of us and can touch our lives in a myriad of ways.
What contributes to being a perfectionist?
Perfectionism doesn’t have a singular cause and in fact can have many. Some of the most common are
- Having a parent that is a perfectionist or who only offered praise for high achievements
- Having an underlying anxiety disorder
- Trauma – perfectionism can be a protection mechanism to try and prevent further trauma and
What’s wrong with wanting perfect?
Hey, perfect sounds pretty nice to me! How can everything being just right be so wrong? The problem with perfect is it doesn’t exist. The pursuit of the unattainable can lead to painful and counterproductive actions (or inaction). Do you find yourself falling into any of these patterns?
- A general feeling of not being good enough – whether it’s with a romantic partner, in the workplace, or in your own body
- The fear of disapproval from others or being “found out” as a fraud
- Inaction – Letting the fear of not being perfect or doing something perfectly stop you from doing anything at all
- Overworking – Spending too much time on a task
- Procrastination – Waiting for the right conditions to start something
- Focusing on the result rather than the journey to get there
- How we relate to food, exercise, and our bodies can lead to unrealistic expectations, orthorexia and other eating disorders, and over exercise
How can I learn to accept that perfect isn’t plausible?
Most of us feel the burden of perfectionism in at least one aspect of lives at some point. Others can feel the pressure daily. So how can we help ease these feelings and learn to cope with and recover from the damage of perfectionism?
- Let yourself be imperfect. It sounds simple enough, right? But we all know it can be incredibly challenging. We need to have the felt experience of coming into contact with the very thing we are fearful of to see that we are still safe and harm did not come to us.
- Let go of your inner critic. Use a nurturing, voice for yourself and cultivate a compassionate safe place in your head. If you have trouble accessing this voice, channel the voice you would use for a loved one who needs support.
- Opposite action – although it seems counterintuitive (that’s the point!) do what you feel you can’t. Rest more, take that first step for a project you’ve been putting off, or don’t exercise – take what the perfectionist in your head is screaming at you to do and do the opposite. This exercise can create a shift from fixing to feeling, from judgment to curiosity, and from failure to feedback.
- Work with a therapist to process trauma
The thing is, all any of us wants is to belong and be accepted for who we truly are. We can never gain true belonging if we are just trying to fit in, as we don’t even give others the opportunity to see us. We will never truly feel loved and accepted if we are working so hard to be seen as a perfect person. We can only truly belong and feel deeply accepted if we show up as our authentic selves and experience firsthand that we are still loved and allowed. Break up with the perfectionist in your head and start falling in love with your true self and your real life today.