Does this sound familiar….
‘If I do this absolutely perfect, I will succeed’….’if I look perfect tonight, I will be loved’…and if I don’t I will fail and be rejected.
So how might it feel?
The common word here is perfect. Perfectionism is something that, yes, does have it’s positive side, like it will get you results and is advantageous in certain situations, but it also has a negative, ugly side. A side which can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, even eating disorders. If we are perfectionists we set ourselves such high standards. Unfortunately, they will rarely be met and if they aren’t then we go into this downward spiral of berating ourselves. We are stupid. We are failures, ugly, useless. Just because it wasn’t perfect. We cannot go back and correct our perceived error and we are stuck. For me this feels like an internal hell. Imagine that everything really does have to be perfect, I don’t mean things have to be of a high standard, I’m talking about there is absolutely no room for error. To be wrong would be a wound to our entire self.
I can imagine I would be living always in the future, missing everything in the present. There would be no memories. Always looking out for the worst-case scenario with every teeny tiny mistake having huge consequences. It feels like I would be under pressure 24/7. And would I ever attempt anything new or anything that I was unsure of doing perfectly? So new experiences just wouldn’t happen would they. I don’t know about you, but I now feel anxious and exhausted and hugely under pressure. And if I lose control what will happen then?
How does it affect people around me?
But this doesn’t just stay with us. If we have these high standards for ourselves then we will have them for others too. If people don’t come up to our expectations then they just aren’t good enough either. Relationship problems can develop. People then can’t be trusted and you can’t ask for help because that will highlight to other people that you actually are imperfect. Feels really lonely too doesn’t it? Not only are we living in a world of anxiety and depression, we are totally alone in that world……
For some people alcohol or other substances may be used as a way of escaping all these feelings. Also, some research suggests that living with these pressures eventually decreases our lifespan.
So what causes us to become perfectionists?
I really believe that it begins when we are children. When we are mainly valued for what we can do, our achievements. Not what we are as a person, not our imperfections, nor our unique qualities and our little quirks. So, as we get older we value ourselves on the approval that comes from others, which means that our self esteem comes from external standards and not from within. It kind of leaves us vulnerable to the criticisms of the world doesn’t it? Feels like we haven’t got any internal structure and our wellbeing is in the hands of everyone else.
So, if you have a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, a fear of disapproval and feel like you cannot learn or grow, then it may point to perfectionism. If you have all or nothing thinking, you use words like ‘must’, ‘ought’ and ‘should’ and never feel good enough, then again this may point to perfectionism.
So what can I do?
Have a deep look at your own standards, are they out of balance? Are they higher than other people you know. Do you really know what is normal?
Also have a look at how you think. If I get things wrong, what is the worst that can happen? Does it really matter? If my makeup isn’t perfect, why wouldn’t my natural looks be accepted?
This all doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of your high standards, it means recognising that you are good enough and that we can learn from mistakes. These mistakes can actually take us in new directions, places that we never dreamed of going. Yes, some may not work out, but some actually might. So, celebrate these mistakes and ask yourself ‘what can I learn from this?’
Mindfullness can help to be present in the moment and stop our minds racing and feeling worried for the future. Self-compassion is key here too. Write letters to yourself, write down what is good and remind yourself of these regularly. Our brain soon learns these new ways of thinking.
But if this is really difficult to do. If feelings of shame or guilt are blocking your way, if your ways of coping with perfectionism aren’t healthy and you would like to change, then you can speak to a counsellor. An impartial person who will work with you to see the other side. Don’t let perfectionism take the joy and colour out of life. You are unique and always good enough….