The definition of perfectionism is a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less. Striving to be perfect might sound like a good idea to some of us. The problem is that it can actually make us neurotic and unhappy since perfection is an elusive standard and difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Continually setting impossible standards and then failing to meet them, is a recipe for dissatisfaction and depression.
Perfectionism can negatively affect us in many ways. Perfectionists tend to be extremely critical not only of themselves, but also of others, which can create distance and strained relationships. Procrastination is a side effect because when standards are set impossibly high and can’t be achieved, we distract ourselves with others things and avoid starting the project to begin with. Taking significantly more time to finish a task than average by doing things such as over checking for mistakes etc is another trait of perfectionism. Procrastination and taking unreasonable amounts of time are one way that perfectionists stall their efforts, not doing anything at all for fear of failure is another. People pleasing, an inability to say no and sacrificing oneself continually to make others happy, is also a sign that perfectionism might be a problem. Becoming overly defensive when criticized is a clue as well. Perfectionists will take criticism very personally, like an attack instead of feedback on how something might be improved.
I am a recovering perfectionist who can identify with many of the above symptoms.. When I was in school, anything less than the highest A in the class, wasn’t good enough and therefore a failure. I could cry at a B+ and berate myself for not being good enough insisting that I should have done better. I procrastinated for years on starting my blog or publishing anything for fear that it wouldn’t be good enough and I might get criticized. That added the extra fear of not being able to handle the criticism and taking it personally. I have spent countless hours creating work, workshops, classes, manuscripts, choreographies etc which have never seen the light of day due to my prior perfectionism. Now that I am in recovery, hopefully that will all change.
If you, like so many of us are plagued by this neurosis, here are a few exercises that can help you turn it around:
Recognize that we are all perfectly imperfect. We are all on a journey and where we are is exactly where we need to be. Is the seed of a redwood tree any less because it is not yet a majestic tree? Of course it isn’t, it is a work in progress and it is just right every step of the way, as are we.
Be OK with good enough. Doing your best is what matters. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Finished is better than perfect. If you did your best and got it done, then you did a great job and that’s all that matters. Perfect and never finished wont serve anyone.
Become aware of being critical or judgmental of others. Notice what you are criticizing and ask yourself what quality is being mirrored back at you. Often when we are critical of others, we are recognizing one of our own qualities that we have rejected about ourselves. If we can recognize and accept that quality within us, we can accept it in others as well and it will no longer be something that requires judgment or criticism.
Admit your fears, faults or imperfections out loud to another person. Being vulnerable in front of others does wonders for creating closeness. Realizing that its ok to be imperfect and knowing that you are still loved no matter what can be incredibly healing. When doing this exercise, I recommend picking a trusted friend, family member or therapist to get the best support.
Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend or a child. If your best friend came to you with a perceived failure, would you berate them and knock them down even further? Doubtful as you if you did, you probably wouldn’t have that best friend. Give yourself the same respect. When you catch yourself berating yourself for something that didn’t go “perfectly” ask yourself what you would tell your best friend, or a small innocent child that was in the same situation. Then treat yourself that way.
Ask how much this actually matters in the long term. When you look back next week, next month, next year or next decade, is this something that you will even remember? Is it something that really mattered? In the bigger picture, how important is it really? Perfectionists can agonize relentlessly over the smallest things. If it’s not that important, just let it go. If it is that important, remember you did your best and that is good enough.
Last but not least, affirmations are a great antidote to perfectionism. The one I like to use is “I love and accept myself unconditionally”. I like to repeat this one in my head like a broken record. It is especially useful in times where my inner perfectionist rears her less than perfect head. It reminds me that no matter what, I am OK, I am deserving of love and nothing will change that, no matter how badly I screw up. I am human, and perfectly imperfect just like everyone else.
What are some of your experiences with imperfection and how to overcome it? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment if you feel so inspired.
© Copyright 2014 Vanessa Naja/Holistic Moving