What it lacks in insight, it makes up for in honesty.
I’ve learned three things about perfectionism that have turned my world upside down. It’s kind of lonely standing on my head in this upside down world – won’t you join me?
#2 Perfectionism is not “focusing on the best we can be.” Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and connection. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports, etc.). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. PLEASE. PERFORM. PERFECT. Healthy striving is self-focused, perfectionism is really “other-focused” – “what will they think?”
#3 Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is key to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism doesn’t lead to success. It’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. Life-paralysis includes all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.
I don’t think some people are perfectionists and others are not. I think perfectionism is on a continuum. We all have some perfectionistic tendencies. For some, perfectionism may only emerge when they’re feeling particularly vulnerable. For others, perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic, and debilitating, similar to addiction.
I’ve started to work on my perfectionism, one messy piece at a time. In doing so, I finally understand (in my bones) the difference between perfectionism and healthy achieving. Exploring our fears and changing our self-talk are two critical steps in overcoming perfectionism. Here’s my example:
Like most women (including the hundreds I’ve interviewed and thousands I’ve talked to), I struggle with my body image, self-confidence, and the always-complicated relationship between food and emotions. Here’s the difference between perfectionism diets and healthy striving health goals:
Perfectionism self-talk – "I’m fat and ugly. I’m ashamed of how I look. I need to be perfect to be accepted and loved. I need to be different than I am right now to be worthy of loving-kindness."
Healthy Striving self-talk – "I want this for me. I want to feel better and be healthier. The scale doesn't dictate if I'm loved and accepted. Loving-kindness (my belief that I’m worthy of love and respect NOW) will support me through this. I want to figure this out for me. I can do this."
For me, the results of this shift were life changing. Perfectionism didn’t lead to results. It led to peanut butter.
In my research, I found that most people who struggle with perfectionism also struggle with being/feeling judgmental toward others. With perfectionism comes lots of either/or, black/white, good/bad, should/shouldn't thinking. Grey and maybe are too messy. We are often the most judgmental in the areas where we struggle the most with perfectionism. If being the perfect parent is our goal, we're quick to judge others. If looking perfect is important, we are often critical of other people's weight, dress, and general appearance. This judgment can extend to our children.
I do believe, however, that things in our house are becoming brighter as I honor the natural cracks in life. Some of the small things I’m doing include:
2. Celebrating her mistakes and risk-taking. She was very embarrassed and worried when she got her first tardy at school. We had a “tardy party” that night. We didn’t celebrate being late, but we normalized it, and celebrated surviving it.
I learn so much from the wisdom and honesty of your comments and emails. I would love to know what you think about perfectionism. How do you let the light in?