Are You A Perfectionist?
- Do you have very high standards?
- Do you find yourself putting yourself under pressure to look as good as you possibly can?
- Work as hard as you possibly can?
- Be the perfect parent?
- Do you take ages preparing work so that you are 100% happy with it before you send it out?
- Do you have an incredibly strict fitness regime?
- Do you have very high expectations of your role in relationships?
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
I believe there are two ways we become perfectionists. The first is from society. There is so much pressure to be all things to all people: super healthy, attractive, hardworking, environmentally conscious, calm, and playful. Not forgetting the need to be perfect in our relationships as a parent, partner, sibling, son, or daughter. These messages are dripped into our psyche from social media feeds, tv, even self-help books, and self-development coaches and we can internalize them over time.
The sound bites “the best that you can be” and “live your best life” pop up everywhere. I’m sure it comes from a good place of aiming to do your best, but it reinforces the goals of constant improvement and moving forward which can feel like pressure.
Some of us find we over-identify with these messages. In doing so we may become overwhelmed and push ourselves too hard, becoming critical of ourselves when we don’t meet the mark. This may overspill into being critical of others which can be harmful for both ourselves and our relationships with others.
The second way perfectionism takes hold alongside these external pressures, is, I believe, the internal pressure some of us put ourselves under, consciously and unconsciously. Some of us are plagued with worries of what others think about us. These may stem from insecurity and feelings of not being good enough – in any or all areas of our life. These insecurities can stop us from doing what we really want to do and being who we really would like to be.
One of my favourite 20th-century psychoanalysts was Donald Winnicott who talked about the idea of being ‘good enough’. Winnicott spoke about the ‘good enough mother’ being the majority of mothers who try to be in tune with their babies. They get it right most of the time so the baby feels safe, nurtured, and loved and can develop at a ‘normal’ or ordinary rate. The important word here is ‘most’ – the good enough mother doesn’t get it right all the time – but she gets it right ‘enough’ of the time.
If we did not experience ‘good enough’ parenting as an infant, we may suffer from feelings of not being ‘good enough’ ourselves. As we grow up, we may try to compensate for this insecurity by striving to be perfect so we are not judged by others. However, this can become exhausting over time and further reinforce feelings of not being “good enough”.
We find ourselves in a vicious circle, unintentionally repeating an unhealthy pattern from childhood and in extreme circumstances, this can result in anxiety or depression.
So, What Can We Do About It?
In essence, we need to learn to switch off the external and internal noise and feel ok with what we have and where we are right now.
These feelings of not being ‘good enough’ are usually unconscious, ie hidden and suppressed over many years, so it can be difficult to recognise them. A good starting point is to become aware of what’s going on with us so we can do something about it. Once we are aware of what we do, we can catch ourselves being critical and start to be kinder to ourselves.
How Can We Be Kinder To Ourselves?
We need to give ourselves permission to be good enough and give up aiming for perfection. This allows us to spend more time in ways that nurture us.
Some practical examples are:
- Order a takeaway or go out for dinner once a week, rather than feel we must cook the perfect meal
- Resist wearing make-up or shaving at least one day a week
- Hand in/publish our second or third draft of work rather than spending hours aiming for perfection
- Ensure we have 2 days a week for mainly leisure and/or rest
- Prioritise our chores and do the most important ones efficiently so that we can spend some quality time with our loved ones and friends
- Watch a movie or series, relax and be totally in the moment rather than catching up on emails and social media at the same time
- Take a proper break during the day where we totally switch off
- Try a short mindfulness meditation
It’s not always easy listening out for the judgmental voice within us. But once it becomes conscious, we can recognize it belongs in the past and choose an alternative path to follow. Then it is possible to change so that life becomes easier, freer, and more enjoyable.