Overcoming Perfectionism

 

One woman’s story:

There’s nothing perfect about me, and I’m okay with that… now. This wasn’t the case for most of my life, though. In fact, I’ve been a perfectionist for almost thirty years. I’m not counting the first five years of my life when I was free to be as messy and magical as I wanted.

Yet, even as a young child I wanted perfection. I remember asking my mom to buy me a stack of lined notebooks and colored pens. I spent hours neatly labeling each notebook by class, date, and assignment deadlines. If I made one mistake, like a jagged cursive letter or a misspelling, I’d rip out the page and begin again on a fresh sheet. This was a tiring task but it was also a compulsion. Everything had to be neat and ordered or else—or else I’d be out of control, scared, and overwhelmed.

When my parents divorced I was shocked because they rarely fought. I had no idea of how to deal with my intense emotions. I couldn’t do anything to stop it, and I intuited that anger wasn’t a acceptable in our family, especially for women. It wasn’t ‘Christian’ enough or loving enough… or good enough.

Inside I felt a burning – similar to hot coals after a long night’s fire. I never let it get too hot. I played the good child, the loving daughter and sister, but my life was out of control. There began my long dance with perfectionism.

No matter the root causes of your perfectionism or your desire for it, know that it’s actually a desire for love and acceptance, if even from yourself. You may have inaccurately concluded that the only way to be loved was to do everything right.
Maybe you feel the need to challenge yourself to ‘be bigger’ and ‘do better’ in your work and your relationships. That’s not a bad thing. But there’s a difference between striving for growth and wanting to reach perfection.

Overcoming Perfectionism Requires Surrender

Perfectionism is about fear — fear of criticism, of losing control, and so trying to control everything Sosa to avoid being rejected – by anyone or anything. One mistake could mean abandonment.

Striving for growth, unlike perfectionism, is about (lovingly) pushing ourselves to be the best person we can be, given the current situations in our lives. Growth is okay to strive for. Perfectionism is not.

Surrender is about accepting where we are in any moment, knowing that we are a work in progress. It requires self-forgiveness.

Tips to Manage Perfectionism

1. Laugh

Having a sense of humor about ourselves and our actions, especially embarrassing or disappointing experiences, doesn’t have to be a form of defense or protection. Humor can heal or at least create enough dopamine and endorphins to get us through the tough moments. (“What a nut!… Silly me!“)

2. Forgive Yourself

Forgiveness is actually an act of kindness to the self and it’s not a bad thing. Forgiveness releases us from fear-based thoughts and emotions. It is the gateway to surrendering our perception of control over our lives and over the reactions of those around us. In AA they say, ‘Let go and let god’. Acknowledge our powerlessness to control the universe. (Actually, what a relief!)

3. Know the facts

Learning to let go of controlling every detail of your life is called —- ‘wisdom’. The fact is, perfectionism isn’t even possible! And look at the amount of judgement required in deciding what ‘perfect’ is to begin with! Impossible. And miserable. Even if you tell yourself your perfectionism is only about yourself, the truth is, you are judging everyone and everything you deem ‘imperfect’. Miserable for you AND everyone else around you.

One person said about her compulsion for perfectionism,

It’s scary sometimes, and there are days when I want to organize and reorganize my desk instead of facing what’s really bothering me.

But those difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging moments pass much quicker when you simply exhale, and surrender to whatever is really going on in the moment.

And a sweet sort of softening occurs:

If I can accept myself, I can learn to accept others.

Isn’t life better that way?

She goes on to say,

I may still compare myself to that social media dynamo who effortlessly attracts a huge following on Facebook or avoid looking at myself as I pass a store window for fear of being disappointed by my reflection, but now I just smile and keep going, knowing that this too shall pass.

Be kind. Be at peace. Become WISE!

For more, see Erin Dougherty‘s blog.

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