“There’s nothing perfect about me, and I’m okay with that… now.
As early as grade school 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 — I insisted that everything had to be neat and orderly. Or else… ??? Or I’d be out of control, scared, and overwhelmed.
When my parents divorced I was shocked because they rarely fought. I had no idea for 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.
I felt a burning inside. But I never let it get too hot. I played the good child, the loving daughter and sister, but my life was out of control.”
No matter the root causes of your perfectionism or your desire for it, know that it’s actually a desire for love and acceptance, even if from yourself.
Perhaps you 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. Butthere’s a difference between striving for growth andwanting to reach perfection.
Overcoming Perfectionism Requires Surrender
Perfectionismis about fear — fear of criticism, of losing control, and so trying to control everything So as 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
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 yourselfyour 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.”
A major study concluded that people who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to be negatively affected, and, in fact, had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.
The researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you.
That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make believing stress is bad for you the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.
Okay. Some bad news first. People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health
So this study got me wondering: Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? And here the science says yes. When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
How to make stress your friend
Symptoms of stress — pounding heart, sweaty palms, hyperventilating, etc., — what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge? That is what one group of participants were told in a study conducted at Harvard University. Before they went through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful: That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain. And participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident, but the most fascinating finding to me was how their physical stress response changed.
Now, in a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict. And this is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. It’s not really healthy to be in this state all the time. But in the study, when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage. Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s. And this is really what the new science of stress reveals, that how you think about stress matters.
So the next time your heart is pounding from stress, think to yourself, “this is my body helping me rise to this challenge.” When you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier.
Now I want to tell you about one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the stress response, and the idea is this: Stress makes you social.
To understand this side of stress, we need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone. It fine-tunes your brain’s social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family. It enhances your empathy. It even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. But here’s what most people don’t understand about oxytocin. It’s a stress hormone. Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response. It’s as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound. When oxytocin is released in the stress response, it motivates you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.
Because of this hormone’s social component, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.
For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, that increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. But that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero.
And the harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.