Overcoming Perfectionism

One woman’s story:

“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. 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 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

  • 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!

  • Quotes from Erin Dougherty‘s blog.
  • Mindfulness In A Nutshell

    Mindfulness is…

    Worth Reading! From Off the Web!

    Mindfulness is, in short, the practice of being aware of what’s happening or what you’re experiencing in the present moment. It’s being here and now without judgment. This is a capacity that all human beings possess. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

    Although more research is needed to illuminate the mechanisms at work, it’s clear that mindfulness allows us to interrupt automatic, reflexive fight, flight, or freeze reactions—reactions that can lead to anxiety, fear, foreboding, and worry. By bringing mindfulness to our actual experience in the moment, we can increase the likelihood of exerting more conscious control over our behaviors and attitudes. In so doing we learn to work with our intention, wise effort, will, discipline, and capacity to be kind to ourselves. These are all resources that can be harnessed and cultivated.

    Mindfulness allows us to interrupt automatic, reflexive fight, flight, or freeze reactions—reactions that can lead to anxiety, fear, foreboding, and worry.

    With that in mind, there are certain attitudes that play an important role when working with anxiety mindfully. These attitudes are central to mindfulness, and fostering them will help you develop and sustain your practice. It’s similar to adding nutrients to the soil to cultivate a vibrant and healthy garden. By attending to the attitudes of mindfulness, you can support your practice and help it flourish. And just as a well-tended garden bears seeds and fruit, so too will practicing mindfulness help foster all of the attitudes of mindfulness. Keep in mind that you may find slightly different lists of the attitudes of mindfulness in other places. Below are the qualities that we believe all play an important role in working with anxiety mindfully.

    10 Attitudes of Mindfulness

    1. Volition or intention is the foundation that supports all of the other attitudes. Your intention, will, or volition is what sets you on the mindful path to working within yourself to gradually transform your anxiety and find more ease, freedom, and peace. By bringing intention to working with anxiety, you’re developing persistence in seeing yourself as whole, capable, and resourceful.
    2. Beginner’s mind is an aspect of mind that’s open to seeing from a fresh perspective. Meeting anxiety in this way, with curiosity, can play an extremely important role in transforming your experience. When you’re willing to adopt another point of view, new possibilities arise, and this can help you challenge habitual anxious thoughts and feelings.
    3. Patience is a quality that supports perseverance and fortitude when feelings of anxiety are challenging. Patience offers a broader perspective, allowing you to see that moments of anxiousness will pass in time.
    4. Acknowledgment is the quality of meeting your experience as it is. For example, rather than trying to accept or be at peace with anxiety, you meet it and your experience of it as they are. You can acknowledge that anxiety is present and how much you don’t like it, even as you apply patience and see anxiety as your current weather system, knowing it will pass.
    5. Nonjudgment means experiencing the present moment without the filters of evaluation. In the midst of anxiety, it can be all too easy to experience a secondary layer of judgment on top of the already uncomfortable anxious feelings. Stepping out of a judgmental mind-set allows you to see more clearly. When you let go of evaluations, many sources of anxiety simply fade away. When you feel anxiety, adopting a nonjudgmental stance can reset your mind into a more balanced state.
    6. Nonstriving is the quality of being willing to meet any experience as it is, without trying to change it. With nonstriving, you understand the importance of being with things as they are—being with your experience without clinging to or rejecting what’s there. (Note that nonstriving relates to your present-moment experiences during meditation and doesn’t in any way negate the value of setting a wise intention to grow, learn, and change your relationship to anxiety.) In the midst of strong anxiety, the first response is often to flee or get out of the situation. If you can pause and really be with your experience without exerting any force against it, you gain the opportunity to know your experience more clearly and choose your response. You can also become less fearful of the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany anxiety.
    7. Self-reliance is an important quality for developing inner confidence. With practice, you can learn to trust yourself and your ability to turn toward your anxiety or any other uncomfortable feeling. In turning toward these feelings, it’s important to bring other qualities of mindfulness to your experience, allowing the feelings, acknowledging them, and letting them be.
    8. Letting be or allowing is similar to nonstriving. It’s a quality that gives space to whatever you encounter in the moment. For example, if anxiety comes up as you meditate, you could choose to work with it by allowing the feeling to be there. In time, you can learn to ride a wave of anxiety until it dissipates, just as a storm runs its course in the sky.
    9. Self-compassion is a beautiful quality of meeting yourself with kindness. Yet, sadly, so many people are their own greatest adversaries. Most of us probably would never treat another person the way we sometimes treat ourselves. Self-compassion will naturally grow as you practice meditation. And bringing this quality into your experience of anxiety can be like being your own best friend in the midst of hardship, offering your hand in a moment when help is needed. As your self-compassion grows, you will come to know that you are there for yourself, and your anxiety will naturally decrease.
    10. Balance and equanimity are related qualities that foster wisdom and provide a broader perspective so that you can see things more clearly. From this perspective, you understand that all things change and that your experience is so much wider and richer than temporary experiences of anxiety and other difficulties.

    Mindfulness Practice:

    Take some time right now to slowly reread the descriptions of the attitudes of mindfulness. After reading each one, pause and reflect upon what it means to you, especially as you begin to work with anxiety. Take a moment to try on each attitude and see how it feels. As you do so, tune in to how you feel in your body, mind, and emotions. Finally, after trying on each attitude, briefly describe your experience, noting how it felt. For example, did it feel natural or easy to adopt a particular attitude, or was it difficult? If it was difficult, why might that be? Was the attitude unfamiliar, or did you feel yourself resisting it in some way?

    This article has been adapted from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook for Anxiety by Bob Stahl PhD, Florence Meleo-Meyer MS, MA, and Lynn Koerbel MPH.