What lies beneath the mask of Perfectionism?

Perfect – definition: having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.

So, being perfect according to the definition above sounds like a pretty wonderful attribute - but how realistic is it actually? 

Perfectionism can manifest in different ways for different people.  Maybe you are someone who likes everything to be in order, organised and spotless at home – the spice jars lined up alphabetically, your wardrobe arranged by colour, everything flawless and shiny and just so.  Or perhaps you are someone who always likes to succeed in life – get the top grade, the promotion, the award, always constantly improving yourself so you are head and shoulders above everyone else. 

It may all look great on the surface but eventually the cracks of living this way can start to appear underneath.  Constantly striving to be perfect can be so anxiety-riddled you end up feeling totally overwhelmed.  If for you everything has a place and if it is not in its place, this can cause upset in the form of overreaction, anger or anxiety.  This doesn’t only affect YOUR emotional and mental health but your relationships with OTHERS, because if you stop and really think about it honestly - how much fun do you think you are to live with or be around when you are like this?

So, if you or someone you know is like this, where does this particular pattern of behaviour originate from? A psychologist once explained to me that people with perfectionistic tendencies or obsessive-compulsive traits use them as a coping mechanism, because for them it is the one area of their life they feel they can actually control when the rest of it feels like it is spinning out of control.

Most times it goes back to childhood, because as children we had very few choices and little power to speak up. It could stem from a time when you felt maybe you had absolutely no control living in your family dynamic: perhaps it was military-like behaviour from a father figure, witnessing domestic violence or even a mother figure controlling and directing every aspect of your life. Or maybe you were expected to always be at the top of your class, never achieve anything less than an A on your report card because if you did, the caregivers would express their displeasure and their love and approval would be withdrawn from you. Perhaps you felt not seen or heard by a parent, so you thought that if you could impress them by your achievements, they would notice you. We live what we learn, in fact we actually absorb it as though it is our own truth when it really isn’t. - it’s someone else’s beliefs.

Many people with perfectionistic traits hold themselves to impossibly high standards because they think what they do will never be good enough. but how can you ever measure up to someone else’s expectations? This is a no-win situation.

So how can you turn down the volume on your perfectionistic life sound track?

  • Evaluate by looking at what TOLL living this way is having on you – on your personal relationships, your well-being (stress, anxiety, health), your work/life balance (time spent on doing everything perfectly and just so).

  • Are the COSTS of being a perfectionist worth the impact it is having on your life and those around you?

  • Test yourself – go on, just do it! Don’t do the thing that you would normally do the way you would normally do it. Even if the result wasn’t perfect, was it as bad as you thought? Did the world stop turning? How much did you gain in terms of time, effort, and not driving yourself — or others — crazy?

With changing any beliefs or patterns that aren’t serving you, the first step is always to stop, recognise and challenge your thoughts when you find yourself falling into these well-worn habits.

Secondly, change your language – this such a powerful and impactful step. For example, if that voice in your head starts going, “They’re not doing it right. They should do it correctly”, you could instead say to yourself, “Is this situation really as important as it feels? Is MY way the ONLY way to view this situation? Do I NEED to control this situation?”. Simply changing the words that you say to yourself on a regular basis can have a massive effect on the way you feel and how you show up in your life. Like any new thing we attempt, be it learning to ride a bike or drive a car, at first it might seem daunting and maybe even impossible, but somehow we make the impossible possible and you can do the same thing with changing your thoughts and self-talk.

Wouldn’t it feel like a weight was lifted off you if you could just LET GO and enjoy life?

Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go
Herman Hesse