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report card because if you did, the caregivers would express their displeasure and their love and approval would be withdrawn from you.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

Crossing boundaries - are you a trespasser?

 BY DEFINITION, a “boundary” is anything that marks a limit. 

Personal boundaries are the intangible guidelines, rules or limits that each of us has established during our lives.  It is like our own unwritten rulebook of what we deem as fair, safe and acceptable behaviour in how we interact in the world, but also how we expect others to treat us and how we respond if someone crosses those limits.

I want to share an analogy I heard recently regarding personal boundaries that was just so powerful, it may forever change the way you function in relationships.

Imagine that you have a fence around you and inside that fence is a beautiful garden.  In that garden you are allowed to plant whatever it is you desire.  You may grow flowers, vegetables or maybe both; you can water, weed and tend that garden however you like.  This fenced garden represents your LIFE.  Everyone has one, everyone is allowed to cultivate, plant and nurture their own garden exactly how THEY want to.  This means that everyone in your life, your partner, children, family, friends and work colleagues have a garden too. 

However, as the perfectly imperfect beings that we are, some of us, more than others, tend to poke our noses over the fence and peek into other people’s gardens.   We check out what are they growing and perhaps judge the state of their gardens or compare our garden to theirs!  This can bring up not so pleasant feelings of resentfulness, jealousy and inadequacy. Even more dangerous, maybe you do more than just poke your nose over the fence, you may jump right over it, land on the other side and start digging around, telling that person how you think they should be tending their garden and what they should plant.  In other words, judging the choices they are making and telling them how they should be living their lives.    

What you need to remember, however, is that you were never invited into that person’s garden, you just trespassed!   More importantly, when you are so focused on what everyone else is doing aren’t you neglecting your own garden? 

Boundaries are, in simple terms, the recognition of personal space.
— Asa Don Brown

Think of a time when someone has made a comment to you that as soon as it hit your ears it stung like crazy?  It may have been delivered innocently enough but hurt you nonetheless.  Maybe you just got back from the hairdressers feeling a bit glamorous and your mother said “I prefer your hair the colour it was before” or you spent hours trying to figure out how to solve a problem and your partner says “You should have done it this way”.  Ouch – someone has scaled your garden fence!

When I had time to reflect on this, I first of all felt guilt.  I could see very clearly whose gardens I had trespassed and dug around in.  Firstly, my partner.  I dug around so much in his garden it is amazing there is anything growing there at all!  I told myself I was doing it out of love and to make him happy, but to be totally honest maybe I was just trying to make myself happy and change him into who I wanted him to be, which is just a no-win situation for both of us.

My daughter; yes, I can see the times I have tried to reorganise her garden to conform to my gardening style and vice versa.  So once I realised this, we sat down and discussed the topic openly and came up with a signal if we feel one of us is trespassing – we simply call out “garden!” and the other person knows to back off.  Sometimes, when you are so close to someone and would do anything to help them, you may not always be aware that you are overstepping boundaries.  So, this has been a great way for us to let each other know when one of us is getting a little too close to that garden fence!

I could have beaten myself up when I looked back over my relationships and where I had done this, but that is just a futile and pointless exercise, so instead I am grateful that I have been given the gift of awareness instead of never receiving it.  It has also allowed me to put up boundaries when I feel that someone is telling me how to tend my garden! 

Just sit with this awhile and see if you get an “aha” moment like I did, but most importantly be kind to yourself, after all we are all just masterpieces in progress!

"It's not you, it's me" - my journey through rejection ...


How can you describe the feeling of being rejected to someone who has never experienced it?

All I can do is try and paint a picture with my words of what the physical and emotional reality of it was like for me, and hope by doing this, that someone out there might feel less alone in what they are going through.

About 24 years ago, my ex-husband came home one day and told me that he didn’t know what he wanted in life anymore, but it wasn’t me.  When he walked out the front door that same day, leaving me with our 5-week-old daughter, it was as if time stood still.  It was as if all the air was sucked out of my body with a huge whoosh, like I was having an out of body experience, watching the scene from outside of myself as if it was being projected onto a movie screen.

I read the other day that your heart can’t actually be broken through emotional events, that that is a fallacy and impossible, but I beg to differ.  Not only did I literally feel my heart break, I heard it.  It sounded like a mirror shattering and then it felt like those glass shards sliced my heart into little pieces; and that was just Day 1.

“One of the hardest things you will ever have to do my dear, is to grieve the loss of a loved one who is still alive”.
— Jeannette Walls, "The Glass Castle"

The end of a relationship, especially when it is not initiated by you, is similar to a death and like mourning the loss of a loved one, you must pass through all the stages of grief.  Different lengths of time are spent working through each stage and each stage can be experienced with different levels of intensity.  The stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order and you can go backwards and forwards through these stages multiple times.  

Stage 1 - Denial and isolation; for me it was so absolutely impossible to accept, so denial was an easier alternative.  Surely, I must have misunderstood what he said!  We had just experienced the joy and wonder of having a baby together less than two weeks before.  How could I not notice that there was something wrong?  You don’t just wake up one day and decide you don’t want to be married to someone, do you? 

So, I isolated myself by not telling those close to me for as long as I could; my family had just returned home after being with us to share in the arrival of our beautiful daughter – how could I tell them what was going on when I didn’t even understand it myself?  I was ashamed and embarrassed so kept it to myself, when I so needed the support of those close to me.

Stage 2 - Anger; What cold-hearted son of a bitch could do this to someone who had just had a baby? I was so angry that he found it so easy to tell me, so easy to walk out that door and put his happiness before us.  My post-natal hormones were in full force at that stage and the ebb and flow of my anger scared me – I demanded answers and none of the ones I received could ever be satisfactory explanations for the situation I now found myself in.  I would get hysterical whenever we spoke and couldn’t control my emotions.  This was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life and it was spoiled, marred and forever ruined in my mind by his selfish actions.

Stage 3 - Bargaining; looking back, this was the most demeaning of all the stages for me.  Begging for him to reconsider, to attend counselling, to have some time on his own and give him space – whatever it was that would return our lives to the way they were before.  I would do anything I could to repair it, hang on, have something to give me hope that my whole life had not just been turned upside down.  I now know I had done nothing wrong, but I was so desperate to wind the clock back and try and fix the situation that I remember falling to my knees, sobbing and begging at his feet.  I wish I could go and hug that girl, tell her she had nothing to apologise for, that she was so worthy of love and being loved, that she was enough just the way she was.

Stage 4 - Depression; one day turned into another.  I slept walked through the first year of my precious baby girl’s life.  Each morning lying in bed, if I had even slept at all, the realisation of my situation would dawn on me with my first waking thought.  “Oh God, that’s right, this is my life now”.  It felt like there was a knife being twisted around in my guts and that all pervasive sense of dread would encompass me, and I would carry that pain and grief around with me all day like a heavy backpack. I had to drag myself out of bed, try and be the best mother I could be, especially as I was now solely financially and parentally responsible for my child. I lost a ridiculous amount of weight, I looked tired and strained.  I didn’t recognise the person looking back at me in the mirror, if I could even look in her eyes filled with pain at all.  She was flawed, she was unlovable, she became invisible.

Stage 5 - Acceptance; I use to hate it when people would make statements to me like, “You will get over this.  Things will get better.  One day you will look back at this and realise it was for the best”.   Even though this may be the eventual outcome when you experience a situation like this, these platitudes actually make you feel worse.  Like consoling someone who has lost a loved one, words aren’t always necessary; all you need do is be there, even if the person affected doesn’t want to talk, so they don’t feel they are alone and know that they are loved. 

Acceptance finally came a few years later when the truth was spoken, because as my intuition had whispered to me constantly, those words uttered on that day my life changed forever were not the truth. 

So how do you move through an experience of rejection and come out the other side?

  • The most important first step is to take back your power.  Often when people are rejected they wait for the other person (or rejecter) to decide how the relationship is going to play out moving forward.  The person who has been rejected (or rejectee), might suggest the rejecter have more time before they make their final decision to leave, in the unlikely event that they might change their mind and stay.  Then the “rejectee” will sit with baited breath waiting for the rejecter to decide.  I have seen this happen time and time again and it breaks my heart.  When we do this we are giving someone else the power over what happens with our lives – if this was happening to someone you love dearly, what would you say to them?  You would tell them to respect themselves, that they deserve better and walk away.  Then why do YOU deserve to be treated in any less a respectful way?
  • A lot of the time the rejectee is blamed by the rejecterfor the demise of the relationship.  From what I have again observed many times, this is usually because the rejecter feels guilty so in some way so to assuage their guilt, they deflect the blame off themselves and back onto the other party.  When someone blames you for a relationship break up based on a lie and their guilt, naturally you then start believing of course you must be flawed in some way for them to leave you. 
  • “The truth will set you free”.  I love this statement and it is so true, for both parties.  When you are the one who has been rejected and the other party is not being honest and transparent about the reasons why, it makes it so much harder to accept and move forward with your life.  It keeps you stuck in that limbo of maybes and what ifs.  When you are faced with a truth such as a partner’s infidelity, even though it still hurts like hell it is something tangible that your conscious mind and reasoning can grab onto, something that you can’t ignore; it also gives you not only the power but the dignity to decide how you can best work through it and move on with your life.   

Many times when someone rejects us, we believe that we are flawed and not enough in some way, and it can really shatter our self-worth, self-esteem and the way we view ourselves.  We worry that because of this one person rejecting us we will never be in a close loving relationship again.   If I could pass on one pearl of wisdom from my experience to anyone who is going through this or may go through it in the future, it would be that it is not about you, it was never about you, you have done nothing wrong, you are not broken, you are not flawed – it is all part of the ebb and flow of life and relationships, we are forever changing, evolving, growing and the only person we have control over is ourselves.  Most importantly of all I want you to be kind to yourself and teach others how to treat you – like the beautiful, unique gift that you are.