What pops into your mind when you hear the word perfectionism?
So many of us see perfectionism as one very specific thing: everything clean and organized.
The broader picture of perfectionism is this: You expect to be able to make everything “right.” whatever that is for you, or whatever you were told was right. This includes making everything about ourselves and our environment just right so, as to be approved of by others.
This often comes from existing in environments that did not allow for mistakes such as militaristic home lives, or dogmatic religion. In these situations the punishment for making a mistake was debilitating and traumatizing. The leaders in these environments think this type of correction works because it appears children make less mistakes, but the long term effects of this are devastating.
This puts us in a heightened state of awareness in everything we do. This heightened state is an evolutionary state meant to protect us in physically dangerous moments where we need to fight or flee and have all of our adrenaline available. An environment that didn’t allow for mistakes, however, keeps our bodies in that state constantly. The irony is that this type of heightened state does not prevent us from making mistakes because no matter how hard we try we just are not meant to be perfect.
This shows up later in our lives through things like OCD, anxiety, people pleasing, or feelings of shame when simple mistakes are made (among others). It also shows up in an inner critical voice that constantly tells us we aren’t good enough, or that we aren't capable of doing something we want to. This inner critic is our brains attempting to keep us from making mistakes, to keep us trying to be perfect because that is what was expected of us as children.
I say all of this to allow us to see ourselves with some compassion.
Firstly, I am not a therapist and if you have trauma in your past that needs healing I highly recommend doing trauma therapy, its life changing.
If you are ready to do mindset work and personal heart work to move away from perfectionism this is where self-compassion comes in and where a life coach can make an incredible difference. Self-compassion is the act of showing yourself the compassion you so readily show your friends. The giving of the benefit of the doubt, the comfort and love and support you share with them, given to yourself.
To have big feelings is human, to make mistakes is human. Everything you are going through is part of being human and you are never alone in having that experience. Self compassion is a way of connecting to yourself and showing yourself that support, while kindly recognizing your humanity and your shadow (flaws).
This moves us away from perfectionism because it allows us to kindly accept our flaws. Perfectionism keeps us fighting our flaws or pretending they don't exist.
This shows up as harsh self talk -"I should know better, i'm such an idiot",
or inflated self talk -"she doesn't know what she's doing, at least I have always done A, B, or C.".
"Self-compassion is practicing being our own friend and support when we need it most."
The thing is our brains really want to hold onto perfectionism because it believes it is keeping you safe. People pleasing, overworking, or critical inner self dialogue are things that capitalism benefits from, but do not benefit us. A move towards self compassion is a move away from perfectionism, and towards accepting our humanity.
It is the practical practice of acceptance.
Consider this a practice. Something you try and keep trying for a while.
Just doing that is a step away from perfectionism.
If you want a simple way to practice self-compassion see my post Here.
Overcoming perfectionism is not something that can be done with a quick fix. However, these types of mindset shifts towards love and acceptance are huge steps in the direction of healing.
You are capable, and you are already all you need to be.
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