What Really Drives a Perfectionist?
If it’s not perfect can I accept myself? Will others accept me? If I’m perfect will I then be worthy of love? How will I know when it’s perfect? It never feels good enough. It’s never good enough. I’m never good enough. This is the limiting self-talk of a perfectionist, I should know, I have said these things AND worse to myself many times in the past. This was my unconscious mind on repeat, playing an old redundant recording from my childhood; that I had to meet unobtainable standards, standards that others placed upon me. These negative thoughts had led to a struggle with my self-worth and fear of disapproval and rejection. At the time these statements were created they served to protect me but I’m not that child anymore and I’ve learned to say better things to myself.
Part of my healing has been forgiving my parents for doing what they thought would make me successful, their version of success of course, not a realistic version. I can look back at my father’s harsh negative comments about me report card as HIS standards, not mine. I know that if I got a C, I did my best, and if I didn’t do my best then a C is all I deserved. And that my father’s criticizing words that an A should have been an A+, were all about him, and how he felt about himself, not me. I know he just wanted to push me to be the best, and that was how he was saying he loved me. I’m also thankful that my mom looked at my report cards and said, “I don’t look at the grades, just the comments” this was her way telling me, she knew I’d done my best. At the time I couldn’t see past my father’s harsh criticism to cherish my mom’s loving words.
The book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been on my must-read list for a while, so when it became available through my on-line library subscription I was grateful to start 2023 off with it. If you haven’t read it, grab a copy and soak it up, it’s a quick read.
The fourth agreement really hit home for me: “Always do your best”. Why? Because I’ve been a perfectionist most of my life and doing my best was never enough. Yes, that’s a limiting belief and one I work on ditching every time it pops up. Before I read the book I was well aware that perfectionism was limiting me and creating procrastination, and since reading the book, I’ve been waking up each morning and creating a new habit by saying to myself “today I will do my best”. This affirmation allows me to strive for a healthy best instead of feeding the fear that I’m not perfect or “good enough”. And if at the end of the day, I know I’ve done my best, then that’s good enough.
“To me (Don Miguel Ruiz), always doing your best is an expression of unconditional love and the willingness to see yourself where you are at this very moment. Always doing your best is always being where you are at, at that very moment. Loving yourself unconditionally and having the willingness to see yourself as you are, that’s what makes this agreement so powerful. For someone who is a perfectionist, there’s a difference between passion and obsession.
In passion, you can hear unconditional love say, ‘I do it because I want to.’ Obsession is, ‘I do it because I have to’.”
Don Miguel Ruiz
What is perfection?
The dictionary definition of perfection is ‘something that is completely free of any flaw’. Psychology defines perfectionism as a personality style whereby a person’s worry over striving for flawlessness is accompanied by critical self-talk, harsh self-evaluation and concerns of judgement by others. This can lead to depression, anxiety, panic, stress, OCD, low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, anorexia nervosa, procrastination, isolation and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies. And the scary part is that stats show there is a rise in perfectionism in recent generations of young people.
Perfectionists are compulsive in reaching over the top goals. Their self-worth depends on their productivity and accomplishments which causes them to focus on everything they think that needs to be fixed about themselves so they will appear perfect. They think that once they are perfect they will be worthy and enough. They put pressure on themselves to meet unrealistic goals which inevitably leads to disappointment and harsh self-criticism of themselves, their work and even others.
How does perfectionism present its self?
· Setting unreachable and unreasonable standards
· Never being satisfied with results that are anything less than perfect
· Becoming depressed when failure or disappointment occur
· A preoccupation with fears of failure and disapproval
· Viewing mistakes as evidence of your unworthiness
· Being overly defensive when criticized
· All or nothing thinking
· And controlling every aspect of your life, so you think
Three myths of perfectionism
Myth: I can’t be successful if I’m not perfect.
Reality: There is no evidence that perfectionists are more successful than those that “do their best”. The reality is the perfectionist’s compulsive strive to over achieve can lead to procrastination instead of success.
Myth: Perfectionists complete all tasks and do them right.
Reality: Once again the reality is that perfectionists struggle with procrastination, missing deadlines and low productivity. Why? “All-or-nothing” thinking can hold them back along with the fear of failure. Perfectionists can easily become overwhelmed and this holds them back from completing a task.
Myth: Perfectionists overcome all obstacles to success.
Reality: NOPE, we easily suffer from depression, writer’s block, procrastination and performance and social anxiety. Why? We can only see the end product and it’s got to be perfect. We are terrified to try and fail. But failures are a big part of learning and this has been a hard lesson for me to learn. As an artist some of my best ‘mistakes’ have led to some great paintings.
Why “Done is better than perfect.”
“Done is better than perfect” means celebrating that you finished the task to the best of your abilities. That you are proud of the effort your put into finishing the task rather than meeting unobtainable expectations. It means you didn’t push yourself beyond your limits to perfect the outcome, thus feeding the negative self-talk, that instead you had healthy self-boundaries and expectations for yourself. That you feel satisfied with a job well done.
So, what does Healthy Striving look like?
Setting standards that are high enough to achievable while still feeling good about your success
Enjoying the process and celebrating the outcome
Using perceived failure as a springboard to trying again
Rebounding from disappointment
Understanding we all have normal anxiety and fear of failure
Knowing mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning
Responding positively to helpful criticism
Not taking someone’s negative criticism personally (YA, I know a tough one, but you can do it!)
How am I overcoming perfectionism?
Firstly, I’m saying better things to myself, setting more realistic goals and deadlines and celebrating my achievements. Like right now! WOOHOO, I’m almost done writing this blog and I feel great about it. And if I don’t make my deadline then I re-evaluate my goals and celebrate what I have done.
When I catch myself playing that old familiar record of negative self-talk, I stop, take a couple deep breaths, shake it off, yes I literally get up and get out of the situation for a minute and say something positive about what I have achieved so far. Try starting your day with, “today I’m doing my best”, this helps to create a new healthy habit and with time, say 21 days (the amount of time required to lock in a new habit) you’ll find yourself feeling better about what you have accomplished rather than what other’s think about it. If you make a mistake, learn from it. And if someone criticizes your outcome, don’t take it personally, it’s just their opinion. You can agree to disagree. Remember they may be expecting you to meet their unobtainable expectations of perfectionism. And if in doubt ask a caring friend or respected mentor to give their critic.
How can Hypnosis help?
Hypnosis can help break the habit of negative self-talk. By creating a personalized script using your own positive words the desired goal is re-enforced as a new healthy habit and the end result is positive self-talk.
During hypnosis the mind goes into a REM like state comparable to when you're sleeping. This allows the subconscious mind to become more excited and open to change, you become suggestible to new ideas. And don't worry you won't do anything you don't want to do and you can't stay in hypnosis, you either fall asleep or wake up if you are no longer guided by the practitioner. The mind accepts things in hypnosis that if won't outside of hypnosis - but it has to be things you already want to happen. Hypnosis works with the subconscious mind, the place deep inside us where everything we've learned or experienced is stored, good or bad. These experiences shape how we feel about life in general and why we react in a certain way i.e., why you strive for perfection instead of “doing your best”. By working with a hypnotist, the client will uncover the meaning and interpretation of the events in their life that has caused these limiting beliefs and then change them.
For more information on how hypnosis can help you overcome perfectionism contact me for a FREE ½ hour consultation.