Are you a perfectionist?
Do you hone in on your mistakes and have trouble seeing anything else?
It’s an issue for so many of my clients too, although they don’t always recognise it. Instead, they seek help when they are under achieving, exhausted, suffering from stress and having had enough of doubting themselves.
They hold themselves to impossibly high standards, thinking that what they do is never good enough. It can be so frustrating for a perfectionist when they don’t understand their behaviour, criticising and blaming themselves for their perceived lack of success which impacts their self-worth.
Many perfectionists find that it interferes with their quality of life, affects their relationships, and makes work life feel like such a struggle. They often report feeling lonely and isolated as their critical patterns and rigidity can sometimes push others away which results in lower self-esteem.
Perfectionists usually reach a point where they are almost paralysed by fear, frequently describing themselves as being terrible procrastinators. However, this holding back is a survival strategy because rather than run the risk of not completing a task perfectly, it feels safer if they don’t try at all.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that many of my clients who seek help for anxiety and depression find perfectionism is at the very heart of the root cause. When we unravel their past, there is usually a common theme that as a child, they found safety in believing that everything would be ok if they could just be good enough.
For many, it develops because they’ve grown up in an exacting or uncertain environment where there is not much scope for mistakes. Invariably though, mistakes did happen and if, as a result, love is withdrawn this is where the belief that they must earn their worth originates.
An underlying belief then develops that if they are achieving enough, or helping enough, or never making a mistake, then they will be safe and loved. If they are safe and loved, then everything is ok.
However, this comes at a huge cost because believing that they are not good enough, the perfectionist starts to hide who they really are. They don’t allow themselves any scope to make mistakes, or to be loved just as they really are because being fallible is far too risky.
Therefore, perfectionists have a strong need to be in control and they get highly stressed if they find themselves in situations beyond their control. They will always try to find a way to have some control which is understandable if love, belonging, approval and safety are at stake.
They exile the parts of themselves that don’t fit in with their idea of who they need to be to be accepted, because it feels too dangerous to show them. But those parts of them are still longing to be seen and loved. And then the parts at the forefront, that do comply to their idea of suitable, are trying to keep everything running smoothly and they’re exhausted.
At this point, the perfectionist is in survival mode, becoming hyper vigilant and extremely sensitive to their surroundings. This heightened state of survival is never sustainable.
The good news is that recovery is possible and absolutely doable.
It begins with accepting that they are no longer a child, reliant on the adults around them for safety, love and belonging. As an adult, they can keep themselves safe, provide love and decide if/where they belong.
Then, the next step is to work on shifting the patterns of negative self-talk and making space for meaningful rest. This prepares the way for the journey of self-discovery and reconnection to those parts in exile that want to be seen and loved.
Letting go of perfectionism allows for mistakes that don’t feel like the end of the world. Once you start to believe in yourself, the magic starts happening!
The world needs all of us, messy and joyful!!
If I can help you with any of this, please get in touch!