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Are you a perfectionist?

Please note that this is the audio version of the previous version of this class.

Some people know that they are a perfectionist, someone who refuses to accept nothing short of perfection. It might be an all-around issue that permeates every area of their life (hazardous) or focused in specific areas (still quite painful).

Here’s a problem though: There is no such thing as a state of being where, as humans, we can achieve perfection. If you would hold you to such high standards that were impossible to meet in the first place, you will find that you always fall short of your own expectations because, well, you’re human. But also, you don’t truly appreciate the value of who you are and what you have achieved versus what you haven’t.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realise that they’re perfectionists whether it’s in a blanket manner or specific to certain aspects of their lives. I was one of them. In the past, I saw my past as proof that I’m not a perfectionist, but when tinnitus and vertigo tormented me several years back, I stumbled across the realisation that I’ve been quietly hard on myself and expect far too much of me.

I had to admit the truth: I am a perfectionist.

I’ve struggled with fear of failure and fear of success which puts me in an uncomfortable No Man’s Land between the two. My childhood systematically taught me that earning approval through getting things “right” and “perfect” is critical and that if I get anything wrong, I am stupid and/or a failure.

It is a vicious cycle of being afraid to ‘fail’ or disappoint and then also being afraid to achieve and then have people expect more from you which provides more room for disappointment. It means shutting myself down or loading myself up so much that all of the procrastination and being overloaded means that there can be ‘legitimate’ reasons for why I’m not being or doing what I need or want to. The problem is, of course, that I was beating myself up for that as well and being very impatient with me. My fear of “getting it wrong” along with my over-analysing and editing to get “get it right” fuel a vicious cycle. I’ve had to practice tolerance, self-compassion, patience, and self-support and gradually.

I’m now a recovering perfectionist.

I know I’m not alone in my experiences. You may have an unhealthy streak in your life of trying to get things “perfect” or avoiding admitting that something is a mistake.

It may be that you are…

  • Disassociated from your achievements and giving you a hard time about what you don’t do while never appreciating what you do do.
  • Afraid of verbal or physical repercussions in the same way that you were as a child.
  • Behaving as if there is going to be some sort of life consequence or social outcasting or something.
  • Refusing to forgive you or to move past something.
  • Hearing their critical voice in your head, or are hearing your own voice saying these words.
  • Persecuting yourself about not meeting impossible standards which is self-rejection.
  • Rejecting you far more than anyone else is in your life.
  • Not doing very much because you’re trying not to put a foot wrong, so you’re avoiding dating, or in fantasy relationships, or coasting in a dodgy situation.
  • Spending money on cosmetic surgery and treatments that you really don’t need.
  • Impacting the success of your ideas because you don’t listen to feedback because to do so would be in your eyes, to admit that you’re ‘wrong’ or even a ‘failure’.
  • Clocking up far more so-called ‘mistakes’ than if you’d just owned up in the first place.
  • Telling people about themselves.
  • Trying to force people and situations to ‘change’ rather than admit that you’ve made an error in judgement.
  • Incredibly stubborn and keep returning to situations and people that should be left alone.
  • Avoiding making decisions because if you make one, there’s the fear of being ‘wrong’, so you try to have a ‘Decision-Free Lifestyle’ where you sit on the fence and eff up your own and even other people’s lives.
  • So afraid of disapproval that not only do you not yours, but you’re passive because you hope to ward off other people’s disapproval and feedback. And then you end up pissed off when they speak up or you feel as if your choices are met with disapproval.
  • Approaching the same problems with the same thinking and actions because you’re trying to be the exception to the rule.
  • Overdoing it, and sometimes, if you’d stopped at 70% of your output, you may have achieved a better result or realised where you needed to adapt.
  • Holding you to a higher standard than others which is complete and utter bullshit especially if you have little or no boundaries and you forgive assholic behaviour while punishing you for far less. It’s like “Well, I should I know better because of x,y,z and maybe if I were a better person they would have behaved better. They’re A so you can understand why they behave that way, but I’m not allowed to get away with B.” ‘Double-standarding’ is what this is and guess what? This causes you to be and do things without integrity.

Of course, you may be reading this and be just like how I was, thinking “But I’m not a perfectionist!”

You’ll know you’re a perfectionist if you have the belief of not being “good enough”. This is the giveaway.

You may think that you’re just seeking to be ‘acceptable’ to your ‘standards’ or what you believe other people’s standards are, but, you’re actually seeking to be the perfect version of good enough which is… perfectionism. If you weren’t striving to be the perfect version of good enough, you’d accept you and get on with living and evolving. Instead, you’re good enough already but don’t think you are and are waiting for light to dawn on you, for the heavens to open up, for something to happen in your life that would signal that you’ve met standards.

Even if your perfectionist ways are inspired by your childhood, as an adult, the fact that you don’t feel “good enough” is all about how you’re judging you. It is not about how others are judging you because their judgement only takes on meaning when you convert it into a judgement (and a decision) about you.

I never pick up a magazine and think “Oh, I’m not up to standard” because I realise that it’s just bullshit peddled by the media and primarily targeted at vulnerable women who will buy things to bring themselves “up to standard”. The media speaks to the insecurities of women whereas when it comes to men, it likes to play up strengths, even ones that a man may not have. But other women, including my own friends, actually pick up magazines and then think that they’re not up to standard because they’re not a certain size.

You need to have a willing ear to be affected by “general” standards or even those of people whose validation you’re seeking.

There’s no such thing as being perfect so to strive for it is a complete and utter waste of your time because your idea of perfection and someone else’s or the ideal, may be completely different.

Your job isn’t to be perfect; your job is to live your life.

Who are you trying to please? Is it you? Is it someone else’s voice? Because it’s like trying to cup the ocean in your hands.

  • Why do you have to be perfect?
    Why do you have to meet these particular standards?

It is critical that you evaluate why because you can then understand the beliefs that are driving you and challenge them. If you’re a grownup and you believe that you have to be perfect because if you don’t then you’re going to incur the wrath of your parents’ disapproval, you’re still in a child-to-parent dynamic and need to separate yourself, work out your own identity and raise you into adulthood through self-care (including boundaries).

If you believe that you have to be perfect or that you shouldn’t get things wrong because you think it will lead to punishment or that it will make you a failure, it’s time to evaluate how real that fear is.

Guess what? Whether you admit you’ve made a mistake or not, it’s happening or happened. This means you’re afraid of consequences that haven’t happened despite [the mistake] already occurring. If any unpleasant effects are happening, it’s because you won’t back away from the mistake, not because you made it.

Your name isn’t going to go into some worldwide logbook of mistakes. Some of the most successful people who have ever lived have a hell of a lot of mistakes behind them and are flawed like all human beings.

What is the worst that can happen if you admit that you’re wrong about something? That you have to change into something that will work more favourably for you and will generate better results? That you get to stop immersing yourself in pain? That you have to start over? That you have to learn something? That you have to be on your own for a while?

You’re not saving face by being a perfectionist; you’re just creating pain.

Failure is a state of mind. I’ve ‘failed’ at more relationships than I care to remember, but I’ve been successful at not staying in those dubious relationships. And it’s the fact that I’ve made my mistakes that showed me where I needed to learn and adapt. Out of mistakes comes success. Out of not admitting mistakes comes, well, more mistakes.

The happiest people in life are not those who seek perfection. They’re also not the ones who are complacent in an uncomfortable comfort zone. Happy people accept themselves, and in being honest, they can adapt their thinking and behaviour where appropriate to help themselves, but they can also get on with the business of living.

It’s like trying to find the perfect thing to watch on TV and next thing, the whole evening has slipped through your fingers. The person who chooses a channel after a few flicks and settles into it might not have the ‘perfect’ programme but has relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Maybe they discovered something new; perhaps they gave something a chance and realised it didn’t work, or maybe it exceeded their expectations. The person who is too busy seeking perfection often ends up in a big fat anti-climax with little to show for it.

People who strive to be perfect don’t end up truly learning, and this means that it directly affects their growth. Who learns when they’re too busy bashing themselves over the head and measuring themselves against all sorts of imaginary ideals and indexes?

What can you learn when you feel that you have to be perfect and that if you’re not, you’ve failed?

You cannot fail as a person. You can fail at something you do, like an exam, but you cannot fail as a person. You’re a separate entity to your relationships. You are breathing; you have a gift of being here on earth, you have more seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years so each day you get to pull yourself up, learn and try again.

Perfectionists set unclear goals. It’s like, yes, you want to be happy but what are you determining as being critical to that happiness?

They also set unattainable goals. It’s this trying to be perfect malarkey and trying to be the exception to rules of shady behaviour or situations. It’s one thing to set a goal for a task or for something that you’re striving towards. These have a sequence of actions that lead to that goal, along with depending on what it is, the thinking and understanding to go with it. But having a goal of perfection as a person sets you up to seek a destination that doesn’t exist. Often these goals are based on “I’ll do this, and they will do that or such and such will happen” and then if it doesn’t, it’s like “They didn’t do that, so I’m not good enough”, and then you decide to give up.

Perfectionism is striving for an unrealistic standard, so, in truth, you’re judging you for not meeting impossible standards. What the what now?

It’s a long-shot mentality because you’re setting you up to fail by striving for an unattainable goal which you’ve quietly accepted ‘failure’ for at the outset. That’s what makes perfectionism so damn painful: it’s just an excuse to beat yourself up about something that you either weren’t supposed to do or that you may not even have a real reason to change. Or, that deep down, it’s something that you don’t actually want to be or do in the first place.

Perfection is also subjective: the very aspects of you that you think are not up to standard are something that someone else somewhere is envying. You may look at you in the mirror and assassinate your appearance, but there will be people who admire the very things that you criticise.

It’s constant comparison: there’s always something and someone to estimate some aspect of yourself against. But the question is, why would you bother and who says that who or what you’re comparing yourself to is valid or right? You will always find something lacking if you’re willing to invest in the effort to compare in the first place. The habit of comparison ensures that you never allow you to be happy. Instead, you grapple with feelings of shame, dissatisfaction, inadequacy, resentment and frustration.

As a perfectionist, doubt and fear are frequent companions, leaving little space for love.

You’ll find that you have commitment issues because you’re afraid that something isn’t as good enough or perfect as it “should” be. Then when that opportunity has passed, you’ll decide that it was and kick yourself.

You also cannot enjoy the process of the journey of whatever you do or just life in general because you’re too focused on the perfect outcome. In turn, this reduces productivity and effectiveness which in turn ends up lowering your self-esteem as it’s a bit like being on a hamster wheel of doom. And in turn, this wreaks havoc in your life.

Perfectionism is doubling down on a pattern of behaviour and thinking that doesn’t serve you. When you don’t reach the magic destination of perfection, you assume that you need to try harder or do something different with the same thinking. It may not occur to you that how you see the problem (or the solution to it) is the problem — the result: relationship or situational insanity. It’s taking the same baggage, beliefs, behaviours, and choosing the same people in different packages or choosing variations of the same situation, and expecting different results. And lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s time to reevaluate your goals, and you may need to drop some of them. You cannot be all things to all people, but you also cannot be all of these things to yourself. Some of these are unnecessary or are competing against one another. Some may be distracting you from where you really need to be putting your time, energy, effort and emotion.

You have to reevaluate and address your beliefs because you’re not giving you a chance to 1) achieve, 2) enjoy your life and 3) to appreciate you.

You also need to separate your worth/value from accomplishments and achievements. These are not the only things of value about you. You have more to offer than what you do and how well you perform.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Before you read this class today, did you consider you to be a perfectionist?

If you did, are you able to recognise how perfectionism is hampering your progress and distorting your self-image? If you didn’t, how does it feel with this new awareness? Is there disbelief? Relief?

I had no idea that I was a perfectionist until a few years ago and it was a shock because I’m so aware of where I’m human and basically not perfect. I use my experiences to deeper understand myself and to help others. But I was, and actually, I have to rein in my perfectionist to ensure that it doesn’t wreak havoc on my life. There’s still a kid (around 7) inside me who is afraid of getting things wrong, disappointing others, and doing too well that it gives people more expectations. Who is the perfectionist that’s inside you?

Are you a perfectionist about everything or are there some things that you’re more chilled about?

If it’s the former, who communicated the message that these standards are ‘right’ and if it’s the latter, why are you relaxed about those particular things and what could you take from these that you could apply to the areas of your life where you’re too exacting?

Do you expect people around you to be “perfect”? Do an inventory and evaluate who is perfect?

Yes, your list will be empty. Who do you consider to be near perfect? Where are you judging you harshly in favour of putting this person (or people) on a pedestal? I love my husband very much, and at first, I practically drew a halo around him, but I realised if I was truly going to be ‘in’ this and I was going to love and like him and like and love myself too, I had to stop pumping him up. Adulation and pedestals aren’t love or like; they’re comparison.