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Day 21. Releasing You From The Prison of Perfectionism

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You may or may not know that you’re a perfectionist, someone who is refusing to accept any standard short of perfection. If you don’t think you are a perfectionist, and yet you can’t accept that you’re good enough, or are always comparing yourself, or are overburdening yourself with tasks to please others, or you don’t internalise your accomplishments and achievements, you beat yourself up, you blame you, you can’t hack mistakes and take them very much to heart, and struggle to forgive you and engage in rigid thinking, this is all about perfectionism. It will voice itself to you in different ways ways via the 8 inner critic roles.

The inner critic backing track that we record is clever. If it just played one tune or played it the same way each time, it would become increasingly ineffective. It would be like, "Ugh, here we go again", so it finds different ways to not only be critical but to keep you in that uncomfortable comfort zone.

Those 8 types represent different ways of ultimately trying to get you to do the same thing or to make you feel bad about not being that thing - perfect.

All of the inner critics have an irrational fear of not being able to be "perfect enough" to handle what might come in the future - fear of uncertainty.

It's not being able to go, "Yes, you can choose that course of action and it will always work out well for you from now until the year 2099." That irrational fear makes it near impossible to predict what might positively happen but it at the same time uses predicting bad stuff based on the past to keep you small.

The inner critic is a very clever but increasingly ineffective way of handling the uncertainty that we all have to deal with.

Uncertainty is a part of life but a dominant inner critic ensures that you stay within the lines and are assured a level of certainty because you're living in pattern and habit. Your risks are limited but so are your options. You might spend so much time living in the past and being afraid that yes, you might me unhappy but at least you know what to expect, not because it's all that's out there but thoughts affect mentality, attitude, action and choices, all leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Uncertainty will not disappear but one thing that changes your relationship with uncertainty is getting to know you. You do not have to fear uncertainty when you are more certain about who you are. You do end up fearing uncertainty when you are more certain about the irrational fears of the inner critic.

I can't say this enough: the inner critic is not rational. It reminds me of people who amp things up because they don't think that just telling you the truth and giving you the barebones story is enough - it needs to add fear, exaggerations and outright fabrications to ensure that it can get your attention and get you on side.

Because the inner critic is backing track, a tape recorded by you, on some level, you know that you have not been listening to your inner voice which in itself registers somewhere as an angle for your inner critic to feel as if it has legitimate reasons for believing that you won't listen or that your inner voice isn’t relevant or accurate - you know that you're not listening to you and at the same time, the inner critic can seem as if it is you. When you respond to your inner critic by feeding it with more fear-driven responses, these are conscious, semi-conscious as well as unconscious means of keeping you in that comfort zone.

Being a perfectionist can catch you off guard. You may have known that you're a perfectionist because you're strongest leanings are towards The Perfectionist and The Pusher critics but many people who struggle with their inner critics are now aware of their pervasive habit of perfectionism. They don’t realise that their preoccupation with having all of their ducks lined up in a row, always, means that they keep trying to be something that they cannot be— perfect. You might not associate you with a need to be perfect because you've spent so long reinforcing the message that there's something wrong with you and comparing you to others or what you feel would be a 'better' version of you.

What you've got to start shimmying away from us the rigid thinking of perfectionism. You having rigid thinking about you plus the inner critic's rigid and at the same time contrary and at times crazy-making, flip-flapping ways, is a recipe for pain.

You can't be all or nothing. It can't be, I must be perfect or I am nothing. It can't be, I must get it right first time or within a certain number of times otherwise my ass is grass. It can't be, Well my mother/father/caregiver was close-minded, so I must be too.

Your beliefs represent your understanding as you know (or assume) it at the time - at one time, you took certain things to understand that you must be perfect and that because you aren't or haven't been, that you must pay for that via your inner critic or have them show you the way. The inner critic including its inspirations, is not perfect either.

It is good to want to be conscientious, to want to put in a good or even great effort and to want to push you in ways but it’s got to be from a place of love, care, trust and respect, not from pervasive fear and criticism.

Imagine what you could be and do if the light of your inner voice was allowed to shine through?

Imagine what you could be and do if you weren’t berating, belittling, judging and criticising you into compliance?

No one other than the expectations of the backing track and maybe an outer critic, expects or demands perfection and the irony is that if an outer critic is carrying on as if you cannot put a foot wrong or that you have a whole load of flaws, all they’re doing is proving their own imperfection and flaws, not yours. Those who ‘can’t’ or who are blinded to their own baggage, criticise the hell of out stuff as a distraction from taking action in their own lives.
For anything that you battle over trying to do perfectly or worrying about being good enough, work out your: worst case scenario, good enough scenario, and perfect scenario.

What you will discover is that you’re at extreme ends – the all or nothing perfectionist mentality. It’s time to work out what good enough looks like to you, not to your inner critic because all the inner critic does is get activated at stress points along the way.

Keep evaluating why something (or you) has to be perfect?

I’ve worked with people who when you ask them why they’ve done an OTT level of work for a project, they claim that it was impossible to do less, but it was only ‘impossible’ to do less because when they considered doing it ‘less’ than what they had in mind, they panicked that it wasn’t good enough. It was also considered "impossible" because they had framed the task and expectations in the terms or the critic, not in the terms of reality and what was requested. Over the years I've had to ask myself, Who am I working for? Is it my boss/me or my mother and inner critic?

The thing is, sometimes in striving to be perfect, you don’t actually achieve what was specifically asked for because you’re overdoing it and adding on so much more. It can raise question marks because realistically, if someone else is going to be able to do something without spending triple the amount of time on it or running their body into the ground, that’s the healthier option. I remember someone saying to me “I’ve already hired you so you don’t need to keep acting like you have to prove that you deserve the job – just get on with it and show me your stuff.”

What do you think is going to happen if it’s not perfect? Then weigh this against reality. The likelihood is that it’s only you who feels that it has to be to this standard.

Offer up positive, counter evidence. Offer up support for you.
“Actually, I can ___________” “Yeah I’ve got stuff wrong but who hasn’t? I’m doing _______ and ________ and ___________ to change my habits and help me to have a more successful outcome next time. I don’t have to get it right or perfect each time but the more I try, the closer I get”.

I trust that _________ will still ___________ if I can’t/don’t_____________. e.g. I trust that Annabelle [your friend] will still like me if I can’t go to the fundraiser.

Stick to firm and respectful.

If you get medieval in your own mind, you may find that either your inner critic has a tantrum and comes at you full force if you’re in an anxious situation or that you end up feeling guilty, possibly because it’s how you would feel if you spoke up to that certain someone or people that have ‘inspired’ the voice of your inner critic.

“No, actually, I’m ___________” or “That’s totally incorrect. The reason why that happened was ________ and ________ and ___________ not because I wasn’t good enough”, or “I know you’re feeling scared (or whatever) but it’s OK. I know ___________ or it’ll be OK.” “Maybe I won’t be able to do it but I won’t know unless I try. It would be a bigger mistake not to try.”

Set boundaries

"I'm not going to be open to listening to what you have to say until you change your tone to one that is more respectful. No more throwing the past in my face, no more calling me names, no more belittling me. If you want my attention, if you want to point out something I might find useful, show me some courtesy and respect." This sends a message right down the line that you are not going to be messed with and establishes healthy emotional, mental and physical boundaries with you. Each time you do this, including, "I reminded you before that ______", you are changing and breaking your pattern and this has incredible impacts on your emotional and mental health.

Also try affirmations – there’s a guide in your resources section. Repeating, “I am safe, I am secure”, works wonders on both my inner critic and my younger self and can cover off everything in a very short, reassuring statement.

Over the next few lessons, I'll offer up tips on calming criticisms about appearance to calming down expectations but most importantly, finding out what you really want.

JOURNALING: Write about the shifting goalposts in your life. Where has perfectionism being masquerading as you striving to be "good enough"? Can you see the difference between below par, good enough and perfectionism? Think about the people you like, love and respect - are they perfect? Exactly, so why do you have to be?

TASK: Work out some of your own affirmations to use when perfectionism strikes. Also work out what you're going to say to your inner critic when they are over the line. Use the character name when you're saying it too.

 

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