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Day 6. The Perfectionist


Its Motivations: To make and keep you perfect.

The Fear It's Driven By: If you're (I'm) not perfect, you (I) will be rejected.

Underlying Beliefs: I'm not good enough, the world is a harsh place where it’s unsafe to be me. If I perfect myself than I can finally forgive me for the past.

Look Out For: A highly critical parent/caregiver, a pushy or scaremongering one, someone in your past who behaves similarly, triggered into stress by stuff you see and read in the media, studying something or doing a career that you don't even truly like, procrastination and passive aggression.

Driving you to operate to a high standard, nothing is ever enough. It thinks that if you are perfect then what it (and you) judge you for will not matter anymore. The goalposts move so that even when you reach a standard, its fear of rejection means that what was 'perfect' now becomes 'just enough', eventually giving you the impression that you are broken, unworthy, some sort of eff-up. Perfectionism doesn’t discern what is actually below par, good enough or perfect; everything is either below par or perfect, and of course, in us being human, flawed, in flow and going through an ever evolving life, it means that any sense of being perfect is something that only provides temporary relief. The Perfectionist is afraid to say that something is 'done' and doesn't really have a true sense of, for instance, what represents meeting a brief or completing task.

The messages that you've picked up along the way that form and feed The Perfectionist are a mix of reasoning habits based on blaming lack of perfection for your feelings or something bad that you experienced and/or messages from certain others via things they've said and done that have directly communicated and/or inferred that you need to be and currently are not perfect so you are not worthy.

Projecting its fear of judgment and criticism, what you may not have realised is that the torment you go through isn't about the reality of you but about the irrational fears of your younger self who still believes its own judgments and also about the irrational fears of someone else that are based on their experiences, not yours, all of it holding you to impossible standards.

When you're a perfectionist, you judge you by virtue of something - e.g. your appearance, background, experiences - and being a perfectionist is seen as the way to compensate for this.

You derive your worth from trying to be perfect and because this is actually unobtainable, it's very conditional and based on so much judgment, it decimates your self-worth. You may have designed ways in childhood of trying to manage the perfectionism by procrastinating (I’ll cover this in more depth in a different lesson) as it’s about accepting failure from the outset (so focusing on giving you a hard time about not being perfect and not trying while all the while being spared from the imagined future pain) and you may have some passive aggressive habits that were originally about releasing feelings of anger and resentment about your critic through obstructionist behaviour with a smile.

It’s difficult to relax in relationships, with the perfectionism motivating you to wear a mask, to be a pleaser, to be a performing seal, putting the other party on a pedestal (the only place for them to look at you is from above) and compromising your values, identity and personal security.

You are likely to have Imposter Syndrome, feeling as if you're a fraud who is about to be found out, because you do not internalise your attributes, character, accomplishments, achievements and inherent sense of worth and self, so in believing that you need to be 'perfect', you keep acting as if it's an eff-up that you're there and that you have to keep proving that they didn't make a mistake choosing or, if you’re at work, hiring you.

You might have your own business or have worked your way up at a company over a period of years, more than proving than yourself many times over, yet you’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop. You possibly overdo things, which can result not just in burnout but getting so carried away that you go off brief or find it difficult to let others help or do their part. If you make authorities out of critical people though, you may go to the other side and take too much instruction in an effort to appease them and right the wrongs of the past.

Take note: You may have meritocracy mentality, something we tend to pick up as children where we are taught that if we're good for teacher, do as they or others say, work hard, that we will be rewarded - liked, grades, brownie points. Adulthood (and in fact general life) is nothing like this so if you keep looking for the praise, strokes, stickers and brownie points, you get the impression that you are not good enough and lose confidence that you may have had from doing this stuff at school or in other environments.

You carve at you with comparison and keep estimating that you’re “not enough”.

Fear of rejection means that you’re won’t stick your head above the parapet and innovate for instance, which may leave you seething when people who are not "perfect" but they do make noise, throw out ideas, make mistakes, move ahead of you or just appear to be more liked.

When you experience life's inevitable bumps (conflict, criticism, disappointment and rejection), you will blame whatever you think your inherent flaw is, obscuring you from the real reasons and resulting in trying to 'fix' the wrong things. E.g. If you blame appearance, you will gravitate to superficial partners (for validation). When things don't work out, your appearance is attacked, causing you to spend more time, energy and even money trying to amend it, or berating you through comparison.
The Perfectionist thinks that it's trying to spare you from re-experiencing a past pain but focusing on being perfect means that you feel so judged and end up being afraid of vulnerability because it's teaching you that who you are isn't enough. Ironically, if your perfectionist is inspired by someone else or fears from childhood, you may be afraid of experiencing a past pain that you actually never experienced or that you wouldn’t now because you’re not that kid anymore and have a wealth of wonderful things about you that if you connect with these, will help you to live and love with your self-esteem in tow.

JOURNALING: Do you identify with The Perfectionist experience? Write about the ways in which this habit has manifested itself in your life - locate your specific habits of thinking and behaviour. Think about the expectations of your inner critic with regards to being perfect - whose expectations are they? Even if you've tweaked them, who originally taught you this expectation? Who has been difficult if not near impossible to please in your life and what messaging have they contributed? Are they parental expectations and if so, can you see how they projected their own experiences on to you and didn't really allow you to feel your way through your own experiences or have a distinct identity? What is it that you think that they were trying to spare you from?  Is there a part of you that feels as if you have to make someone proud of you or that you have to, even though you know that perfectionism is compromising you, that you have to be 'loyal'? Can you see the ways in which they might have helped you to do well but how the cost has become too high? Can you see the ways in which trying to please your critic (and anyone linked to it), is compromising your sense of self and happiness?

Don't forget to use the resources section to help you to work through feelings that come up - the Releasing Exercise is ideal for homing in on memories associated with not being perfect being a problem. Unsent Letters are ideal for distinguishing you from others, forgiving you and using compassionate enquiry to think about what you can do next.

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