being too hard on yourself

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Have you ever noticed that when things don’t go to plan there are those who can just roll with it, adapt and get over it? Then there are others we may label “perfectionists” who aren’t able to take things in stride and go with the flow.  Often times, that perfectly imperfect “nit-picker” or “micromanager” may even be the person we see in the mirror….. ourselves.

By definition, perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.  That’s a lot to manage!

As a perfectionist attempts to be perfect and produce flawless work they may also set inflexible and excessively high standards for themselves and others. They become extremely self-critical about their performance and they have an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset about their work.  Many studies have found that perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety. Check one of them out here.

Where Did It Begin?

THIS is a great question.  When we are very young we can develop perfectionist tendencies as an adaptive coping strategy.  It’s a survival adaptation we take on as a way to preserve and ensure we get the love and support we need from our primary caregivers.  When something we do provokes a negative response, like displeasure or anger, from our parents/guardians that can cause us to feel less than, not good enough we may come to believe that our self-worth is contingent on performing perfectly.

Essentially, we feel that our natural self isn’t good enough, which can be a very strong and profound experience. This is where the belief develops that if we are always perceived as perfect, people will see us as loveable.  It can get complicated.

"It's not that perfection cannot be achieved. It's that it's so hard to stop there."-Robert Brault

Perfection Can Feel Imperfect.

This Instagram post from Dr.Soph really struck a chord with me.  She talks about how perfectionists will often give 110% to a project, but only when they know they can make it absolutely perfect.  They are more apt to back out of something when they believe that they cannot complete it to their highest standards.  In the therapy world, this is referred to as the “fight or flight” scenario.  Typically, the person’s anxiety increases as they feel that this imperfection “endangers” their relationships {this is usually all unconscious.}

Dropping out of school, giving up on an exercise routine or sport, and even walking away from relationships seems to go contrary to what a perfectionist strives for.  Yet it is also a very strong indicator that the perfectionist is in crisis and fleeing from the imperfection. 

Ask yourself.

Do you see yourself in the perfect mirror described above?  Do any of these perfectionist traits sound familiar to you? You may pride yourself on getting things right, only to be confused and demoralized when you can’t cope with their incompletion. This can be a vicious cycle of self-critique that is often very crippling.  As a recovering perfectionist myself, it’s a constant dance, unlearning patterns and habits from childhood with implementing new, healthier ways of being.  

So let’s face it, you may never become a proponent of the belief that there is beauty in the “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” and that’s okay.  Just remember to be gentle with yourself during the process and know that there are therapies out there that can help in discovering, working through and coping with feelings of helplessness to strengthen your relationships.

As always, if I can be helpful in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out. All of my information can be found here