Now that you have had a chance to digest the information from a couple weeks ago, about being a perfectionist (I know I needed time!) and you have probably moved from resistance into acceptance, you may have recognized that your perfectionism might be a problem, even if only sometimes! I think it is important to understand why I think we develop a perfectionist voice in the first place and how I keep mine in balance.
A quick recap from last week’s blog. My belief was that being a perfectionist is a motivator, a lot of people believe this. In my life, I thought it was what kept me moving forward, and what I realize now is that it wasn’t a motivator, instead it hindered my momentum and growth. So why do so many of us have a such a strong attraction to being a perfectionist?
Perfectionism as an Armor
Brene Brown states that we use perfectionism as armor to protect us from vulnerability. I completely agree! But what is so vulnerable about being not perfect? I think this relates to our core need to belong, and we think that if we are perfect then we can’t be judged or rejected.
For me it starts with our primal need to belong. This need has developed over generations for very real reasons. In primitive times, if our ancestors did not belong to their tribe, the consequence could and most likely would be death. This also true for us an infants. Therefore, the need to belong boils down to survival. Today, our survival may not be on the line, but we still feel this strong need to belong. If you doubt this, talk to a youth in high school – they would do almost anything to fit in!
Fear of Rejection
So, we start with this need to belong, from this need comes a fear of rejection. When we fear something, we avoid anything that could make the situation a reality. Therefore, if we fear rejection we do what we can to not be singled out and we do everything we can to fit in. A type of rejection is being judged, therefore in our minds we take in information that will help us avoid being judged and ultimately rejected. To help us we create an idealized vision of the “perfect”….. mother, employee, entrepreneur, wife, social worker, and so on. We internalize these ideals and strive to attain them… to fit in.
These ideals are the playground for our perfectionist. Once we have an ideal, our perfectionist compare us to it and tries to keep us in line for fear of judgment and rejection.
This may sound complex an example may help clarify. In my life, I have talked about my career in the human services field, my version of the perfect social worker was selfless, non-judgmental, always positive, all knowing…the list goes on and on. I strived to be all those things for fear that others would see that I was not a “perfect” social worker. I would push myself and chastise myself when I fell short of the ideal. That was my perfectionist!
The Snowball Effect
Now consider that I was not only a social worker. I was a friend, wife, puppy parent, daughter, coworker, family and community member as well. All these roles also held an idealized version and, to be all of those “perfectly” all the time, is impossible, and exhausting! When I would judge myself, I would assume others were judging me as well, so I would push harder to reach that ideal. The thing is, as mentioned last time, perfectionism itself is unattainable. So, I was like a hamster on a wheel, running faster and faster in efforts to keep up with the ideal and to avoid judgement and rejection. What I realize now is that this striving for perfection in one area inevitably stole time and energy from other areas (i.e. the more I tried to be a perfect social worker, the less energy and time I made for my relationships), which then brought on whole new self-judgements. And that is when things begin to snowball!
It’s kind of crazy when you think about it: We push ourselves to be perfect and then beat ourselves when we don’t measure up, which makes us feel like we are not good enough so we start to pull away from others for fear they will notice our imperfections. The result is that we end up losing the connections that we feared losing in the first place! Crazy making stuff!!
What I do…
Since I have had that big “a-ha” I have adopted a simple mantra that works to bring me back to balance. When I notice, my perfectionism is ranting, I simply say to myself “You are perfectly imperfect and that is good enough.” Sounds simple, for me it has really worked. Saying this reminds me perfection is unattainable and brings me back to a balanced place where I understand that I am not perfect and that is ok!
This is something that I have to practice, almost daily and it all started with the realization that perfectionism is not a motivator but rather a roadblock!