Overcoming Perfectionism: A Work in Progress
While many of us develop the belief that perfectionism is something to strive for in order to achieve success, I teach my clients that this belief is actually a dangerous myth. Perfectionism is a particular form of unhappiness – a steady state of discontent – as well as a self-destructive and addictive belief system that can fuel stress, depression, anxiety, and low self-worth.
Striving for perfection is the epitome of setting unrealistic and unattainable expectations. It fuels self-criticism and leaves no room for mistakes. When we role-model perfectionistic behavior to our children, they implicitly learn that failure is not an option, that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. Living life in the grips of a perfectionistic mindset may offer an illusion of control in an otherwise unpredictable world, yet it will ultimately end up paralyzing your ability to be happy.
Chances are that if you’re struggling with perfectionism, that nagging sense that things are never quite ‘good enough,’ or that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, you are likely passing this struggle along to your children as well. It’s time we see endless striving towards perfectionism for what it is: not only futile but physically and emotionally unhealthy.
So how can we begin to unhook from the painful triggers of perfectionism and open our lives to more joy?
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. We each have our own unique set of gifts, talents, hardships and challenges. Embrace the qualities that make you who you are, and choose to be grateful for what you do have, rather than resentful or inadequate for what you may lack.
2. Practice self-compassion. The practice of self-compassion helps us to accept that we are all perfectly imperfect, joined together by our common humanity. Learning how to be more accepting of our own emotions, disappointments and pain enhances our resilience and coping. “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.” according to Kristen Neff, a pioneer researcher in the field of self-compassion.
3. Learn the value of vulnerability. Being vulnerable and authentic means you are human, not some unattainable perfect version of yourself. People will feel much more comfortable and enjoy being around you if you learn to embrace your whole self, not just your idealized self. “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; It’s our greatest measure of courage.” ~Brene Brown
4. Practice making mistakes and celebrating failures. We must teach our kids that being imperfect and making mistakes is part of how we learn and develop resilience, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. Similarly, kids must be afforded the opportunities to take risks, fail and learn!
When you find yourself being seduced by the false reassurance that perfectionism offers, remember that we are all a work in progress.