Drop the Shield of Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield” — Brene Brown.

As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know first-hand the negative self-talk and low self-worth that happens, especially when you’re on a mission, a goal. It’s easy to berate yourself when things are not going the way you want it to. It’s easy to sacrifice your personal time and health because you take pride in your work. It’s also easy to blame yourself when things don’t go to plan.We tie our perfectionism in with our self-identity and self-worth. We are striving to prove to ourselves that “I am enough” by being the best student, worker, speaker, writer, manager, parent, you can be all the while, there is no set standard of achievement to meet. So, you keep striving to do more, be more, create more, love more to get it to feel “enough” and you’ve reached “success”. Be kind, loving and compassionate to who you are as a human “being” and not focusing on the human “doing” so much. Learn to accept your imperfections and stop putting unreachable demands on yourself. This is easier said than done, right? That’s why I put a couple of suggestions below for the perfectionists who struggle with the following:

1. Stop catastrophizing — blowing things out of proportion in your mind. Putting it on a scale and analysing it allows you to put things in perspective. On a scale from 1–10 how bad will I feel if I don’t get this right? 10 being the worst feeling. Will this bother you a month from now?

2. Celebrate your wins and losses — Perfectionists find it hard to recognize small wins along the way because they are so focused on the end result but write in a journal at least 2–3 things that you did well each day and what things you tried and didn’t work. The losses help us to stretch our minds to do it differently and in turn grow and learn. When you see these things down on paper you can see that you are productive, and your work is valuable — improves self-worth.

3. Learn to delegate — I know this will feel hard at first but “your way is not the only way to do things” — trust others to help. My family was afraid to offer me help because my standards were so high. So, don’t alienate family or co-workers by being a perfectionist. Share and trust that they can do a good job too!

4. Accept compliments — It’s easy to dismiss or not believe a compliment when you receive one because you are so busy belittling and critiquing yourself. You find yourself saying “oh they are just saying that, they don’t mean it” or “oh it was nothing” You block out the evidence that doesn’t match your thoughts, so compliments get shot down or dismissed. Next time say, “thank you”. You will be surprised how pleasant you’ll feel and your acknowledging and respecting others by accepting their praise.

5. Stop being defensive — Being a perfectionist the worst thing to hear is a criticism or negative observation said to you about your work or actions from someone else. It feels like a direct attack on your intelligence or self-worth in some way. We all need feedback and it’s not always easy to give it so we should be appreciative of it when we do get it. What we do with the information is up to us. However, we don’t need to take it as a personal attack of our identity.

6. Stop the black and white thinking –it’s easy to have an all or nothing approach to decisions or actions. Perfectionists like to plan things out before starting a project and if everything isn’t in its’ place, we can give up before we even begin. For example, if we plan to go on a diet and prepare our meals for the week but break the diet the first day of the week by eating a slice of cake at the office, we give up the plan for the week because we failed instead of just starting the diet from the next day. Life is messy and unpredictable at times, don’t be so rigid and think black or white. Know that it’s okay to go into the grey areas too. It won’t kill you.

7. Give up the need to control — Okay this is a big one and it will be the hardest one to let go of. If you are like me and grew up with hearing “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself”. This belief can have you micro-managing co-workers or even your family members. The house or work project hasn’t been done to your standard, so you go over the work that has already been done to make it better in some way. All the while, the message you are giving others is you don’t trust them, and their standard of work is less than yours. Others don’t realise you are competing with yourself all the time and not with them on perfectionism. It’s not their competency that your judging, it’s your own. If there are typo’s or the house isn’t as tidy as you would like, it’s not the end of the world.

​Try to lesson your grip on everything being perfect by trying out one or two of the above suggestions every few weeks. The pressure you put yourself under will melt away. Learn to love you just as you are and not what you accomplish.

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