Perfectionism is a word that sounds innocent enough but if you are a member of the perfectionist club you know it can, and does, influence every decision you make.
The game of perfectionism is about perception.
PhD Researcher Brene Brown explains the difference between perfectionism and self Improvement, she says healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” and perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?” (Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection).
As a perfectionist you are always trying to shield yourself from others with your ‘can’t-slow-me-down attitude’. Keeping up appearances turns into resentment and denying yourself pleasurable experiences when you think you won’t be perceived as perfect. Your desire to please and to wrap everything up in a neat little bow becomes the focus of your social and professional life. Letting any one see you unravel, even a little, is a painful and anxiety filled experience.
When you succumb to the perfectionist shield you want to be perceived as someone who is always in control. This extends to all aspects of your life – the way you dress, the parties you host, your car, the gifts you give, being punctual and always being available to bake the last minute cookies that no one else has time to bake. It is against the perfectionist code to admit that you are ever too busy or too stressed to get something done.
When I finally realized I was following the classic rules of perfectionism it was shocking. We are generally a highly motivated and successful person, which means we are used to taking on a lot of projects and doing them well. I knew I was starting to cross the line when my attitude and motivation was coming from a place that was inauthentic. Being inauthentic means agreeing to go to a party instead of admitting you need a night off to relax at home, baking 3 batches of cookies to get the perfect one, squeezing in a hair appointment at the most inconvenient time to make sure no hair is out of place or agreeing to drive someone to the airport when you had planned to do something else you had been looking forward to. These experiences happen to everyone occasionally but when these types of experiences become the norm it is a sign that you are approaching the danger zone.
The only way to start to change is to allow others to see you in messy, uncomfortable moments and most importantly to actually put yourself first. This is one of the most difficult things for perfectionist to do but it is necessary to begin your recovery.
As a recovering perfectionist I am still in the process of learning that others actually enjoy sharing vulnerable moments with each other. They like to see all of you and not just the perfect side of you. Really, who wants to be with someone who is perfect all the time? It is boring and hard to relate and leaves those around you feeling like they don’t really know the real you. You need to learn to trust that the people in your life who love you will support you in your messy times and not reject you for being imperfect. Beginning to accept this will go a long way in finding your authentic self. When you can share your true thoughts and feeling it is less lonely, less isolating and much less stressful.
All my fellow perfectionists out there I hope you can have the courage to show some of your messy and start little by little to enjoy all the parts of You, not just the things you do perfectly.