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April 1, 2016

Confessions of a Perfectionist.

author's personal photo: Rachel Francis (not for re-use)
I can recall the first time I was called a perfectionist.

I had joined a church for the first time, a small Wednesday night group of people that got together to worship. The pastor was approachable and inspiring. I wanted to take the next step, so I reached out to set up a meeting with him and learn how I could become more involved. I wanted him to know my name—to know I was there to help. I wanted to dive in.

I was new to faith, new to the church, and honestly—I thought I was walking into a 10 minute meeting, where I’d be given some type of job, like greeter, coffee maker or offering collector.

An hour later my palms were sweaty, and I had vomited my entire life story onto this man. I was in a complicated relationship that meant a lot to me, although I was unsure of it was right. I was worried about the future, my family, my job and my friends.

I must have been wearing the anxiety on my face because he suggested that I meet with the church psychologist. He thought she might be able to offer me some tools to work through the feelings of “what-if” that constantly plagued my life.

“What if my heart is broken, and I can’t survive the pain?”

“What if my job isn’t what breathes passion into my life and instead drains me of energy and happiness?”

“What if my parents are disappointed in me?”

“What if my friends abandon me, or worse—forget me?”

“What if I never overcome my bad habits? I hate that I spend too much, I should save more. I hate that I give in to cravings of pizza and wings, when I know I should pick salads. I hate that I have two extra glasses of wine on a Saturday night when I should have stopped at one.”

So I took his advice, set up an appointment with her, and went to my first session.

“How do you feel about being labeled a perfectionist?” she asked me, after I had explained some of the reasons it was recommended that I come talk to her.

I was astounded—until that moment I had never thought of myself as a perfectionist.

An over-achiever, a goal-orientated person or a driven woman— yes, I was those things—but a perfectionist? No. Perfectionists, in my mind, were sad people who never achieve happiness because they are always thinking about the next thing.

She explained to me that the standard I hold myself to is at a level of perfection. I expect myself to be perfect which would result in all of my worries fading away. A perfect woman picks the right man, she picks the greatest job, she is always fulfilled and always happy. She has a wonderful group of friends, and her family couldn’t be more proud of her.

My self-doubt was coming from my unattainable goal of complete and total personal perfection.

I was heartbroken after this realization, and years later, I still struggle with what this means about my personality, how I deal with relationships, and how I struggle with self-love and self-forgiveness. In my opinion—and maybe yours, if you share the same diagnosis—this component of me weaves into everything else and fills me with a sense of doom. I was one of those people who would never be fully happy with herself, no matter the accomplishments, accolades, wonderful relationships or great decisions.

I would always find room for improvement, and I would never be 100% satisfied with myself.

I couldn’t accept that (perfectionist, remember), so I decided to learn to manage this corner of my personality. I decided to learn ways to be happy with myself at all stages of life, perfect or not.

Over the years, since the word perfectionist was first used to describe me, I have learned that the greatest way to keep my mind in check is by being self-aware. This practice takes work, but has greatly improved my relationship with—not only myself—but those closest to me as well.

Self-awareness is the way that I calmly talk myself off the edge and reassure myself I am doing great. It is the realization that there are components of my personality that might have negative effects, but because I am aware of them, I can reach a place of rationalization and inner peace.

The way I accomplish this is by responding to my worries with rationalization. I have a lot of conversations with myself, and over time, these talks take less and less time before the need for perfection is gone and the self-love is back.

These conversations look a little bit like this…

Before: “What if my heart is broken and I can’t survive the pain?”

Now: “Trust your heart. It is loving, giving and strong as hell. You will always survive.”

Before:  “What if my job isn’t what breathes passion into my life and instead drains me of energy and happiness?”

Now: “Then you’re going to start looking for another job, you don’t need to settle. You’re smart, you interview well, and you don’t have to be miserable at work each day.”

Before: “What if my friends abandon me, or worse, forget me?”

Now: “Believe in your friends, they have been there for you during the best of times and the worst. You are a great friend and your friends recognize that.”

I will never reverse this component of my personality, but I can manage it so that it isn’t detrimental to my life. I spend a lot of time in my head—reminding myself that I am on the right path, that I will never have all the answers, and that if I do make a wrong turn, I will figure out the ups and downs of that path as well.

I remind myself that I am resilient and that perfection—although a lovely idea–-isn’t real.

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Author: Rachel Francis

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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