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Perfectionism makes it really hard (if not impossible) to be happy.
We can probably also call it the “never enough syndrome.”
It doesn’t matter if you have a degree, a luxury car, a mansion, a gorgeous face, a gorgeous figure, thousands in your bank account, branded clothes…when you have a perfectionist personality type, nothing ever feels enough.
We live in a world where perfectionism is valued and even glorified. Social media is rife with influencers leading “perfect” lives. Perfect makeup, perfect friends, perfect families, where does it end? Is it even real?
It isn’t surprising then that perfectionism is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Perfectionism wrecks your health, both mentally and physically. This wonderful article on Elephant Journal lists some of the major signs of perfectionism.
A lot of perfectionists grew up in households where they were considered the “golden child,” meaning this child was probably exceptional in one way or another. Maybe this child was incredibly intelligent at school, or great at athletics, or was physically beautiful. This child will then feel great when pleasing their parents with their special attributes.
“Mummy looked so happy and proud when I won the tennis tournament.”
“Daddy brags to his neighbours about my A+ in Science.”
It’s worrying about maintaining this success where the issues begin.
Of course every parent wants their child to flourish and succeed in life. But when a child is only groomed for this “special attribute” alone, it begins to cause psychological problems. These children become anxious about making a mistake, or not keeping up with their parents’ expectations of them. The child begins to feel responsible for satisfying their parents.
Sometimes the opposite happens: maybe the youngest child in the family feels pressure because his older brother is the “handsome one” or big sister makes everyone laugh. So now the youngest child needs to work extra hard to gain approval and affection from mum and dad.
To a perfectionist, good is never enough. It needs to be great, grand, excellent, perfect.
But even perfect comes with a feeling of emptiness.
Perfectionism has been linked to many chronic illnesses, like fibromyalgia, IBS, and, of course, eating disorders. Undoubtedly, perfectionism is the fear of failure—and worrying what others think about that failure.
A few days ago, I came across a great quote about perfectionism in a book by Anne Lamott—an American novelist, writing teacher, and political activist.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a sh*tty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Isn’t that the truth? Perfectionism will probably kill us a lot quicker than making a simple mistake.
This piece on Elephant has some wonderful tips on how to heal perfectionism.
I have come up with two more that may be helpful.
I mean, any kind of dancing. Hip-hop, break dancing, ballet, silly dancing! Literally set 10 minutes a day where you put on some music and just let your body loose. Don’t worry about what you look like or how silly you look. Laugh in the mirror if you think you look funny. Teach your brain that it’s okay to look funny. Honestly, it will probably feel r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s at first. But dancing is incredibly healing. Ever heard this quote?
“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” ~ Gabrielle Roth.
2. Inner Child Healing Meditation
Inner child healing meditations can be really beneficial for easing perfectionism. Try this:
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for five minutes. When you feel your mind relaxing, think of a memory of you as a child where you felt as though you did not live up to someone’s expectations. Watch the child’s face (yours) and see if you notice how the child felt. Hopeless? Sad?
Now imagine your adult self going to your inner child in the memory and ask the child what they need to feel better? Do they need a hug? Do they need a cry? Do they need to hear some words from you? Allow whatever comes up to just happen.
Maybe your inner child doesn’t say anything at all. Maybe they don’t trust the adult you. That’s perfectly fine. In that case just sit with them. Eventually, they may open up to you. Be patient (not perfect!). Try this for a few days and see if you find any relief.
Do you have any other tips to healing perfectionism?