I’ve always known I was a perfectionist.
My earliest memories include spending hours shaping the prettiest mud pies, having my toys purposefully arranged and keeping a private dictionary of new words – so that I wouldn’t be caught ‘stupid.’
Whether it was needing to recite night readers to my parents without making a mistake, wanting to pirouette the first time I ever attended a dance class, or asking my first crush if I was the best kisser he had ever come across:
I needed to get things right and I needed to get it right the first time.
I believed that if I did what was expected of me all the time and did it exceptionally well, my life would be perfect.
By the time I started university as a teen, perfectionism held me captive.
I starved myself and took double classes at the gym or dance studio, to ensure my weight remained a ‘perfect’ 48kg.
I spent countless late nights editing and refining work, that could have been completed competently, in less than half the time.
I was the cleanest, tidiest, most polite (and possibly most annoying) house-mate; crying when my friends failed to keep to our weekly chore schedule.
What does perfectionism have to do with self worth?
These compulsive patterns of behavior are an intricate form of distraction. A way to disconnect from the fear of not being good enough.
We fool ourselves into believing that we are pursuing excellence, in all areas of our life, at all times (as it that is even possible!).
We hustle, to to gain approval in the eyes of others, even though we have no ability to control how we are perceived.
Perfectionism propels us to try harder, do better, be more AND THEN, we will agree to accept ourselves.
This is the dark side of perfectionism – the feeling that we have to prove our worth, do better, be the best.
And while a lot of us recognize and identify ourselves as perfectionists, we are yet to claim the heavy shame that accompanies a lifetime of perfectionism.
Shame researcher and recovering perfectionist, Brene Brown places it beautifully, when she writes:
So where do we begin? How do we overcome perfectionism?
I can only speak for myself (and for the dozens of women that I have recently coached on this issue), and this is what I have found:
:: To make peace with perfectionism, we need to learn how to separate ourselves from the voice that says our best is not good enough.
:: We need to ‘claim our shame’ – to understand that this is a universal human experience and one that is best treated with the daily practice of self-compassion and shame resilience.
:: It helps to spend time examining how perfectionism is impacting your life (it shows up differently for each one of us) before we begin challenging it.
:: It’s about developing awareness of the self-destructive behaviours and thoughts we engage in as Perfectionists and effectively making Peace with them.