There is no space for peace when perfectionism is a priority
- Christian Bosse
In a recent conversation about resilience a colleague commented “there seems to be a lot of pressure from all angles at the moment. Do you think perfectionism plays a part?”
This really made us think.
What is perfectionism?
The dictionary definition is: the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
On the surface this appears to be laudable and perhaps something we should all be aspiring to. Let us consider however what it really means.
A perfectionist often fixates on mistakes. They can over work themselves and burnout. They may criticise others as well as themselves which leads to a disconnect in relationships. They are fearful of failure, and this can make them defensive and aggressive. The fear drives a fight-flight response leading to them experiencing high circulating levels of cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones cause headaches, stomach upsets, poor sleep, and impaired cognition – and of course these things reduce the chance of them achieving the hallowed perfection they endeavour to reach.
This second definition of perfection is surely not what anyone would hope for.
Who decides what perfection is anyway? You? Me? Social Media Influencers? Celebrities?
In truth there is no such things as perfection. It is an illusion.
What is deemed to be ‘perfect’ by one person may seem to be average or even ‘imperfect’ to another.
Our own definition of ‘perfect’ is based on our conditioning, our experiences and of course, our belief systems and so it is unique to us.
If we strive for perfection in the eyes of another then we are doomed to fail as we do not view the world through their eyes. In fact, we do not know what their definition of ‘perfect’ is at all. We can only imagine what it might be and hope that we have achieved the standard. In this scenario we can find ourselves waiting for encouragement, positive feedback or simply a kind word or gesture.
In doing this we put our wellbeing in danger. We allow how we feel about ourselves to be dictated by someone else. Our self-worth becomes dependent on our imagined definition of what is ‘perfect’ and also on the other persons responses.
Even if we hold ourselves to our own standards, perfectionism is dangerous.
As we have explained before, we all hold a set of core beliefs. A framework against which we check everything that happens. It is the lens through which we view the world and of course through which we define perfection. Our core beliefs frame our thoughts, which affect how we feel and what we do. The cycle goes round and round with thoughts feelings and behaviours all influencing each other.
Everyone carries underlying fears of not being good enough, and perfectionism is a model that we use to try to prove to ourselves that we are ‘worthy.’ This results in enormous psychological pressure to be the perfect mother, partner, friend, child, teacher, pupil, chef, party planner – the list is endless.
When trying to be everything to everyone and fulfil our own ideals it is easy to lose our way.
It is in fact impossible to be ‘perfect’ to everyone.
When things do not appear ‘perfect’ we then tell ourselves we were right to be afraid, we are indeed not worthy, and the cycle continues.
Perhaps we need to let go of the concept of perfection and embrace our imperfections. If we can see these as assets rather than as disadvantages, we can loosen the bonds of perfectionism that hold us down - and rise!
We can embrace our mistakes rather than feel ashamed of them. If everything we do must be seen to be ‘perfect’, we will never grow. Mistakes and failures are what drive us forward. Whenever we make a mistake. saying “thank you” for the chance to grow turns it from a negative experience into an opportunity.
When you feel the need to be ‘perfect’ Press Pause
Breathe to dispel any stress hormones
Observe your need for perfection
Explore where that has arisen
When in your childhood conditioning did you agree to be perfect?
What encouraged this core belief?
Look further back
Recall a time when you were perfectly imperfect, unconstrained, and free
How did that feel?
Now see your younger self needing approval and agreeing in exchange to strive for perfection
Reclaim that part of yourself
Commit to giving that part of you all the love and nourishment needed
You never again need to prove yourself to others
You are enough
You are whole
You are free
Let go of the illusion of perfection
Understand it is not the truth
When all you require is available internally then you are self-sufficient
You are resilient
You are perfectly imperfect!
For more on resilience see ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’