- having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. “she strove to be the perfect wife”
The theme of perfectionism comes up again and again in our lives. I see it and hear about it on almost a daily basis here at Cielo House. It’s often sneaky and shapeshifting, masquerading as something akin to “the truth” in our own perceptions of reality.
When we are perfectionists ourselves, we often walk around feeling that others are judging us the same way that we are judging ourselves, and this leads us to increased feelings of shame, guilt, judgment, and blame. Somehow, in our culture, children grow into adults believing the message that those negative feelings are the necessary motivation to do better. The perfectionist actually sees these feelings as necessary motivators to grow out of their imperfect state and attain perfection, and clings to them as part of their survival strategy.
The reality is that perfection, or life when it’s as “good as it is possible to be” lies in acceptance of everything that is. It’s from this starting point of acceptance of oneself that one can start to blossom and grow into the next stage without feeling suppressed and shut down by the inner judgment of perfectionism.
The most difficult question to answer is “how does one do this?” It’s different for everyone, but here are some general guidelines:
Be led by your desired feeling, rather than by an outcome, i.e. if your desired feeling is something like “I want to feel healthy and loved and good enough,” let that motivate you to experiment with following what you feel like doing rather than doing something because you know you will be happy with the result. For example, let yourself spend time with loved ones or accept a compliment, rather than trying to achieve something that you think will make you feel loved or good enough.
Look for the positive and watch it grow. When we are in a perfectionistic mindset, we often ignore or discount the positive and look for the negative. Do the opposite. When you receive positive feedback, rather than discarding it, give it some attention. Water it like a seed, and look for the progress. Happiness stems from noticing a little bit of progress each day.
Acknowledge your inner critic and develop healthy self-advocacy. Recognize your inner critic, and actively dialogue with it. Develop your inner cheerleader, and strive to see both sides of the picture. Perfectionists tend to think that only one way is the right way. Open and expand your mind, and you will find many more possibilities lie within it.
Lauren Korshak, Marriage & Family Therapist