How Perfectionism is Preventing You from Your "Perfect Self"

It is an image we have seen a hundred times in movies and television shows. The scene opens with a young attractive woman shutting off the alarm clock at 5:00am. The catchy music starts, our protagonist is taking her pre-dawn run around the neighborhood,  drinking her green protein shake, quickly getting dressed in her gorgeous and expensive power suit, running out the door, catching a cab, getting coffee at Starbucks, texting, returning phone calls…you get the picture. We are subtly being told, “be the best, work hard, keep running and be beautiful while doing it.” No wonder we all think we need to strive for perfection.

We have all heard the phrase “nobody’s perfect.” It’s the kind of phrase our parents would say to us when we lost that big game or got a lousy grade on an exam. We knew that they were just trying to make us feel better but it always felt like a mixed message to me. In one breath your parents are saying “nobody’s perfect” and in the next minute you are seeing a TV ad saying “be the best.” If you care about your work, your friends, your family and yourself, shouldn’t you always strive for the best? Shouldn’t you try to be the best all the time?

Many of my young adult clients complain that they feel “lost” because they do not feel “good enough” or  “pretty enough” or “smart enough.” There is a myth out there that in order to be happy or “live up to our potential” we need to remain on top of our games at all times. “There are some people who have a need to reach their goals with a level of perfection that is often difficult if not impossible to accomplish,” according to Psy-Ed.com. It is not a “bad” thing to take pride in your work and what you create.  I help my clients to be mindful of how they speak to themselves.  To strive for creativity, fun, excitement…not perfection.

It is when we get out of our comfort zones and try something new that we really grow as people.

Lolly Daskel in her article for Inc.com called “How Perfectionism Can Hold You Back” outlines the eight ways perfectionism “may be keeping you from reaching your highest potential.” Daskel points out that if we are always striving for perfection we are not allowing ourselves to take any risks. It is when we get out of our comfort zones and try something new that we really grow as people. Trying to do everything perfectly will only keep you frozen or stuck in yourself and trying to make the “right” decision.

Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly” writes, “perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame.” We use perfection as a way to protect ourselves from vulnerability and it forces us to make decisions from a place of fear. Creativity and innovation have never developed from a place of fear and in order to be creative you need to be fearless. Perfectionism is a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. There will always be challenges in life and there will always be failures.

The overwhelming fear of maintaining perfection can be paralyzing for some women. Some women have a false belief that if they remain “hard on themselves” by constantly speaking negatively to themselves then they will remain in control and therefore “perfect.” Perfectionism is about control or a lack thereof. The only true control you have is over your thoughts. You can choose to focus on thoughts that can feel like a drill seargent is living in your head or you can choose to “give yourself a break” and start being more realistic about what is really possible. The image I described at the beginning of this blog post is exactly that: an image – not real and easily manipulated. Develop a new image of yourself.

If you struggle with perfectionism, it is important to work on separating your self-worth from your accomplishments. Working hard and striving towards your goals is important but needs to be independent of how you see yourself. What you weigh, what you wear, where your work, who you date are just things or facts – they are the not the sum of who you are in this world. 

If you want to learn more about how to stop negative thoughts and improve your sense of self check out my FREE downloadable audio files at www.tessbrigham.com.

Kate Rufener