No one is perfect. We hear it all the time and we know it to be true. Yet, so many people still struggle with being perfectionists. Perfectionism is striving for flawlessness by setting unrealistically high standards for yourself and others. It means having the bar set so high, you will never truly reach it. Before we can begin overcoming perfectionism, we must first understand what it really is.
It’s not just in your head
On a subconscious level, perfectionism is an attempt to avoid all rejection, criticism, and failure. This unrealistic standard of constantly seeking faultlessness may actually be making you sick.
Depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders are all consequences of perfectionism. In severe long-term cases, disastrous outcomes related to psychopathology, including deliberate self-harm or suicidal thoughts may occur. It can also cause sleep disturbances. Over time, this lack of quality sleep can take its toll on your health.
Perfectionism is a form of fear.
While that may sound a bit extreme, think of it this way. Striving for perfection is the same as being afraid to make a mistake. Or afraid of disappointing someone or that someone won’t approve. Maybe that someone is yourself, but it is still fear.
Some say that fear is the opposite of love. Looking at it this way, we can see that while you are under the yoke of the fear of imperfection, it is impossible to truly love yourself. Perfectionism steals your joy, self confidence, self acceptance, motivation, and passion.
I believe that perfectionism is a result of feeling like we have to earn affection. Whether it was from parents, teachers, spouse, even a religion; show me a perfectionist and you can usually see where she thought she had to earn the love and approval of some key person or persons in her life.
No matter the root causes of your perfectionism, know that it is an underlying desire for love and acceptance.
You can overcome perfectionism
Here are a few steps you can take to help you overcome being a perfectionist. Because everyone has different circumstances, undoing this psychological issue may be more complex for some than it is for others. The key is to remain mindful and intentional, believing that it is possible to overcome perfectionism. Be patient with yourself. Most things worth doing are not easy and require dedication and work.
Step 1: Recognize
Not sure if you are a perfectionist? Answer the following questions.
- Do you have an overwhelming fear of failure?
- Are you often disappointed or embarrassed by your work or performance?
- Do you frequently miss deadlines because you continually go over your work?
- Have you heard people say that you have unrealistic expectations?
- Does your self-confidence depend on your accomplishments or performance?
- Do you often compare yourself to others in your field?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, chances are you are a perfectionist in at least one area of your life. Good news: recognizing perfectionism is the first step to overcoming it.
Step 2: Commit to comparing yourself only to yourself
Constantly comparing yourself to your perception of others is certain to lead to unfulfillment. Social media especially creates a false perception of who people are and what their lives are actually like. We post, tweet and snapchat what we want others to see. This selective look at what people choose to share can present an unreachable standard to which we then compare ourselves.
Here’s the thing. Measuring yourself against someone else will always leave you coming up short. Because you were not created to be like anyone else but you. Make it a point to catch yourself in the act of feeling envious or jealous of someone else, and strive to love and accept yourself just as you are.
Step 3: Set realistic goals
If your standards are so high that it is nearly impossible to reach them, then it’s time to re-evaluate. Set obtainable goals. Acknowledge baby steps and celebrate small victories.
Understand that striving to be the best we can be is not the same as perfectionism. Excellence is about lovingly pushing ourselves to become our best. It is about acting, thinking, and creating from the highest part of ourselves. This is much, much different from never being satisfied with the best we can do.
Step 4: Laugh
If at first you don’t succeed, laugh. Yes, that’s right. Laughing at yourself can actually help keep things in perspective. Have a sense of humor about yourself and your actions, especially the embarrassing or disappointing experiences. Laughter can actually bring healing. Plus, it decreases stress hormones and alters endorphin and serotonin activity, thereby reducing stress and depression.
Step 5: Forgive
Let’s face it. Failure is inevitable. Unless you decide to never try another new thing, you are bound to screw up somewhere along the line. No matter how big or small your screw ups are, it is vitally important to Let. It. Go. Choose to love yourself in spite of your imperfections. Forgive your mistakes and shortcomings. View mistakes as learning opportunities instead of failures. And then move on.
Life is a practice. When we practice, we are bound to make mistakes. Therefore, realize that there is no shame in a mistake; just an opportunity to learn and to grow.
Step 6: Avoid People or Situations that Reinforce Perfectionist Tendencies
Like attracts like. If you are surrounded by other high-achieving perfectionists, it will be extra-challenging to stifle your own tendencies for flawlessness. If your boss is the never satisfied, best-isn’t-good-enough type, you seriously may have to look for another job.
Instead, surround yourself with people who exercise contentment and joy. It is understandable that you will encounter the perfect-types, but being aware of them and intentionally choosing to spend time with easy going positive people will help you cope with those who aren’t.
Work towards self acceptance
Perfectionism is a result of trying to control your outcomes in order to receive the love and acceptance you crave. It’s all about fear. Accept that you are a work in progress and unconditionally embrace who you are.
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