When I was first asked to write this post by Lisa, I thought that it would be easy, thinking that I had recovered so much from this. However, like an alcoholic, who has the first drink after being “dry” for years; I found myself having to re-consider what life used to be like, what were the causes, what it is like now, what can be changed and how I need to keep my eyes open to not fall down the “slippery slope”. I stand here as a learner not as a teacher.
First of all, let’s start with what it is. According to Wikipedia “Perfectionism, in psychology, is a broad personality style characterized by a person's concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations”.
This definition, which is clinical, complex, objectives words perfectly conveying a picture of mental ill-health. Sadly, a perfectionist’s dream!
It is the self-imposed way to tear yourself to pieces, whether you succeed, fail or do nothing, the ability to constantly try to reduce or erode what little self-esteem that you started with, whether from the past or the present, by punishing yourself endlessly.
Growing up, I loved detail, numbers, accuracy, the more detail the better. Furthermore, always comparing myself to others (of course, always better than me) and a certain introspection and sensitivity to criticism. A great memory of what people did to me and I did to them.
We are encouraged to do well at school, strong grades in exams and so forth. However, the problem is this. When something becomes stressful, a criticism, an inaccuracy, an implication of weakness, whether true or not, increase in the desire in you to do more and more, to push yourself harder and harder, to the point of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion and beyond. Like the spider’s web, it draws you in until you feel helpless.
Is it any wonder that this so easily leads to anxiety and depression?
So, what can help to break the cycle?
Be kind to yourself, think of the things that you are good at, your loyalty to others, your honesty and so on. Think of others before yourself but look after yourself too. Try mindfulness and “cutting yourself some slack”. Talking therapy also really helps. Find out what causes the stress and find ways to change it, even that job!!
Differentiate perfect, excellent and good enough for different things. Remember that 20% of the effort yields 80% of the result! (ie 5 OK tasks = 400% performance)! Reintroduce words like sometimes, mostly, partially, they will really help.
However, this perfection gets applied to everything, Actually, good enough is actually good enough.
Stop setting permanently high goals all the time, too. Everyone has a bad, tired, emotional, frustrating, disappointing time in their lives, you are allowed this too! Does it matter if something is done badly but it is the best that you can do? Also, develop a growth mindset ie how can change how I think about this problem, can I laugh it off, put it behind you, talk about it, even grow from it. This gives you permission to try new things, enjoy rather than hate the experience. Improvement is the product of repeated failures overcome.
Next, you cannot control others, how much time, money or talent you have. You can try your best though, or be kind to others, this you can control. You will find that these are better values to hold.
Finally, it is a process not an event, keep caring for yourself and others.