For some people, the desire to be perfect is so great that it’s a burden to them and often makes them unhappy. Although seeking perfection might seem achievable, it can’t be because we’re all human and as such, we make mistakes at times.
In our culture we move almost relentlessly towards a greater emphasis on achievements, especially where our careers are concerned. This can cause such a lot of stress and stops people living in the moment.
Sometimes, the quest for perfection is really a disguise for something else – peoples’ own insecurities. It says “I’m just not good enough as I am” and people start judging themselves because of that. This can sometimes start at school if children are bullied – the feeling of never being good enough can often start in those circumstances – or in a home where things are very regimented and there’s a ‘right way to do things’ which doesn’t allow for any other way. People in those circumstances often grow up feeling that if they can be perfect, they’ll be beyond reproach.
There is sometimes an element of ‘bargaining’ going on too – believing that bad things will happen if we’re not perfect. This can be particularly pronounced if a child grew up with a parent who was ill and somehow the child felt responsible for the mother or father. There can be an element of ‘if I’m perfect, Mum will get better and everything will be alright’. A lot of perfectionists have their own variation on this theme and try to hang onto some sort of control even in later life.
Love and acceptance are the basic emotional needs of every human being but if these needs weren’t met when you were growing up or you learned that love was conditional upon what you can do for others or upon your performance, then the concept of unconditional love is quite possibly alien to you and you’ll feel that you have to ‘jump through hoops’ to earn love from another person. The impossible task of trying to please everyone leaves people physically and emotionally exhausted and is the basis for anxiety and depression.
So, if this sounds like you and you’re finding it all too much, try the following to help you realise that it’s alright to be you, a complete human being with the same frailties as everyone else.
- Be more realistic in your thinking – perfectionists are often very critical of themselves. One of the most effective ways to overcome perfectionism is to replace self-critical or perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic statements. Practice them regularly like “even if it’s not exactly how I’d like it, I’ll manage fine”.
- Tell other people when you’re feeling tired or low (or other feelings that you’d usually consider being ‘weak’). In other words, it’s alright to show some vulnerability.
- Remember that it’s alright if some people don’t like you – it doesn’t make you a bad person and you may not like them much either! It’s impossible to be liked by everyone and that’s alright.
- Try more ‘grey’ thinking – if you only see things in black and white, both for yourself and other people, it limits more creative thinking.
- Look at the bigger picture – people who are perfectionists tend to get bogged down in details and worry about little things that don’t really matter. Ask yourself ‘in a year’s time, how much will this really matter?’.
- Limit repeating behaviours – if you continually check documents/emails to make sure they’re absolutely correct and perfect, limit yourself to one check and then send it.
- People who seek perfection are often very sensitive to other peoples’ judgements although sometimes these judgements can be imagined. Everyone has an opinion but no-one can be your judge unless you elevate them to that position.
Finally, don’t worry if the above take some practice – they may seem difficult at first but over time they will get easier.