Having high standards is always a good thing, striving for the best is how people get what they want from life; training and studying get us excellence. But what happens when we set standards that are so high we cannot meet them with unnecessary difficulty or we cannot ever achieve them. Then we are suffering from perfectionism - anything short of perfection is unacceptable, and even minor imperfections are a catastrophe.
As a Perfectionist we believe that we should never make mistakes and that making a mistake means we are a failure or a bad person for disappointing those who depend on us. So we get scared about mistakes, we become self critical and angry at ourselves should we ever not be perfect. All this is tiring; we are constantly stressed and upset at ourselves as we can achieve our own standards. Eventually this leads to self doubt and a need for external validation or many things we do - someone else has to tell us that we are good at what we do as we simply cannot believe it any more.
Our thinking changes with perfectionism - we see things in black and white- "if it’s not perfect it’s not worth it" or "if I ask for help it proves how stupid I am". Catastrophic thinking takes over and we end up thinking "“If I make a mistake in front of my co-workers, I will feel so stupid I will have to leave". We overestimate how bad things will be, our worries may include “I’ve worked on this for weeks but I know the presentation will be rubbish and they will laugh at me". Finally we are full of should's (the critical voices we talked about before) - "I should know everything about this new process by now" or "I should know how to stop my baby from crying".
As our thinking changes so does our behaviour - we put things off that could be too difficult to achieve perfectly so anything new for example, we spend too long doing things as we have to be sure it’s perfect, we make lists of things to do in case we miss something and decisions take forever in case we get it wrong. So perfectionism is really destructive, how did we get it? We usually learn to be a perfectionist very young, sometimes we had had hyper -critical or demanding parents, or we had little parental approval or any feedback so we don’t know what is good enough, there could have been harsh teacher or great expectations put on us.
So a few simple steps can help - cut yourself some slack, everything cannot be perfect, start with the little things - does every CD HAVE to be in alphabetical order, do we have to clean every day and so on. Work it up to bigger things like work and love life - we are imperfect beings- yes even you.
Perfectionism comes from critical voices, find affirmations to shout those voices down, "good enough is good enough", " I made a mistake I am not a mistake". We can often name who gave us those messages that we are not good enough - time to answer them back "mother I have done a great job and I deserve the praise"
Develop a sense of humour, learn to laugh at mistakes and catastrophic thinking, after all laughter is a great healing for our emotional issues and how can we take ourselves seriously if we see how ridiculous some of our self limiting beliefs are.
Perfectionism is a life limiting belief but we can easily cure it, if you struggle find someone to help a good friend, your boss or even a counsellor and enjoy life to the full.