Paralyzed by the Need to be Perfect

How to Understand and Manage Unhealthy Perfectionism

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What if, from the time that you were three years old, you were told how smart you were? Over and over. Enthusiastically. By well-meaning parents and doting relatives.

What if they praised you repeatedly for your many achievements and your perfect grades? What if you could tell that your parents needed you to be smart? That they felt better about themselves because you were so capable?

What if, when you arrived at elementary school, the work was too easy? You knew it before you were taught it. You learned things without really trying. What if you could get perfect scores on tests without studying and your scores were held up as an example for your fellow students?

What if you were told that you had great potential? That, of course, you would live up to this potential by doing something amazing.

Do you think that you might grow up terrified of failure? Afraid to disappoint others? Hiding mistakes? Paralyzed by anxiety? Believing that if you aren’t a super-achiever or the best at everything that you’re a failure? Thinking that all learning must be quick and easy, or else it means that you’re not smart? You’re an impostor? A fake?

Do you think that you might grow up thinking that you should know everything before you learn it so that practicing or studying or effort feels boring or scary or unfamiliar? That you have to be mature and adult-like at all times? That you can’t tell anyone that you don’t know something because you have to know everything?

Well, my dears, this may be the root of your perfectionism. The unhealthy variety. (There is a healthy perfectionism, too.) This may be the root of your possibly unconscious belief that you have to be super-smart at all times or you’re worthless and unlovable.

By the way, parents, relatives and educators aren’t conspiring against you. They don’t realize the effects of their reactions.

Understanding this root is the first step in changing its effects.

But this is not easy to change, especially if you’ve been living with these beliefs for a long time.

Know this: You are more than your grades, your achievements, your intellectual abilities. So much more. You are worthy of love, whether you write the perfect essay, win the competition, enter the elite school, get the high-paying job, make the right decision, invent the iPhone, or if you don’t achieve these things.

Somewhere deep inside yourself, you know your worth. You know who you really are. So, here’s an idea:

Imagine that there’s a place in you that isn’t about achievement or accolades or winning or losing. This place is just about Love. Just Love. It’s radiant and joyful. Maybe it’s a very young child part of you. Maybe it’s an old wise part. Maybe it’s in your heart. Maybe it’s in your gut. But trust me, it’s there, waiting for you to take notice.

In a journal or in your mind, write to or picture this part of yourself. Take your time. You may be skeptical. You may need to meditate first or sit by your favorite tree. Write a letter to this Radiance. Ask it to show itself to you. Ask it for help. Then write or hear its response. It might come quickly or you might need to wait for a while. Start a relationship.

I’m betting that finding the Love will soften you up. It’ll remind you of what’s really true.

And of who you really are.

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