“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” – Anne Wilson Schaef
Are you the queen of perfectionism?
People could hardly stand to be around me. I was unbearable. Everything had to be done the way I did it, or it wasn’t done correctly.
But if you’re pitying the person on the receiving end of my perfectionism, know that I was harder on myself than anyone else. Everything had to be perfect, so I could never be satisfied with anything I did. Because, let’s face it, there’s no such thing as perfection.
As perfectionism took its toll on my health and well-being, I realized I needed to be okay with “good enough.” So I began to catch myself whenever I was being a perfectionist (which was almost all the time). I would stop what I was doing and say, “It’s okay if it’s good enough.”
At first I would find myself clenching my teeth while I declared, “Okay, it’s good enough! I’m done.” I would make myself move on, even when it was very challenging. But over time I relaxed and stopped clenching my teeth.
Still, there was a catch.
After many years of “good enough”, I had gotten pretty good at catching any perfectionistic tendencies before they caused trouble. And then, I started dating my now-husband, Dean. He began to visit me in South Florida from his home in New York State. Maybe you can guess what happened!
From what I recall, it started with the dishwasher. Well, it’s my dishwasher so, of course, I would know the only right way to arrange the dishes in it. And my husband is a wonderful man, so he would load the dishwasher for me.
One day I opened the dishwasher to put something in. To my horror, it was in complete disarray. Things that should have been in the bottom rack were on the top, and vice versa. The big plates were blocking the water access, and… well, I could go on and on.
I hustled into the living room and said to Dean, “Can you come into the kitchen so I can show you how to load the dishwasher.” He just looked at me kind of amused. “Honey, I know how to load a dishwasher,” he said. To which I responded, “I believe that you know how to load your dishwasher, but this is my dishwasher, and I need to show you a few things.”
When he said calmly, “You know, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” that was when it hit me that my perfectionism had reared its ugly head. I paused for a moment. Then I laughed. “Okay!” I said, “Then can I show you how it can be good enough?”
We had a good laugh over that.
Luckily, in this situation, we were both able to have a sense of humor, so it actually brought us closer together instead of driving us apart.
Yet you probably know that the long-term results of rampant perfectionism aren’t nearly so benign.
The impact of perfectionism is that you are never satisfied. Your energy is drained; you feel overwhelmed, like you’ll never catch up; you’re forgetful and have a hard time focusing; you have difficulty sleeping; and you lose your sense of enjoyment in life.
As well, some of the largest costs associated with perfectionism may be in terms of poor health. A longitudinal study following a sample of Canadians over 6.5 years showed that perfectionism predicted earlier mortality! This finding held even after controlling for other health risk factors such as pessimism and low conscientiousness.
Yes, perfectionism can cause you to die sooner than you would if you let go of it.
But for most of us, unrelenting perfectionism can be a recipe for chronic stress – a major contributor to burnout.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on beneath the veneer of perfectionism.
Underlying perfectionism is the fear that you’re not lovable if you make a mistake.
You feel that you won’t be or can’t be loved if you’re not perfect.
Most of us developed this belief early in our childhood; long before we were ever conscious of it. By the time you’re an adult, perfectionism is deeply etched into your being and taking a toll on your health and happiness.
You may not be satisfied with anything you do, convinced that no matter how hard you try it just won’t be good enough. You may also fear that someone will agree with you. The irony is that you will find whatever you’re looking for. So if you look for imperfections and believe they’re there, you’re going to find them.
Maybe you fear making a mistake. And when you do (because we’re human and we all make mistakes), you’re convinced you’re unlovable. You tell yourself you’re dumb; a fool; an idiot – leading you to feel even more unworthy of love, which causes you to stop caring for yourself. And so you drive your self-worth into the ground in a spiral of self-loathing.
Can you see how insidious this belief is?
Now let’s take a look at the remedy.
Since Wikipedia defines perfectionism as “strain[ing] compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measur[ing] … self-worth by productivity and accomplishment,” you can see how you unwittingly tank your feeling of self-worth when you don’t measure up.
And lack of self-worth means you’re not loving yourself. You can’t love what you don’t value.
Thus, the remedy to perfectionism and its accompanying feeling of being unlovable is surprisingly simple, yet powerful:
Love and care for yourself no matter what.
Here are examples of what I mean:
Here’s a powerful affirmation that’s appropriate to perfectionism:
“I give up being perfect for being authentic. All parts of me are lovable, and it’s safe to share them. Authenticity is the key to genuine connection with myself and others.”
Through the years, I’ve coached many clients who were perfectionists. By focusing on self-love and self-care, they’ve been able to release the need to be perfect and the seriousness of purpose that accompanies it. This has allowed them to embrace fun, joy, and authenticity more often and with greater ease.
I’ve put together a list of 23 of My Favorite Self-Care Activities That Take Less Than 15 Minutes for you to refer to as you focus on self-love and self-care. Sign up here to receive this gift right away!
You know perfectionism can wreck your health, put you into full-blown burnout, and rob you of the joy that’s your birthright.
It’s time to let it go. For your sake, as well as for the sake of people who love you and care about you.
As well, trust me when I say that people actually find you more lovable when you screw things up! When you’re authentically imperfect, you invoke your humanity. Others like to see that you too are human, because, let’s face it, it’s hard to be around a perfect person all the time.
I understand that letting go of your perfectionism may seem daunting. But I also know when you make a conscious commitment to yourself, your life will dramatically improve.
If you desire to be supported by me in your letting go, I encourage you to join my free From Burnout to Balance 7-Day Self-Love Challenge.
During these 7 days, we’ll look at what’s really going on beneath the signs of burnout. I’ll give you simple strategies for how to turn things around so you can get on the path towards balance and enjoying your life again..
If you’re ready to break out of the burnout cycle and desire to be…