I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve put off because I knew, I just knew, that they would not be done right. My attitude was, “If I can’t do it right, then I won’t do it at all.” Or “I’ll wait until I can get it perfect, then I’ll do it.” There is value in those words, don’t get me wrong. Those words imply dedication and determination which are the fuel that propels us to achieve the seemingly impossible. But there is also an implied expectation; the expectation that it must be perfect in every sense before it can be acceptable, even to me. Especially to me.
Perfectionism is a form of control. The wounded, critical part of us believes that if we are perfect (whatever that means to each of us) then people will like us, love us, admire us, approve of us, pay attention to us, or validate us. We dislike rejection or indifference, so we attempt to control how people feel about us by being perfect.
This need to control how people feel about us comes from making others responsible for defining our worth. It is based on the false premise that if someone likes us, then we are worthy, and then we can be happy. But it doesn’t end there. We tend to do this even to ourselves. We try to control our own view of ourselves by being perfect, because – we think – “Only when I’m perfect will I feel worthy of accepting myself.” We hold ourselves to impossible standards, often higher than the standards we use for other people, and when we fail to meet those standards, we belittle ourselves, telling ourselves how unworthy we are.
But let us say that we managed to be perfect for that moment; how much mental and emotional work went into that? Tons of it, isn’t it? We used up so much of our precious energy in our quest for reaching perfection, that when we finally got there we ended up exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally, and the good feelings (if any) are but short lived. Often, our self-criticism propels us to achieve some amazing things, but at the end of it all we can’t even appreciate them because we’re completely drained.
And that’s not all. In addition to causing low self-esteem and exhaustion, the quest for perfection in order to gain approval often leads to procrastination. The fear of failure and disapproval – whether from others or from ourselves – if we are not perfect can be so great that it stops us from taking the action that we need to take. Self-criticism or self-judgement as a way to pushing ourselves to do things “perfectly” often backfires, leading to paralysis-by-analysis instead of creativity and productivity. Often we don’t even try things because we know that if they are not done perfectly we won’t value them anyway.
How do we change?
We must begin by acknowledging our own self-worth. We must stop handing over the authority to define us to every person we come in contact with. We must begin by accepting that there is nothing that we need to do, be or have in order to be worthy; we are worthy just as we are. When we decide to define our own worth instead of handing that responsibility to others, we will stop worrying about what others think and feel about us.
We must also shift from defining our worth based on external qualities such as performance, to defining it based on our internal, intrinsic soul qualities. Why? Because as long as our worth is based on performance, we will worry about results and we will feel insecure losing our self-worth. But when our worth is based on our intrinsic qualities of caring, compassion, goodness, empathy, and joyfulness, then it is separated from our performance and never at risk of being stomped by it.
This will free us to create and produce with freedom and joy, knowing that we can make all the mistakes in the world and still be worthy. Then we will know that we are already “perfect” in our essence, and that there is nothing to prove. Perfection never comes into the picture when our performance is a joyful expression of your intrinsic worth, rather than a form of controlling what others think and feel about us.
When our worth is no longer based on our performance, life becomes so much easier and joyful and less tiring. Instead of feeling immobilized by our addiction to perfection, we are free to express ourselves and let our gifts and talents shine. Expressing ourselves creatively becomes a fun endeavor, and even though fear may still creep up from time to time, it will no longer paralyze us.
Do you have any questions or comments that you would like to share? Please drop me a line in the comment box below, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
To your success!