Perfectionism will (try to) rule your life. Don’t let it.
If you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t attempt a dream, for fear you’d fail, then today I’m speaking directly to you, my friend. Let’s have a conversation about overcoming perfectionism.
Perfectionism strikes all of us to some degree. It’s part of the creative process, especially for the Highly Sensitive. At its best, it’s a nagging voice that requires energy to talk back to. At its worst, it’s paralyzing and crippling, and actually succeeds at its attempts to keep us mute, repressed, and chronically, heartbreakingly stuck.
This might be the biggest psychological monster I encounter day-to-day in my executive and personal alchemy practice. Coaching others through their extreme perfectionism is something I’m personally committed to, having survived years of suffering through the worst manifestation of it– OCD.
In my late teens and 20’s, feeling out of control after losing my mother to cancer and my father to his own unreachable state of alcoholism, I would clean the kitchen so intensely my hands bled. Once I forced myself to learn every river system across the globe, to self-atone for someone publicly calling out my mispronunciation of the River Thames.
Me and perfectionism go way back.
And I’m here to tell you that it’s a bigger issue than many realize. It’s the reason we often don’t progress in life, and its physical effects have been documented to include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease.
So…we could talk about this for days. And in the future we possibly will, as I’m currently planning an e-program on this very subject, which will include a weekly support, heal, & thrive group by Zoom– led by me.
Today, I’m initiating step one, which is that we are officially putting perfectionism on notice. We’re telling it we’re on to it, we see it, and even if you don’t yet know how to completely overcome it, just this process of shining a light on it will begin the healing process.
For now I want you to understand that we are perfectionists because:
1.) We are trying to avoid pain. (It can be painful to be Highly Sensitive.)
2.) We are trying to fit in. (We’ve been told too often–consciously and subconsciously–that there is something wrong with us for our heightened sensitivity.)
3.) We are desperately trying to maintain a sense of control. (Life can feel so overwhelming for the deeply empathic individual.)
The first three steps for alchemizing and overcoming perfectionism (and there is much gold in it, for certain):
1.) Train yourself to start looking for what is right with you. There are so many reasons to celebrate yourself. Keep a journal every day, if that helps you to see it. Record moments of self-pride, courage, kindness, generosity, purpose and meaning. Start seeing the “perfection” in your inherent being. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone or anything.
2.) Challenge yourself. Give yourself permission to start something badly. One of the most important passages I’ve ever read was from Stephen King’s writing memoir, titled On Writing. In it he said something like (& I’m paraphrasing), “Everyone’s first draft is terrible! Just sit down and write that terrible first draft!” Such freedom. (And yes, the first draft of Stark Raving Zen was worse than terrible.)
3.) Learn the art and science of the reframe. Reframing is training your own brain to see things differently. When we can start to view our “mistakes” as information we can use to grow, that’s when our energy starts to move forward. Perfectionists are way too hard on themselves, which is what sets high-achievers apart from perfectionists. High achievers know that failure and constructive feedback are just data to be mined for their next step. Practice using the sentence starter, “A better way to see this is….” and then allow your healthiest inner voice (we all have one) to fill in the blank.
How can the situation you’re beating yourself up for, teach you to be more resilient? How will the dream you’re ready to allow yourself to explore, positively influence your life, your growth, and your evolution?
Chad rife says
How did you know I was pulverizing myself from some bad computer purchases, and mis management of my time and schedule for jobs 😅
The list goes on…
Thank you for some tools on how to deal with perfectionism!
You are amazing!!
Kristy Sweetland says
Thank you Chad! It’s important to remember that there are gifts to a person’s perfectionistic tendencies too. 🙂 I think the goal is to retain the gifts, and let go of the rest.
Sent this to my teaching team this morning. We really needed to know so much of this right now. I love your writing so much. I’m interested in the Stephen King book you referenced too. Thanks for this! xo
Kristy Sweetland says
Thank you for reading, and passing on the article, Rian! Perfectionism can be such a self-made prison cell. It breaks my heart especially when a person doesn’t yet realize they’re locked into it.
Sign me up for the e-program! I’ve struggled with and coach others on perfectionism for most of my professional career. It’s a multiplier of burnout and anxiety as I either (1) avoid experiences out of fear and (2) set the bar so high that isn’t not achievable. I look forward to your course!
Kristy Sweetland says
Yes, Jeff! I will definitely keep you posted! I have to constantly stay mindful of my own perfectionistic tendencies. Perfectionism can be draining, and exhausting, and downright paralyzing if left unchecked. The good news is that once we shine a light on our patterns, with a little work we can retrain our reflexes and develop new instincts.