I have spent a great deal of my life trying to tame the perfectionist that hovers inside me. Admittedly, it has taken over on occasion through out my life and I will be the first to say that it’s not a pretty picture when it does.
When perfection wins out, it seems to me, that I become frustrated, critical and an unhappy person. But I’m not, perfectionism doesn’t define me.
Where some would say being a perfectionist is a good trait to possess, I would have to disagree and here’s why.
In my mind, it is a good thing when you try your best, you set goals and you pay attention to detail. Striving for the best possible outcome but it’s not a good thing when you set your goals too high, so that you cannot obtain them, you fail and then berate yourself over it.
Being a perfection from my perspective meant I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. They would not be tolerated. I would never have a chance to learn from my mistakes because I would walk away rather than do it wrong. I didn’t want to be criticized or laughed at for my shortcomings.
What was it like being a perfectionist after I became a mom? Well, when I needed to make a decision, I would think it over, think it over again and rethink it even more, every single time. Not to mention my to-do list, it was so elaborate that there wasn’t a slight possibility I would complete it. Of course, I would feel like a failure and try to figure out ways do better and get it all done the next day.
The pressure to keep the house to a certain standard was causing me to clean constantly. I am still wondering who made those standards and why we listen. It was a full-time job and it was stressful. Feeling embarrassed if someone popped in and the house didn’t look like it jumped out of the pages of a magasine. Worrying too much about what people would think!
This caused me to be unhappy and I know it was making people around me unhappy too. So much of my time was spent on things that didn’t matter and I was missing out on the things I loved.
The first thing is admitting you have a problem: in order to tame the perfectionist inside, I had to first admit that I had a problem. That was hard for me to do. Remember, women (moms) do believe that how the home and kids look will reflect on her as a person. I still catch myself saying things like “you can’t wear that with wrinkles, people will think I’m too lazy to press it.” Imagine! That is completely not true, there’s nobody out there going to point at my kid’s clothes saying any such thing.
Then you have to change your perfectionist thinking: adults who suffer from perfectionism tend to be very hard on themselves. They see things in a different light than the rest of the world (remember me thinking everyone was going to think I was a bad mom for the few wrinkles in my son’s shirt). Replacing the self-critical or perfectionist thoughts with more realistic and positive statements is very effective. A few of the phrases I would keep telling myself:
- all you can do is your best
- nobody is perfect
- it’s ok to have a bad day, everyone does
- it’s ok if someone doesn’t like me, no one is liked by everyone
I would keep repeating a positive statement until I would crowd out any negative thoughts rolling around inside my head.
How to changing perfectionist behaviour: suffering with perfectionism is a lot like having a phobia. A fear of making mistakes or being imperfect. The best way to overcome a phobia is to gradually introduce what you fear into your life. It’s tough to do this exercise but I did it, little by little, and soon I noticed that I wasn’t always worrying about being perfect. A few of the exercises I practiced:
- leave a room that is visible a little messy – this was really hard to do at first but I am ok with a few toys, pillows not perfectly placed or a throw not folded up after the kids use it.
- try a new restaurant, without researching it – my first reaction is to google the restaurant and read the reviews because I fear it won’t be clean enough or the food won’t be good. I am still working on this one, but I have eaten in a place without googling it!
- give your two cents in a conversation – learning it’s ok to have a different opinion than someone else. I’m ok with this one now, I won’t start a huge arguement, but I will say what I feel is truth to me.
Lowering your standards doesn’t mean having no standards, it means having realistic standards. I love this statement. Words to live by.
Letting go of my perfectionism has been very freeing. I have to say I am so much happier now that I have replaced my perfectionism battle with habits of a realistic person.
Check out this great read, Present Perfect, if you’d like to read about a mindful approach to letting go of perfectionism and the need for control.
Does this sound like you? A little maybe or a lot. I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.