Are You a Perfectionist? 4 Tips to Help You Find Peace
I am a perfectionist.
I see it in my everyday activities. I see it in my work and in my role as a mom. On most days, I can recognize when my perfectionism comes out and I can gently put it in check. I do this by reminding myself that I am human, and that perfect isn’t real. I remind myself that I am the only one having such high expectations for myself.
My perfectionism shows itself usually when I am being triggered and in fear. When I am deep in emotion, it becomes harder for me to recognize that I am relying on perfectionism, a coping mechanism that pushes me to do better, be better and work harder. My head tells me that if I achieve certain things, I will be safe and loved and that I will feel okay in my skin. But guess what? This is simply not true.
Are you a perfectionist, too?
The contradiction of perfectionism is that perfectionists think that being perfect makes us more successful and happier. But, highly successful people aren’t perfectionists and anxiety doesn’t get in their way.
Happy people take note of their successes and celebrate them, as opposed to a perfectionist reaching a goal and (instead of celebrating it) moving straight on to the next goal. Perfectionism robs us of all the things we think it will bring us — just like an eating disorder.
Perfectionism linked with eating disorders and destructive behavior
Personality traits are one of the factors that can make us susceptible to an eating disorder. One of the traits that is commonly linked to eating disorders is perfectionism. Long after recovery, perfectionism can remain with us for life. Sometimes, when we don’t even expect it, it hijacks us.
Studies indicate that perfectionism is destructive and can be associated with the following:
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Self-harm, depression, hopelessness and suicide
- Anxiety, shame and guilt
But, you can change perfectionism!
Even though perfectionism can still be a struggle for me, I have found a number of strategies to deal with perfectionism in my own life, especially when I am triggered by negative emotions and need to reclaim my right to just be me. I’d like to share four of those tips with you today:
Tip 1: Get curious about your feelings.
One feeling that comes up for me on occasion is the feeling that I am not doing “enough.” When this feeling comes up, I stop and ask myself a few questions:
- Am I pursuing something because I feel obligated to?
- Am I doing this to be validated by someone?
- Is what I am chasing bringing me true joy?
Dreams, goals, and passions are so lovely to have, but if they are created out of the need to be perfect or seemingly accepted by others, we must be brave and reevaluate them.
Tip 2: Do things simply for the sake of doing them.
Doing things purely because we like doing them can be a difficult concept for those of us who are driven by the need to be perfect. We often feel the need to be “doing” something; simply being or allowing ourselves to experience life feels foreign.
We must challenge this notion and force ourselves to experience something other than working on being better than we are.
Here’s an example: I love writing. I have been writing to work through emotions and express myself since I was 14. I write a lot, but I am not always good at it. I was in the middle of writing my third book when I realized that it felt difficult and that I had little passion for it. I had a moment where I realized that the way I was writing the book did not feel true to me, but I still believed that I had to write the book — to feel like I was important.
It truly doesn’t matter if I decide to write another book or not, but here’s what matters: what matters is that I don’t give up writing. I write because it is a source of joy that feeds my soul. I write for the sake of writing — for the sake of joy, and that’s enough. I now realize that I don’t have to be a perfect writer.
Tip 3: Embrace the gifts and talents of others.
I have some favorite authors who I love. I like to go to their websites for inspiration. Unfortunately, when I am feeling crappy, I have gone to their sites to compare their brilliance to my failures. For perfectionists, we often feel like we are not gifted at something if we are not as good as the best person in that field. It's heartbreaking and punishing to our self-esteem, and robs us of receiving the gifts that others have to offer us.
If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and feeling down, give it up now. It’s self-abuse. Be gentle on yourself.
Tip 4: Call perfectionism what it is
Liberate yourself by putting your perfectionism in check. You don't have to be good at everything and you don’t have to please everyone.
Just realizing that perfectionism was a big part of my eating disorder, and that it still remains with me today, helps me to manage it better so that I can continue to do well in recovery. You can do it too! Just like in recovery, we don’t listen to ED, we also don’t have to listen to the insistence of having to be perfect.
Join me in talking about perfectionism, letting go of what people think about us, and please, please stop doing things that don’t bring you joy. Start living! I will be right here next to you, practicing being perfectly imperfect, too. We’ve got this.
Robyn Cruze, MA is a National Recovery Advocate and the online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.