My Story as a Recovering Perfectionist
Updated: Jun 6
Perfectionist sounds fussy, I honestly did not classify myself as a perfectionist UNTIL I went to therapy. It was there I discovered that the critical voice in my head driving me towards continuous improvement was actually perfectionism.
SPOILER ALERT- perfection is not attainable. You will journey towards it without ever reaching it for as long as you pursue it. That voice is like drug addiction. It will never be truly satiated.
What is perfectionism? You might also not identify as a perfectionist, and to those people I would ask one simple question:
Which of these does your inner voice sound like more often?
Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Encounter people who don't like what you're about or what you have to say but realize you can't please everyone. Look at failure as a natural occurrence and an opportunity to learn and do better next time. Hear praise and criticism and focus more on the praise.
Always look for ways you could do things better. Desire to make as many people as possible around you happy and pleased with you. Berate yourself for not getting something right. Hear praise and criticism and focus more on the criticism.
If you answered yes to any part of # 2 you are striving for some form of perfectionism.
Even when I could recognize I was a perfectionist I failed to see the problem with that. This voice had driven me to get excellent grades in school, find well paying and challenging jobs, and to be an all around high performing individual.
I’ll be honest the idea of getting rid of that voice in my head that was driving me was a tough sell.
It wasn't until I really looked at the internal dialogue, and the stress I was continuously feeling that I realized it was in fact a problem. I would also find myself dwelling on those times when I could have done better far past what was productive. This was wasted time and energy and it was telling myself a story that simply wasn’t true.
I wasn't thriving, I was struggling. I also came to realize that I could achieve the same levels of success without that internal voice driving me so hard.
The secret? I needed to shift from thinking in extremes of being completely successful or a complete failure to more sustainable middle ground thinking. Changing internal dialogue is no child’s play but it's very much worth the effort. Some things I did to help on this journey:
ENGAGE YOUR HIGHER REASONING BRAIN
When I was frustrated because I wasn’t catching on to something quickly enough I examined the reason behind that frustration. I was expecting to hear a complex idea or tackle a complex program and immediately be good at it.
Was that reasonable? Of course not. It was more reasonable that I would have a learning curve and increase my knowledge a bit more each time I used it/practiced it. I was normal, not a big dumb idiot who would never get the hang of it. Each time I would become frustrated again I would remind myself of this and look at how far I had come. I was making progress and deserved congratulations for that. I would also look at other things I struggled with at first but came to be really good at.
QUIET YOUR PEOPLE PLEASING VOICE
When it came to breaking my people pleasing I REALLY struggled. Like most people I like to be liked. The biggest thing that convinced me the effort was worth it to get past needing to please people was to recognize that when I was trying to make everyone else happy or even just comfortable- I strayed very far from who I really was. I was finding myself saying things I would never normally say because I knew they would comfort or please someone else. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. In contrast, when I did stand my ground, or stand up for myself and risked alienating someone but walked away standing a bit taller, and feeling in my gut that I did the right thing.
AFIRM YOURSELF & CELEBRATE THE VICTORIES
I realized I needed to not just recognize the positive but truly celebrate it and store away those affirmations for times when I was experiencing self doubt. I started a daily journal where I could write down things I was proud of. It was a place where I could maintain a sense of humility, but congratulate myself for a job well done. I noted the kind and positive things people said about me. The times they recognized that I worked hard or did a good job, or when I met a new person who really responded positively to me. That was my fuel to be able to look at during the times when someone criticized me, or when I experienced self doubt.
The truth is I have come nowhere near to kicking the addition to perfectionism, but I'm in recovery. Striving to remember the reasons it is worth fighting, celebrating the victories, and realizing the failures are just part of the journey.
What aspects of perfectionism do you struggle with most and what are the tactics you use to help combat them?