The Roots of Perfectionism
Though we know what perfectionism is, we may not be aware of what has created it.
Why do perfectionists insist that everything has to be 'just right'?
Behind most perfectionism is an attempt to avoid failure and to stave off criticism: We are afraid of getting things wrong and the consequences that this might bring.
Often, our fear of criticism stems from the younger years; from experiences we passed through where we felt humiliated or inadequate.
Perhaps we were criticised for getting things wrong—and not praised enough when we got things right—and this hurt us, making us feel somehow unsafe.
Soon the subconscious mind adopted its strategy: 'I will make everything perfect, because no one can criticise perfection. Being perfect means being safe.'
Striking a healthier balance between 'being safe' and 'failing to measure up' requires the perfectionist to reflect on why they chose the route of perfectionism in the first place. Who, exactly, are we still attempting to please or placate? What is it that we are still afraid of?
If our behaviour is negatively impacting relationships, we will need to ask: 'What do I truly value most here? How can I release the anxiety, make it easier on myself and those around me, and find greater balance?'
It can be difficult to navigate these psychological waters alone. Therapy sessions might well help to defuse the compulsive perfectionism, healing the anxiety that is at its root. The right kind of therapy can help to liberate us from overly high expectations so we can enjoy a safer, much more relaxed feeling about life.
But not everyone can afford or locate the right kind of therapy. Does this mean that the perfectionist is stuck forever in their fearful ways? Does every perfectionist need therapy?
No. Of course not. But freeing ourselves means recognising that there is an enormous gulf between reaching for excellence and striving for perfection. And it means recognising what we really need.
Our greatest need lies not in seeking to achieve perfection, but in allowing ourselves to relax and still feel safe. Through allowing ourselves to be ourselves—weaknesses, frailties, faults and all—we can ease into a calmer life, one in which we realise that we really are safer than we had imagined or believed.
When we relinquish our vain attempts at being perfect and chasing the illusionary butterfly of perfection, then we can return to our natural state of inner calmness and balance.
We can relax into ourselves and into our life.
Each of us is human. Each of us is already perfect yet imperfect at the same time. Such is the paradox of existence. Only when we release ourselves from the demands of a false perfection can we live as we were meant to live—in a calmer, more meaningful and creative way.
Until next time, stay well and shine!
'Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.'
– Anne Lamott