Being a perfectionist is sometimes regarded as a positive quality. However, it can make you anxious, resentful and depressed
If you are a perfectionist it may come from a place of feeling ‘not good enough’. We attempt to be perfect in all that we do in order to be accepted and to please others.
Our society encourages us to be kind, compassionate and to take care of others. It encourages us to work hard, not to be ‘lazy’ or ‘selfish’. As a result, we come to think of certain aspects of ourselves as ‘wrong’.
We can pick up these ideas of what things are ‘right’ and what are ‘wrong’ from our family peer group education system, religious group and society at large. We internalise these ideas at an early age and then accept them, sometimes without ever questioning their validity, truth and helpfulness. It’s time to question those ideas!
Accepting these ideas can lead us to push our own needs and desires deep down and attempt to ignore them. We think of them as darker aspects of our natures, as something dangerous or wrong that must be suppressed. But of course, we can only deny our own needs for so long. Eventually, this denial of our own selves leads to resentment, anxiety and depression.
In fact, many of the things we try to suppress aren’t dark or dangerous, they aren’t even selfish or demanding. They are simply natural and normal feelings. But we continue to try to bury them as a result of our need to be good enough and our desire to be perfect.
Examples of aspects of ourselves do we often bury in order to achieve perfection?
- Putting our own needs first (selfishness)
- Asking for what we want (being demanding)
- Speaking our truth (upsetting others, appearing arrogant)
- Slowing down and being less busy (fear of being seen as lazy)
How do we get over being a perfectionist?
It can be really difficult to let go of being a perfectionist because we fear how others will react and ultimately worry that we will not be ‘good enough’.
If we toe the line and do what people expect we can avoid friction, criticism and rejection. However, the downside is that we could end up getting to the end of our life having lived it entirely for others. We risk never achieving our own potential and realising our own dreams.
Even when we try to address our needs and desires we sometimes don’t know how to begin. We have been stuffing our own needs down for so long and so deeply, we can no longer find them! Excavating them can seem impossible – and scary.
However, the choice to overcome our perfectionist tendencies, to stop people pleasing and achieve our full potential is well worth making. It can lead to fuller, happier more joyful lives. Quitting full-time people pleasing can lead to us achieving our most important goals. It can end the cycle of exhaustion, frustration and resentment and offer instead peace and harmony.
So, if you are ready to start living life on your terms but don’t really know what your ideal life even looks like, try these thought experiments.
Thought experiments to find your dreams and desires
Send everyone you know on an imaginary cruise
Imagine for a moment that everyone in your life was being taken care of. Perhaps they are all on a luxury cruise in the Caribbean. Their every need is being catered to, from food to nursing to entertainment. For a while, they are all fine and you can have a week or two to do whatever you want. What would you choose to do?
This thought experiment can break through the sense of guilt and duty that often gets in the way of us leading our fullest lives. Of course, it’s not going to solve all your problems, but it can give you a clue as to what is really important in your life. Then you can start to take small steps to make your dreams a reality.
Imagine yourself as someone else
Imagine you could live the life of someone else for a week. You can choose any life you want from a pop star to a politician. What life would you choose? Now, how can you bring some aspects of that person’s life into your own in small ways? If you dream of being the next Stephen King, perhaps you could sign up for an online writing course. If you dream of being a world traveller then can you plan a trip, however small, and enjoy being somewhere new for a few hours?
Map out your memoir.
Finally, map out the memoir you would like to be able to write as you reach old age. Write the key events and experiences that you would love to be able to include. Detail the goals you would achieve. Perhaps you dream of building a business, climbing Kilimanjaro, having four children or living as an artist or environmentalist. Sketch out as many details as you can to bring this memoir to life. Now start to work out how you can begin to achieve one of these dreams step by step, one day at a time.
These thought experiments can help you to break through your ‘shoulds’ and your sense of duty to others. They can help you see when being a perfectionist is not actually serving you. They can also allow you to access your subconscious and help you get in touch with your deeper desires.
Bringing your desires and dreams into existence
Of course, you still have to do the hard work of bringing your desires and dreams into existence. This can involve confronting your limiting beliefs, overcoming your need to please others, and perhaps even facing criticism and rejection.
But at least with a clue to what you truly desire in mind, you can begin that off-road journey to freedom rather than staying on the tracks of convention
As Rod Judkins says in The Art of Creative Thinking
‘Would you rather have a blank canvas and a tidy flat, or a full canvas and a messy flat’
What is your blank canvas and – what is the tidy flat that is getting in the way?