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What is perfectionism?
Short answer: paralysis.
Whether it’s visible or not on the outside, perfectionism often looks like chaos and disorder. It’s the exact opposite of what we strive to achieve.
Perfectionism shows up in my life as an immobilizing fear of failure. It looks a lot like depression because it is so closely linked. Most of the time, it’s hard to know where perfectionism ends and depression, anxiety, and other issues begin. Left unchecked, it’s truly crippling and steals all joy out of work, play, parenting, and relationships.
We demand perfection from others, sometimes. In my world, everything that somebody else says has to be solidly backed up by their previous statements, and everything they do has to match their moral code. There is little to no room for error in my brain. Although I can override this default, it takes work.
Side note: I’m an INTP personality. This little tidbit about INTPs reminds me of how perfectionism shows up in my relationships:
Logicians are known for their brilliant theories and unrelenting logic – in fact, they are considered the most logically precise of all the personality types.
They love patterns, and spotting discrepancies between statements could almost be described as a hobby, making it a bad idea to lie to a Logician. (source)
That little trait – my ridiculous need to point out every tiny discrepancy – is the exact opposite of nurturing a healthy, respectful relationship. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t really know if this is perfectionism or logic or whatever it is, but for me it feels like an outward expression of my own inner critic.
Imagine if somebody made sure that everything else you said matched up all the time. For the love of everything, don’t you dare leave out the fact that you stopped at the post office before you went to the grocery store, and then mention the post office stop a few days later. Why didn’t you mention the post office in the first place? Did you really go to the post office at all? What are you hiding?
Welcome to the inside of my head. It’s a mess sometimes. I’m not even sure if that particularly quality is related to perfectionism or some other neurosis, but there it is.
Perfectionism tells us that if we are a disappointment, or “less-than” in any way, we shouldn’t even try. Overwhelm happens easily if I’m not careful, because All The Expectations are crushing. No matter how many times somebody tries to tell me that I don’t have to do all the things, my brain says otherwise.
It’s a daily battle, and I’m no expert, but there are some things I do that make it a little more bearable. Sometimes, these tips even help me completely let go of it for a time.
4 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism Paralysis
1. Brain dumping.
This is one of my favorite ways to get everything out of my head. I have an online journal that only a few friends can read, and sometimes I just let ‘er rip, no edits or cares. Other times, I journal privately. Writing and blogging is obviously very cathartic for me, but writing for the public is an entirely different beast. Blogging and brain dumping are not the same thing.
Privately, I write out every single thing I’m stressed about, everything I have to get done, and then end it with a gratitude list (or at least something positive).
2. Try something new that you can mess up.
Sometimes it helps to mess something up, to remind yourself that the world won’t end. I like to try new recipes, with a backup frozen pizza just in case. If it doesn’t affect your income or your safety, go for it! Paint a crappy painting, draw weird stick figures, build a small bookshelf, create your own website, just go for it.
3. Get some sleep.
Have you ever seen a child completely melt down because their candy wrapper didn’t unwrap properly, or you didn’t cut their sandwich properly? Of course, kids don’t need to be tired in order to be dramatic little tyrants at times, but sometimes even Super Smart adults can react like a toddler when we need a nap.
It’s not really a fix for deep-seated perfectionism, but proper sleep makes everything just a little easier.
4. List out what you are good at, or ask a friend to help you make a list.
It’s so easy to forget that while we screw up plenty, we also do a lot of things right. It isn’t the end of the world to mess up or flat-out fail.
I once asked a friend to tell me what she saw as my strengths because I’m not very good at listing them out. I was trying to come up with a list of potential business names and thought that maybe if I knew my strengths, I could work those into the name. We worked together for a few years, so I trusted her input on this particular issue.
This was her response:
“I think you have good business sense and understand the wants and needs of your clientele. You like strategizing and brainstorming ways to be more efficient. You’re good at separating business from personal (something a client might need help with). You’re intelligent and forthcoming, honest, easy to work with. And you don’t really put up with bullshit. You’re detailed and careful with your content and tend to view problems from all perspectives before making decisions. Creative, too.”
I don’t post this to pat myself on the back. I’m posting this because I didn’t know most of this about myself, and it changed my entire business strategy (plus it boosted my ego a bit in a good way, not gonna lie). Professionally and personally, this can be a major boost to setting aside perfectionism and pressing forward with your goals.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
― Brené Brown
The irony of this post is that it has been sitting in my drafts for a few weeks. I’ve been staring at this, rewording it, adding and removing things, trying to make it to a certain word count before it can be an acceptable post (in my head). Why? I have no idea. I mean, I know about SEO and the benefits of longer posts and all of that, but sometimes there’s just not much else to say.
So, screw it. Time to take my own advice, hit publish, and move on.
Related reading: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect. Be Present.
Previous post: Never Good Enough: The Futility of Striving to Meet Others’ Expectations
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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