Perfectionism is something I didn’t even know you could be struggling with until about 3 years ago. I was serving a religious mission in Tahiti and realized that if I tried to do everything perfect I was going to have a mental break down. Imagine trying to speak a language you don’t know without making any mistakes. Yeah, I didn’t talk much for a while. The fear of making a mistake was paralyzing and I had a long way to go if I was ever going to be able to accept even the possibility of mistakes and failure in my lifetime. According to Brené Brown “perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Does that make sense? Have you ever had a thought like that? I have.” If I speak French perfectly then no Tahitian will make fun of me or think I’m stupid.” “If I turn in only perfect homework then my teachers will make less marks and give less negative feed back.” “If I don’t ever commit any “big” sins then people at church won’t judge me”. The thoughts of a perfectionist are flawed and crippling. I couldn’t learn French because I was too afraid to feel shame if someone laughed at the way I talked. When I finally accepted that it was okay for me to pronounce a few words wrong and have improper grammar I began to speak their language and guess what, no one made fun of me. When I didn’t do my homework until the last minute because I had so much anxiety about making it perfect, it was never perfect and teachers still told me how I could improve. Sometimes I was so terrified about the comments a teacher would leave on a paper that I wouldn’t even read them. It was like I couldn’t handle the criticism because any feedback on how to be better meant that I wasn’t good enough. You see? Even with a simple thing like an english essay, it can’t be hey you did your best and this is what you can work on for next time. NO. As a perfectionist you hear “hey your paper wasn’t good enough and you’re not good enough so good luck next time.” It’s toxic.
How can you grow or improve in any area of your life with that kind of thinking? Oh and the never commit any huge sins to not be judged at church thing, doesn’t work either. No matter who you are or what you’re doing whether it’s at church or not, people will judge you. They’ll judge you for the choices you make and the pieces of your story they don’t understand but that’s okay, if you aren’t a perfectionist. If you are a perfectionist and someone judges you and you find out then your life is over and you’ll spend the next week thinking about it every single night until you lose sleep.
So if you’re reading this and can relate, you gotta stop. You have to stop beating yourself up every time you make a mistake or say the wrong thing. Stop obsessing about things you thought you didn’t do perfectly. Quit avoiding homework or conversations because you want to do something perfect or appear perfect. Life is not about proving to the world that you’re perfect so that you can feel worthy of love and acceptance. You’re worthy of love and acceptance even if you make mistakes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Life is about learning and growing. It’s not about performing for worthiness or working for acceptance.
It’s easier said than done but the biggest thing that combats perfectionism is self love and self compassion. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Be gentle with yourself when you make a mistake, pretend you are trying to console a little kid instead of telling yourself you’re the world’s biggest idiot or most awkward human on the planet. I would read, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown and “Self Compassion” by Kristin Neff. I read The Gifts of Imperfection in a day. It’s short, easy to read, and I freaking couldn’t get enough of it. That book was just the start to quieting my inner critic. I haven’t read Self Compassion yet but I bought it because Brene Brown recommends it in her book “Daring Greatly” and I can’t wait to read it! I’m excited to learn from Dr. Neff. Anyways, recovering from perfectionism takes time and it’s not easy. You’re literally changing the way you’ve thought about yourself and everything you do, even though you’ve been thinking that way your whole life. You can do it though, I believe in you. 🙂