In my practice, I recently helped two different coaching clients (both women) identify with the fact that their preference for perfectionism has been causing them much undue stress. It was incredibly rewarding to be a part of this big “ah-hah” moment and to help them process it.
Upon reflection, I recalled I’ve long since forgotten about my own struggle with this debilitating disease. Yes, I called it, “a disease”. Of course that’s not in the medical sense of the word mind you, but a disease in that it can be a life-sucking plague on your self-confidence.
There was a time when I held myself accountable to extremely high standards and was proud of it. An American Gen-Xer, I was over-zealously taught if you strive you can achieve. Ironically, it was a coach that helped me see that this path could only lead to self-destruction before she went on to equip me with what I needed to do to move past it. I only wish I still knew her to thank her for this gift!
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying to be our best. But there must also be a healthy dose of reality about what’s possible mixed into that approach. You see, the problem with perfectionism is that it likes to lay its eggs in our heads making us first believe that we can pretty much do anything we set out to do. And we even start believing it too.
Instead of thinking about perfectionism in a positive light, we need to try to undo what we were taught by our well-meaning mothers and instead recognize perfectionism as the soul-eating amoeba it truly is.
Since we can’t possibly live up to the standards we’ve set for ourselves, we inevitably fall short. Maybe not right away, but therein lies the trap. If we catch ourselves falling short, we may even default to image maintenance (doing our best to perform and/or pretend like we have our act together). That’s just plain exhausting!
When we do fall short, we might either procrastinate and lose self-confidence or beat ourselves up by telling ourselves to “try harder next time!”, because that’s the illusion we bought into in the first place. Does this pattern sound familiar?
Instead of producing fruit (like giving ourselves an atta-girl for even trying something), this mad and vicious cycle has us competing with our own selves leaving us feeling “less than” and sometimes even spiraling further downward into depression. In essence, the side-effects of perfectionism come out sideways.
Let’s be real. Everyone else is fully aware we’re not perfect – just ask my husband! The sooner we let go of this unhealthy cycle of behavior which once felt like some kind of path toward success, the sooner we will be on a real path for success where we’re free to make a mistake, learn from it, adjust and move on leaving any feelings of inadequacy behind. Now THAT’s the true meaning of freedom!
If you’re wondering whether you’re too hard on yourself, here are a few tips...
- Ask someone you trust if they see any of these signs/behaviors in you and over time, try to work toward addressing them.
- Empower yourself by working with a life coach to help you see and overcome perfectionism for yourself.
- Most importantly, you must learn to give yourself a break by realizing you might be your own worst enemy. This process takes time to un-do!
Let’s celebrate the light you are to the world today! And remember to embrace your beautiful imperfection because the truth is, you have already been made perfect in God’s eyes through the work of Jesus. Can I hear an, Amen!?!
Elizabeth “Eli” Mansfield
Principal Coach, Consultant and Trainer
Strengths Finder 2.0: Woo } Activator } Strategic } Ideation } Communication