Do you hold yourself to impossibly high standards? Often we set unreasonably high goals, and when we fail, we find ourselves feeling deep shame. This pattern of behavior goes hand in hand with perfectionism. Because at the heart of perfectionism is fear. Our lofty goals are often a desire to compensate for some self-perceived lack. Anything less than perfection becomes evidence of our inadequacy.
If you find yourself struggling with perfection, you are not alone. Thomas Curran (2017), a social psychologist who studies perfectionism, reports that perfectionism is becoming more pervasive. Curran's research indicates from 1989-2016 socially prescribed perfectionism has been on the rise. Socially prescribed perfectionism occurs when we seek to obtain approval through achieving our social group's standards. When we fail to meet to meet a standard, be it weight, financial or achievement, the underlying fear is that we are inadequate.
It is essential to understand the role of fear in perfectionism. Perfectionists often have the unconscious belief that, if they are not perfect, something terrible will happen. For example, if someone sees our (self-perceived) inadequacy they will not respect us. This concern is so pervasive that we may not even be conscious that it is present. We cannot address that of which we are unaware.
Awareness of our thought patterns starts the process of detaching from them. Labeling our thought process can also help us to identify less with these ideas. We can begin to question the unrealistic expectations that we encounter within ourselves. With time and practice, we can change from a perfectionist to someone who is content in his or her circumstances.
Another helpful tactic is to focus on positive elements of our performance instead of only the negative. Perfectionists are expert in discounting praise. By directing our focus to the positive, we generate positive feelings and retrain the way we process our situation. This re-wiring also primes us to tune into the positive in our experience more frequently.
When we feel inadequate, we long to feel good enough. Basing our self-esteem on our achievements and social comparison erodes our self-esteem. It is far better to adopt a compassionate, loving attitude towards ourselves. To treat ourselves as kindly as we would our dearest friend. This approach puts a sense of control back in our domain and allows us to let go of our need for perfectionism.
"Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016." by Thomas Curran Ph.D., University of Bath, and Andrew Hill, Ph.D., York St. John University. Psychological Bulletin. Published December 28 2017.
Click here to read the complete monthly newsletter.