What gets in the way of having a strong sense value? What can have us feel like we see-saw through life?
One of my clients, Gareth, his father left home when he was 11. Ever since, he’s unconsciously asked himself what was so wrong with him that caused his father to leave. From that question came the belief that he must be bad, and from there he developed a need to be strong and in control in every area of life to avoid his pain.
John’s dad was an angry, tyrannical man, and feared at home. John desperately wanted to be his dad’s favourite son, to be the best. He could not allow himself to make mistakes.
Both these clients had different emotional fears, they had the same habit: perfectionism. Underneath, they were afraid of not being good enough. And, when life didn’t go according to plan, they would see-saw.
The perfectionist goads us to do better. It says you should work harder, do better and have everything under control. It tells us not to get complacent. It is the hard-driving part of us that wants us to be the best, which is intolerant of mistakes and convinces us that our worth is based on externals – money, status, achievement, being loved or accepted, needed or pleasing to others.
Some people think that if they are hard on themselves, it will motivate them to do better. My experience is that shaming ourself makes us feel more ashamed. And the ultimate cost of perfectionism is stress, exhaustion and burnout.
Perfectionism has no notion of inherent self-worth. If we are perfectionists, we can never connect with others in a meaningful way. Any connection is not based on the truth of who we are – humans with strengths and weaknesses, humans who are vulnerable from time to time, humans who don’t need to do everything alone.
So, how to deal with perfectionism? First, be aware of it. Listen to yourself. How often do you say “I should”, “I have to”, “I must”? What is your unspoken expectation or belief? How does this language indicate that you are limiting your choice? Is it empowering, or, just the opposite? You can change it, and allow yourself to make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.
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