by Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia
I’m not going to lie; managing your perfectionism is not going to be easy. It is not easy to be ‘good enough’ in a world where we only see curated and filtered versions of people’s lives and appearances. But that’s not all. Why would we decide to let something go if it serves us? Was it not perfectionism that got us where we are? Do we feel as if that need for perfection made us put in those extra hours? Those very high expectations and standards of ourselves and others that got us into the college or the job of our dreams? Why let them go?
Yes, the attitude did get you to those places. But like all other anxiety management systems, perfectionism only works for so long, and it only gets us so far. At some point, the costs outweigh the benefits.
Think about the following scenarios:
Was it worth not launching your business for the last few years because you could not get the first rendition of your project to be perfect? How many people launched the ‘right’ product the first time?
Was it worth reading the email for the twelfth time to find that one typo? What could you have done with that time instead?
Was it worth giving up time to hang out with your friends because you were so focused on looking just right? How would that memory be different if you looked half as good but laughed twice as much?
Was it worth making sure that the dinner table and the food looked and tasted perfect for the party, but everyone who helped you was miserable? Isn’t love, laughter, positive energy, and deep connection the secret sauce to any great gathering?
Was it worth having the perfect presentation if your team is demoralized and turnover is high? Perfection cannot co-exist with inspiration, encouragement, innovation, risk-taking – that requires a deep acceptance from the leader (or parent).
If you peel away the layers of perfectionism – underneath it, you will find a person who is making every effort to feel in control
Why am I struggling with perfectionism?
If you peel away the layers of perfectionism – underneath it, you will find a person who is making every effort to feel in control. They likely developed perfectionism as an anxiety-management technique.
As a child, perfectionists are extremely sensitive to criticism. They feel insecure about the love, recognition or validation they received from their caregivers – and they learned that in order to belong, survive or have a place at the table – one has to ‘be perfect.’
Maybe it’s because their other siblings were good at sports or better looking—they learned to behave perfectly or get perfect grades. They feel as though those achievements made them feel as they belong in the family. Or maybe they grew up in a household where parents fought a lot, or they had a sibling who caused a lot of conflict – the perfectionist learned to be ‘the perfect child’ who never gives any trouble so that they are the ‘good one’ in the family.
As a child, perfectionists are extremely sensitive to criticism
Perfectionists learned early on that being seen as inadequate or getting disapproval from others threatens their identity and belonging within the family. So they learn to go to great lengths to manage the anxiety that comes with experiencing difficult emotions that arise from discontent or criticism from others.
Here are some things to do to be good enough and manage your perfectionism:
- Make a list of the pros/cons of trying to be perfect.
- Give yourself a deadline to complete the project. Done or not, you will deem it done, turn it in, launch it, or publish it on that date.
- Do small experiments with doing a ‘good enough job.’
- Observe how you are when you are imperfect – was it that bad?
- Evaluate your standards by comparing them to others. Do others get fired if they do a good enough job? Are their kids happy and well-rounded if they don’t eat home-cooked meals every day?
- What would be the cost/benefit of relaxing or ignoring a particular standard?
Challenging yourself to do your personal best is different from getting it perfect.
Was it worth reading the email for the twelfth time to find that one typo?
Have high expectations of yourself, work hard, give it your all, but don’t compromise your joy, peace of mind, excitement, inspiration, zest… and above all, do not compromise your relationships in your aim for perfection.