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Confessions of a Perfectionist


She walked into the room and flopped down on the couch.

“I am exhausted,” she said.

“I feel like I can’t keep up with everything I have to do.

“I am snippy with my family. Even when I know I don’t want to be and I TRY not to be.  I am snippy.

“I feel like am always behind. I have all these things I want to do but I never get any of them done. Hell, I feel like I barely scratch the surface of my to-do list.

“I am just tired of never feeling like enough, never thin enough, never smart enough, never happy enough”

“You know”, she went on, “I have SO much to be grateful for…I am so blessed and yet I am miserably exhausted…what is up with that?!?

“Ugh, I am tired of feeling like this.”

“You know I want to do what your tag line says…I want to stop MANAGING my life and start LIVING it”

Her eyes filled with tears, “I am sorry” she said, “I am just so tired of hearing all day long ‘you are not enough'”

Welcome to Perfectionism

This is a combination of conversations I have had with 10 of my past clients. They all share similar symptoms, but their reasons for coming to see me where all very different: from job dissatisfaction to body dissatisfaction to relationship dissatisfaction to just overall life dissatisfaction. But at the root of all the dissatisfaction,  they were consumed by perfectionism.

More and more in my office I see the pervasive damming effects of perfectionism.  It has gotten so bad that although most of my clients deal with the effects of perfectionism (Low self-esteem, exhaustion, hopelessness, snippiness, having a great life but too tired to enjoy it…to name a few) they would never describe themselves as perfectionists.  Because the societal norm is to be perfect. Or I should say try to be perfect. Because as we all know perfect just doesn’t exist.

I admit, perfectionism is my default mode…I lean towards the desire to be perfect.  It shows up in my relationships, my work and my life. More and more I am seeing it is why I do this work. It is why my tag line is stop managing your life and start living it. Because we manage our lives in the attempt to make them perfect…when we are living our lives, we by the very definition are embracing the imperfections.

Perfectionism causes us to feel tired, grouchy and unfulfilled because we are constantly comparing ourselves to an impossible standard. We are holding ourselves to something we just can’t achieve and we wonder why we are exhausted and snippy!  To the outside world, perfectionism might show up as calm, cool and all together. But the ugly underbelly of perfectionism is:

  • constantly berating ourselves and our bodies
  • frustration with our spouses when they correct us (even if they do it lovingly),
  • hammering our ourselves that we had the wrong split second response to our child’s question,
  • annoyance that once again we made a mistake at work.

This constant hammering, annoyance, frustration and belittling has got to stop!

Ah, you think, if only it were that easy. And I agree, perfectionism is ingrained in our society in our belief systems in our lives.

So what can we do about it?!?  How do I work with clients with perfectionism?

Well, as a perfectionist myself, the last thing I want to hear is, embrace the imperfection…and yet that is exactly what we need to do.

The key to undermining perfectionism is going back to basics:

Ask yourself:  Do I want to live like this?  How is perfectionism working for me?

Notice: Every time you notice yourself feeling less than, not enough or snippy…

STOP, Take 3 deep breathes and give yourself lots of compassion. 

Let me repeat that since it will be VERY uncomfortable at first:

STOP, Take 3 deep breathes and give yourself lots of compassion. 

Since compassion might be a totally foreign concept (I know it was for me) here are some strategies I have found successful.

  • Talk to yourself like you would to your child or your best friend, what would you say to their imperfections.
  • Place your hand over your heart and remind yourself that you are a gentle, wise soul.
  • Speak lovingly to yourself, if you are having a bad day, lovingly tell yourself ‘todays not going to well, its ok we can get through this’

This constant berating of ourselves for not hitting an impossible standard has got to end. The true beauty of life comes in the imperfections. We see this in nature, and in our loved ones it is time we start seeing that beauty in ourselves.



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