Perfectionism, or the desire or need to be/act/achieve or perform in a way that is “perfect” isn’t uncommon – it is a trap that is easy to fall into, often without realising.
“Perfectionism” refers to a refusal to accept anything less than flawlessness. It often goes hand-in-hand with self-criticism and worries about what other people think. While the pursuit of excellence can encourage us to work hard to reach our goals, sometimes perfectionist traits mean that we keep setting those goals back and back. This means we are not able to enjoy our achievements as they stand but instead keep looking to the next thing we haven’t done yet. Eventually you might reach your limit, and feel very badly about yourself. Combined with self-critical nitpicking at ourselves, it’s not surprising that this can potentially really bring us down.
Do you find yourself dismissing your achievements with criticism (e.g. “It wasn’t that great, I made this mistake…”)? Do you compareyourself to other people and set impossible standards for yourself? Are you unable to allow yourself to pause and enjoy your achievements? Do you discount your achievements because you didn’t manage something else (e.g. “Yes, I achieved XYZ, but none of it counts because of ABC…”)?
Albert Ellis came up with the wonderful word “musturbation”. This refers to the perfectionist tendency to set extremely high standards before allowing the self to feel pride/achievement/success. How many times a day you do find yourself thinking or saying that you “must” do this or that before you will allow yourself to be satisfied?
The big question is… How much is perfectionism or ‘musturbation’ helping you in your life, and how much is it hindering you?
Do you feel in control of it? Are you able to shrug off self-criticism or not indulge in it in the first place? How does not reaching your super-high standards affect your self-esteem? Would you criticise your best friend the way you criticise yourself? What are you afraid of, if you sit back and enjoy something you have achieved that isn’t “perfect”?
Not all perfectionism is bad – some people find it spurs them on to greater things that they enjoy. However, if perfectionism is causing you to feel worse and holding you back from life, you might want to change things.
Due to social media such as Facebook and Twitter we see more of other people’s lives than perhaps ever before. However, some research suggests this is bad for us. This is mostly due to the comparison aspect in the post linked above.
People put things on social media that they want other people to see – their “highlight reel” – rather than things they are ashamed of. It’s easy to create a false persona online, and for others to think they are seeing the whole person.
Like seeing a film at the cinema, on a social media profile we don’t see the “blooper reel”. We see a polished, finished image. When we look at ourselves we see the little mistakes, parts of ourselves we dislike and wish weren’t there. It is easy to believe that we are the only ones who are ‘flawed’, and feel quite alone.
You might want to look at your own social media profiles from an ‘outsider’ point of view – what would you think of this person? Does he or she seem to have life “sorted”? Are you judging yourself a different way to how you view others, and why? Do you feel that you have to keep up an ‘image’, and where has that message come from? Is this fair on yourself, or reasonable to you? Why or why not?
“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a quote usually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt – but what does it mean, and how can it be applied?
Aristotle said that “man is by nature a social animal” – we are brought up in groups and are often ranked or graded against our peers, e.g. in school. It can seem natural to compare ourselves with the people around us, but how much does it really help?
Comparison might be a good way to motivate ourselves to do better – a form of “healthy competition”.
However, if you feel very hurt by something it is worth looking at it in more detail and working out what is happening. Identifying the roots of issue can be your first step towards making the changes that you want.
When you compare yourself to others, do you feel that you are lacking or not living up to something? Where has that belief come from? Do you truly desire what the other person has? If so, what can you do to work towards that? If not, are you harbouring a belief which isn’t right for you?
Do you believe you don’t deserve to be happy or should not be proud of what you have? Why?
When we compare ourselves other people, it can be easy to end up not really seeing what we have. For instance, a runner might have just achieved their best-ever time in a race – but then might compare against someone else’s time. Rather than feeling pride, our runner then feels that his or her achievement does not mean anything – comparison has been the thief of his or her joy.
If your best friend or someone you really care about told you they had achieved something, would you tell them they hadn’t done as well as someone else? If not, why would you say that to yourself?
“Be your own best friend” might sound a bit trite, but it can be a useful way of checking how we speak to ourselves!