Perfectionism is an extremely high and impossible standard to achieve. Not only that, but perfectionism creates constant self-doubt and worry along with a persistent need for things to be just right. The perfectionist lives in a constant state of self-criticism and fear of doing something wrong. The perfectionist is always thinking – why didn’t I do this the right way?
Essentially, perfectionism and perfectionist thinking causes deep, underlying unhappiness. If we cannot do everything perfectly, then we are constantly beating ourselves up for it and feeling badly about ourselves — so why do that to yourself?
Perhaps your parents were perfectionists and overly critical of you as a child. Perhaps your parents did not validate your accomplishments and instead berated you for your mistakes, faults or weaknesses. Commonly, this is how perfectionist thinking can develop.
Our childhood years are the most critical and formative years of our lives that carve out and largely dictate who we become as adults.
If we are not encouraged to relish in our accomplishments, to feel good about ourselves and if we are not validated, what happens? We develop low self-esteem, we question ourselves and we suffer internally. The same thing occurs when we are constantly criticized – we end up with low self-esteem and feel like we can never measure up to someone else’s standards.
We also typically model ourselves after our parents. After all, our parents are our entire world as children. They are our role models for our behavior and actions. If our parents are perfectionists and constantly critical of us, then we become perfectionists and constantly critical of ourselves or others in kind.
Luckily, this conditioned thinking and behavior can be worked on and changed. It takes conscious and deliberate effort to change one’s thought patterns, especially when they are deeply ingrained.
A great way to achieve this change is to shift one’s thoughts towards the concept of simply doing one’s best. If we simply do our best in life, then what is there to beat ourselves up over?
Our best needs to be “good enough”, and that’s how the perfectionist can transform their lives.
If we are not doing our best, then we can work on ways to improve so that we can feel good about ourselves.
And if there are factors in life that are preventing us from doing our best, then we don’t need to feel badly or beat ourselves up over it. We can instead apply a healthy dose of self-compassion and acknowledge to ourselves that we are still doing our very best, even under challenging circumstances. In fact, functioning well enough while under duress needs to be applauded!
One can also implement thought stopping techniques, such as, “there I go again, with my perfectionist thinking!” And then one can shift one’s thoughts to the positive, which would be, “am I giving this my best effort right now?”
All one can do is one’s best in any given situation, and that is all we can ask of ourselves. If mistakes are made, the perfectionist will endlessly beat themselves up over it. A healthier response is to learn from mistakes and to apply the lessons learned the next go around.
So, if you are a victim of perfectionist thinking, the next time you find yourself beating yourself up, ask yourself if you’ve done your best – be happy with your best effort being “good enough” and satisfactory. If you didn’t give your best effort, then ask yourself what you could have done better so that you can apply the lesson in a future similar situation.
Mistakes in life are inevitable. We are human; we are not infallible. The key is to grow and learn from our mistakes and to continue to strive to do better.
It is admirable to strive to improve oneself, but try to drop the pursuit of perfection. It is unrealistic and will only cause greater unhappiness in life and within oneself.
So here’s to doing your best and here’s to your happiness!