Perfectionism is striving for something that is often unobtainable. If you are a perfectionist you probably don’t acknowledge your success even if you do reach it. In fact you’re already looking for somewhere to improve.
Another way of looking at perfectionism is a fear of making mistakes. This can involve spending hours going over the same thing again and again, looking for something to change in the hope of improvement. Or it could lead to procrastination, avoiding the fear of making a mistake by avoiding the task itself.
I believe perfectionism to be a fear of making mistakes, or a fear of the consequences of making mistakes. Think of today’s world. The pressure people are under to be the best, to have more, to perform brilliantly. The messages we get from others triggering fears of not good enough or worse still, being completely wrong. An example comes to mind a few years ago being in a performance review with my manager. She had previously set me targets to reach which I had reached. I my heart sank as she looked at my score sheet with concern and said, ‘I need to find somewhere you have to improve.’ No mention of what I had achieved. That level of criticism can lead to avoidant behaviours. Why would someone even try?
The fear of making mistakes can be paralysing. So also is the fear of being seen to have made a mistake. This can cause people to avoid situations such as social gatherings out of fear of being judged harshly by others. However, the truth is that fear can be a useful thing that keeps us alert and concentrating on the moment or task at hand.
The anxiety the imperfection creates, as intense as it may feel, is only a feeling. Notice when you let go of trying to make one little thing perfect that it wasn’t really the task itself you feared but the feeling you were trying to avoid. In other words it’s the fear of the fear that often has people tied up in knots. It’s the consequences being catastrophised. The fear turns the consequence into something awful that cannot be undone. It could even be a fear of showing a weakness or a lower standard.
A good place to begin to regulate the feeling of fear is to look at some small ways to stop playing it safe. Try to allow for some small not too important consequences. This can help build confidence. It can also help put things into perspective, learning consequences are rarely as dreadful as feared. Some useful questions to ask yourself might be:
Why is this important?
How do I feel when I think like this?
Will I still feel like this one month from today?
Is there a reasonable alternative to how I’m viewing this?
Do I judge others the way I judge myself?
What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?
How many times have I come through this before?
Perfectionists tend to take unhelpful thinking habits as hard fact, ‘It’s true because I think it’, ‘It’s true because I feel it’ and so on. The truth is that perfectionism is a hard task master. Nothing is ever really good enough.
Counselling can help learn to explore and challenge that kind of thinking. It can help you to stop unhelpful avoiding behaviours and develop healthier ways of managing. In counselling you can look at regulating uncomfortable emotions and sensations. It can help you to pay attention to your feelings and to let them influence you rather than make your decisions for you.
This article was written by sentientcounselling