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  • 3 Tips to Help Overcome Perfectionism

    Maybe you know someone who gets anxious if things don’t look a certain way. You might have been at the receiving end of someone who snapped because are upset at seeing some clutter. Perhaps you are the person who often feels pressure to meet extraordinarily high expectations and standards, and others around you urge you to relax. It can be hard to love someone who is perfectionistic at the expense of relationships, and it can also be hard to live with perfectionism.

    Perfectionism is not all bad. For example, if you are going in for major surgery and your life is at stake, you would definitely want your medical team to be on top of their game. Perfectionistic individuals are detail-oriented and often go above and beyond in work environments. However, what happens when perfectionism is part of life 24/7? What happens when you cannot separate the advantages and disadvantages of perfectionism? Oftentimes it can start to reduce your quality of life.

    It is absolutely possible to overcome perfectionism, however it is important to understand the root of the perfectionism in order to know how to navigate it. For some people, perfectionism is rooted in childhood trauma. For example, if someone had overbearing parents who did not accept mistakes, or parents who showed conditional love, then it is only natural for a child to develop into an adult who equates perfection with self-worth. If someone experienced any form of abuse in childhood that shook their sense of safety, then they may have felt emotionally safer by focusing on things they CAN control, such as cleanliness, orderliness, and detail-oriented tasks. Sometimes people have had a wonderful childhood, but they may simply have a predisposition to be more perfectionistic, and the perfectionistic actions may increase during periods of heightened stress or anxiety. These are just a few examples to understand how perfectionism can develop.

    Once you have explored more about the root of it, you can take some steps to overcome it, or at least know how to use your perfectionism as a tool in appropriate situations rather than all the time. Here are a few steps to consider:

    1. Full stop. Breathe. Reframe the situation. Consider the bigger picture.

      Take a moment to stop, take a step back, and look at your situation. Ask yourself if the current perfectionistic actions are truly necessary. For example, imagine you are a parent and are dressing your child, and you notice that their outfit does not match. You may go into perfectionism mode and become stressed. Many thoughts may cross your mind related to how to find the “correct” clothes. You may even be upset with your partner if they forgot to wash certain clothes that keeps the clothes from matching. If you take a moment to look at the big picture, kids often change clothes a few times a day due to getting dirty. Most other people are distracted by their own issues and simply do not care how your child is dressed. Unless the clothes will be a safety hazard, then you can likely let this go. “Letting go” will help you get on with your other tasks, and can benefit your relationship by not adding an extra layer of resentment to the day.

    2. Ask yourself if certain criticisms are necessary, or if they may negatively affect relationships.

      Imagine you enter the bathroom you share with your roommate. The bathroom is clean and smells clean. Then you look at the sink and find two stray hairs from when your roommate shaved. It is clear that they cleaned up after shaving, however you cannot understand why they could not be more thorough if there are clearly two hairs left. As you can imagine, there are many reasons why your roommate may have missed the visual cue. Perhaps they were in a rush to go to work, or they received an important phone call right as they were cleaning, which distracted them. Going off on your roommate and berating them will likely not be helpful. If you know that your roommate had the intention to be considerate towards you, and you know that it will take you two seconds to finish the clean up, it is likely better to take the compassionate route. Minor mistakes make us human. And it is also human to give grace to yourself and others.

    3. Put yourself in others’ shoes

      Not everyone has the same exact situation as you. Parents of young children cannot keep up with the inevitable toys and snacks that end up on the floor all day. Cleaning constantly is not feasible. People who work multiple jobs and have many responsibilities may not have the capacity to double and triple check work tasks or answer work emails immediately. People who are recovering from surgery may not feel the need to be extra thorough with cleanliness while they are healing. People who are okay with some clutter may be more relaxed and could teach you a thing or two about living life in the moment! Opening yourself to empathy for others can also help you practice having empathy for yourself.

      The most important factors when trying to overcome perfectionism include “letting go”, being empathetic, considering the big picture, and giving yourself and others grace. No matter how perfectionism developed, giving and receiving more love goes a long way.