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Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Updated on October 14, 2014
HealthbyMartha profile image

I'm a Certified Health Coach who wants to help you create the best balance of spiritual, physical and mental health that is possible.

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Are you a Perfectionist? Does everything in your life have to be "just so?". Are you plagued by feelings of "Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough?"

Well, I understand where you are coming from. I am a recovering perfectionist in that I don't think I will ever be fully recovered from this very normal, annoying tendency. I wonder if it comes from a critical parent growing up? A teacher that pushed too hard? An overbearing boss that was never satisfied no matter how good of quality the job I performed was?

I think it's less helpful to know the root of our desire to be perfect in life, than to accept that we suffer from this need and move forward to correct it.

I can share three areas that I have personally experienced perfectionism.

1. Doing my hair before an appointment with the hairdresser. I know, sounds so silly that it's hard to believe, but it's true! I was more concerned with showing up with my hair freshly washed and coifed so as not to convey a sloppy image of bad hair. Never mind that I'm paying to have my hair shampooed-again-and cut and then styled. Never mind that I'm paying a professional to do a service who is probably not paying much attention to my hair anyway; other than to assess what needs to be done.

I finally got past this by thinking about the silliness and waste of time in doing my hair to go to have it done. It was not easy. I had to do a lot of self talk. But, eventually I reasoned that my hair did not need to be washed twice in the space of a few hours and was able to simply make it presentable prior to my appointment.

2. Losing weight before joining a gym/health club. I know, stupid right? But, again I couldn't bear the idea of people looking at me and seeing how out of shape or "fat" I was so I wouldn't go to work on the very problem of being out of shape and overweight. I remember when I actually started going to the gym that my friend and I would look at some fit, slim woman and say "I bet they pay people like her to make us envious enough to join". Eventually the desire to get fit and lose weight was stronger than my desire to look slim enough to join the gym! And, eventually I not only got slim and fit but was teaching my own Aerobic's class!

3. Delaying a trip to the dermatologist because of shame over the acne I had! This one goes back to me at age 16, so the roots of my desired perfectionism are buried deep! I had truly severe acne; like Pizza face meets Godzilla! The worst; it was cystic and all over and painful-to look at and to me physically. My parents watched me struggle with using concealer to the point of asking my Mom to buy it by the drum as I needed so much. They approached me with their very kind offer to take me to a professional to see what could be done. I was appalled that I would have to be seen by another human being...even a trained MD...without my concealer! The horrors! They would gasp, be different toward me, realize my shame! So, I delayed going for probably another 6 months. Finally, when all the concealer in the world was no longer helping me be comfortable among clear faced people or even my less acne ridden peers I succumbed. The treatments were a modest success. But the point is that I need not have gone so long if only I had accepted that it was perfectly fine to let the doctor see my unconcealed acne that I allowed to cause me shame.

I think many of us struggle with similar issues in our lives. We think "If only I was 10 pounds lighter", or I'll wait to flirt with that cute guy when I'm having a better hair day", thus not taking a risk or putting ourselves out there in a way that actually might get exactly what it is we want! Perhaps we just are afraid of actually being happy, or being successful and the perfectionism is a cover?

In any case, there is hope! If I can learn to go to the hairdresser with yesterdays hair, then you too can let go of some perfectionist ideal of yourself or your life. Trust me; sometimes you lose that ten pounds only to feel like, "well, this is better, but now I think maybe another 5", as there is no real perfection. No rainbow at the end of the road where Nirvana awaits.

For me, the key was to allow being MY best to be good enough. Oh, not perfect by super model standards; not setting the world on fire with scintillating wit or ground breaking achievements. But, making progress at being more of the person that I want to be. I have found there is so much victory in letting go of perfection and allowing "Good enough" to be good enough! One must truly love the person they are and accept themselves "warts and all" to be truly able to find happiness in their skin. It is not always easy.

One battle for me to fight was negative self talk. That mean little voice that says "I'm a fat pig" or "who could love me, being so messy and lazy". That voice needs to be silenced and one of the best ways is to talk back. OK, so you don't like the idea of feeling like a crazy person talking to yourself? I actually find it very liberating and helpful to talk to that voice as though it were a separate entity from yourself. Maybe give that voice a name; a name that is ugly to you so you feel better about scolding it. Tell that voice to shut up. Tell it to shut the f**k up if that feels better! I personally ascribe to the swearing tactic as it just feels powerful to me. You must be vigilant in this. Don't let that voice get the best of you. Tell it where to go and mean it! Replace those ugly messages with true, loving messages to yourself. Compose a poem or an ode to the wonder of you. Tell yourself every day that you are beautiful and capable and strong. Maybe you feel weak, ugly and lonely. Then say "I am beautiful, I have love and support all around me and I am strong". Look in the mirror. Write down affirmations and place them in 3 or four places you will see them every single day. You can work on one at a time until it feels natural and add more as you go along.

The power to be alright with being less than perfect lies within your very spirit. Harness that power and let go. It will feel like the weight of the world has lifted from your shoulders. Revel in your imperfection by maybe not making your bed one day...or not washing your hair and still going out. Be "naughty" or step away from what you think is ideal just to experience that you will not die; the roof won't cave in. The world will go on just as it did when you were making yourself crazy with your aim at perfection.

Follow these steps and you may just find yourself happier, more content with yourself the way you are and finding success in the areas you are striving for.

Now go out there and have a gloriously imperfect day!

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      Jody Lee 2 years ago

      Thank you for the insight. So many of us can find ourselves in your comments. Finding that moment in which we can, we are enough, is very hard. As you said, we must give ourselves permission not to be perfect and to be able to say, that's ok. Thank you