Perfectionism – A Relational Problem

Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Nothing is ever good enough? You can’t work hard enough? Giving your all is still not sufficient? Procrastination plagues you? You certainly aren’t alone but, I am wondering if you would be willing to give yourself a break and allow yourself to be human.

What Might Happen?

One of the biggest worries for perfectionists is fear of failure. But it isn’t just failing that concerns you, it’s the meaning you give to it. If I fail, or am perceived to fail, it means I am not valuable or worthy. This is the core belief that plagues perfectionists. The underlying belief is that love, care, acceptance and connection are conditional. If I’m good enough I deserve love.

Can you see how that doesn’t make any sense? I’m not saying that experiences in your life didn’t teach you that, undoubtedly they did. I’m just pointing out that you are essentially lovable and that you always and without question deserve love, care and connection.

There is a lot written about perfectionism, what it is, where it comes from and how to address it and I can offer you some ideas for you to work with. But for now I just want to say something about self-love and self-compassion.

Connection between perfectionism and shame.

Shame is the feeling of unworthiness, an internal sense of badness that denies the possibility of connection. The classic example when talking to children is the encouragement to say, “I don’t like what you did, but I love you.” The action may be bad but the person is good.

So when being loved and in connection is predicated on being perfect, the child is in a no win situation. Perfectionism causes stress, rigidity, self-loathing, anxiety and shame. But not being perfect risks the possibility of ridicule, disappointment and worst of all disconnection from others.

Self-Compassion To the Rescue

When we can see how the seeds of perfectionism were planted it may be easier for us to be gentle with ourselves. I’ve never seen anyone change in a long-term sustainable way by being hard on themselves. When you imagine your young self in the bind I described above: perfectionism=ouch, no perfectionism=OUCH, you can see why you chose perfectionism. People always want connection and contact and will distort their true selves in any number of ways to have it. So perfectionism wins.

What a great decision you made to stay in connection. Now as an adult you can be gentle with yourself when you notice your perfectionistic tendencies. You can slow down and pay some attention to the young one who had so much at stake. Take some time to notice that you don’t need to be perfect to be loved in this moment. In fact, allowing yourself to be human by making mistakes and being vulnerable may bring you closer to other people