Do you ever feel inadequate? Is your best effort never good enough? Do you sometimes feel a need to pretend to be someone you’re not so you can fit in? If so, you may be somewhat of a perfectionist. Perfectionism is defined as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ opinions. Of course, this is unrealistic, and often ends in depression and feelings of low self-worth.
The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting. So why do we do this? And more importantly, how can we stop? As I’ve explored this self-destructive issue, I’ve come up with some causes and their solutions. It’s important to note that we are inundated with conflicting and destructive messages from both within and outside of ourselves. Below are some of the ways we are negatively influenced, along with some helpful solutions:
Inner Critic – That nagging, negative self-talk that compels us to compare ourselves to others, demeans us, and consistently reminds us of how inadequate we are.
Solution: First, realize you are not alone – everyone struggles (or has at one time) with this. The Inner Critic would have you believe you are the only one who feels this way -- that’s one big reason it is so effective. So, knowing this is true, talk back to it. OK maybe not out loud when you’re in public, but talk back nonetheless – until it stops. This takes practice, but over time you will train your mind to think more positively (and correctly) about yourself.
Which brings us to the second thing you can do -open up your awareness to others. Look around. Do you really think you’re the only one being hard on yourself? Not by a long shot! Everyone else is struggling with something – guaranteed. So reach out to others with genuine compassion, knowing that they too are striving to keep up with what they believe comes easily to everyone else. Third, quit comparing yourself to others. When you do that, you are always pitting your weakness against another’s strength. Never a fair comparison.
Outside Influences – For the sake of length I’m going to stick to women’s fashion magazines, since they are so pervasive. What message do they send? That as long as we are young, beautiful, skinny, rich, popular, etc we will be happy. The next time you’re in the grocery check-out line, pay attention to the women’s magazines, and their conflicting messages: Try our latest diet – guaranteed to take off 10 pounds in a week! Really? Of course, there’s an airbrushed model for you to see so you really get the picture. You’ll usually notice off to the side of the magazine cover there’s a chocolate cake with the recipe included inside. Hmm, is this for the reward after you’ve followed the diet and lost those 10 pounds in 7 days? Do you see how impossible all that is?
Solution: Look at the bigger picture – see the truth behind the facade. These messages tell us to compare ourselves to others, feel bad about ourselves, then buy their products to make it all better – all for the purpose of the magazines making money off their advertising space. It has nothing to do with us, just our money.
Whether our conflicts come from the Inner Critic or outside influences, the bottom line is fear – fear of rejection: People won’t like me if they know the real me. Fear of failure: If I don’t achieve the highest standards it is a reflection of my incompetence, and proof that I am incapable. Fear of not being accepted: If I say that, people will mock me – I won’t fit in. These fears are endless. They are destructive, completely false, and definitely keep us from being our true selves. The good news is that we can overcome!
Ask quality questions:
- What’s going to happen if my project fails?
- What can I learn from this?
- What is one thing I can improve?
- What will I do differently next time?
These questions empower us to take lessons where we can, and make realistic changes and improvements instead of beating ourselves up.
We were put on this earth to be happy, joyful, productive, giving, kind, and to strive for doing our best while being our perfectly flawed selves. I heard a thought -provoking quote this week by a young mom trying to keep up with it all – “I’m a piece of work, and a work in progress.” Aren’t we all?
So tell your Inner Critic to take a hike, put the fashion magazine down, and go talk to a friend – you’re more than enough, so lighten up!
(sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”)
When life’s got you overrun,
Then lighten up.
Think of all the good you’ve done
And lighten up.
If your job is just half done and
Your big battle’s just half won,
Pat yourself on half your back
and lighten up.
If you’re feeling loaded down
Then lighten up.
Shrug your shoulders, sing a song,
And lighten up.
With a friend or two beside you
And Heaven’s love to guide you,
Let some sunshine back inside you—
Song adapted from Chieko Okasaki’s book “Lighten Up!”
Featured Image Copyright: Ruslan Sitarchuk / BigStockPhoto.com