Are you a closet perfectionist?

March 20, 2016/Coaching

pursuit of perfectionism

I have a confession to make. Recently my frustration level with Ryan was building. I could hear the sternness in my voice and feel my emotions triggered multiple times a day. I could see in his little face that he was sad he was disappointing me on a regular basis. I knew I had to change my reaction and figure out what the heck was going on.

I realized my expectations of where he should be at this point don’t line up with reality . At seven, I want him to be a kid who comes in from school, hangs up his coat and book bag and does his homework. His sisters were completing these tasks by this age and doggonitt, why isn’t he?

There are other reasons too – the fact he can’t sit still for long enough to finish his homework, that he asks me the same question every five minutes, and a host of other developmental issues I know are linked to his heart defect.

I should know all this and have more compassion and patience. It’s not my first time at this rodeo, but sometimes the monotony and emotional pull of it all is exhausting. I get tired of repeatedly dealing with the same issues.

In her book The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, “Some children are mature for their age, while others mature more slowly. Pushing a child to “grow up” simply because their chronological age is more advanced is a fruitless exercise that can only destroy the child’s sense of worth.”

Yikes! As I read these words, they jumped off the page and hit me in the face. All I could think about in the moment was the idea of perfectionism and how having expectations that are unreasonable for ourselves or others doesn’t encourage better behavior, it breeds feelings of low self-worth.

I looked back in my life and see how I’ve had unrealistic expectations of my children, my husband, and myself and how each time one of us didn’t measure up, the frustration and resentment mounted until there was a breaking point. And then the cycle started again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Stopping the cycle requires understanding where perfectionism comes from.

Perfectionism has a lot to do with our ego. The ego is defined by some as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and by others as “the part of the mind that is responsible for our sense of personal identity.”  Dr. Tsabary goes further by saying the ego is “the picture we have of what we want the world to think we are.” It is our expectation of how we will look, behave, and be thought of by others.

Most of us react to almost every single instance in our lives from our ego. It’s an unconscious thing, but when the picture we have of how we want ourselves or others to perceive us is threatened, we respond in a defensive manner, whether aggressively or passively.

Perfectionism is the idea that we should be perfect. No mistakes. No misunderstandings. No failures. And when we aren’t able to complete tasks perfectly, we are disappointed with ourselves. We tend to think of life in a series of “should haves” and “could haves.”

You can see how this is damaging to our own sense of worth.

Imagine that you unconsciously demand perfection from your children or spouse. Again, no mistakes, no misunderstandings, no waking up on the wrong side of the bed. This is what drives us to want our family to act a certain way, or dress a certain way, or be good at certain activities – – we like to say it’s because we want them to be successful, but the reality is:  w e   w a n t   t h e m   t o   m a k e   u s   f e e l   a   c e r t a i n   w a y.

The pursuit of perfectionism puts us on a never-ending quest for something that doesn’t exist. We continue in a cycle of disappointment wondering why on earth nothing works out the way we want it to. We approach life from what we lack instead of what we have.

David A. Seamonds in his book Healing for Damaged Emotions says, “perfectionism leaves us spiritual Pharisees and emotional neurotics.”

When we remove the burden of perfectionism and live apart from our ego, we open up an amazing world of compassion and connection. We stop taking failure as a personal affront. We stop making everything about us.

This doesn’t this mean we don’t seek to improve or learn new skills? But it does mean we don’t believe behaviors define our worth as a human being. And that’s the crux, where do we derive our worth?

The only way to stop the pursuit of perfectionism is to remove your ego from the equation. If it’s unrealistic expectations of your children and your husband, you must begin looking at them from a different lens.  Understand their actions aren’t personal to you and certainly not a blatant attack on the picture you have of yourself!

When we leave perfectionism behind we begin living with authenticity and are able to display grace. We teach others that love is conditional when we throw temper tantrums, withdraw emotionally, and react physically to their behavior. Everyone gets the message loud and clear they aren’t acceptable unless they are doing exactly what we think they should.

Perfectionism is about us, and our desire to feel worth, while grace is about connecting in a way that exudes worth. {tweet that}

We offer grace when we are able to remove our expectations and meet ourself and others where they are.  We love them in spite of their imperfections, and honestly, we love them because of their imperfections.

Take some time today to reflect on your expectations. And while you’re at it, go ahead and rip up that picture of yourself that you’re holding onto. It’s time to be okay with the real you.

Are you a perfectionist?
~ Do you tend to be an all or nothing person?
~ Do you have extremely high expectations of yourself and beat yourself up when you     don’t do something well?
~ Do you have a hard time appreciating your success because you’re busy planning the next thing to accomplish?
~ Do you find yourself being judgmental of other people’s mistakes?

~ Write down some areas where you have unrealistic expectations of yourself and others?
~ Write down the picture you want the world to see, and then the reality of who you are.
~ What things do you like about yourself?
~ In what areas can you extend grace?


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(c) 2016 Leighann Marquiss