Earlier this year I had an epiphany: The never-ending feeling that I needed to be doing more — that I am never good enough — had weighed me down too long. My crippling perfectionism needed to end. Perfectionism, self-criticism, and self-hatred are all too common, and they have no part in health and healing.
My need to be perfect has certainly taken its toll on me. It no doubt contributed to the health issues I’ve dealt with all my life — sleep troubles, cancer, depression, hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, and autoimmune disease. It took me 57 years to become this person, and I realized that change wasn’t going to come easy. The first step was sharing my truth and admitting to myself that the quality I viewed as a positive for so long was detrimental to my well-being.
Feeling unaccomplished, suffering from imposter syndrome, getting your happiness from external validation, holding yourself back because you fear failure, having unrealistic expectations of others, nonstop self-improvement in all areas of your life, constant worry and anxiety, negative self-talk, comparing yourself to others — it all has to stop!
How did this happen?
There are many factors that go into creating a perfectionist, critical mindset. Both biology and nurture play a role.
I believe I developed perfectionism as a way to cope with my childhood upbringing. I was taught (whether consciously or subconsciously) that if I was perfect I would be loved and accepted. I was so afraid of letting my overachieving parents down that I learned to focus on achievements, performance, and appearance. That screwed-up thinking stuck with me through adulthood.
Society doesn’t help. It rewards people with a perfectionist mindset, and compliments feed our need to feel praised and accepted. We need to be honest about that.
Change is possible
Imagine how good it would feel to look in the mirror and love yourself, to walk into a room and feel confident. Imagine how your life would be without comparison and what it would feel like if your anxieties around success were diminished. How would it feel to not hold others to impossible standards. Imagine not feeling let down by someone — even yourself — because of the trap you set for them.
Envisioning the above made me feel like I could breathe again. If you haven’t felt that way in a long time and had the same reaction, it’s time to do the work to change it. Give yourself permission to turn off the pressure, replenish yourself, relax, know that you’re safe and loved. In doing so, you’ll start to reverse the physical symptoms that may have resulted from perfectionism running the show. You will also begin to learn to silence (or at least quiet) your inner critic and speak to yourself with love and respect.
Tune in to and listen to your intuition
We all have a strong intuition that gives us information. For some, it’s in the form of physical sensations (a feeling of unease or tightness in your throat or gut). It can also be in the form of insightful thoughts or even a screaming voice inside your head. To connect with your intuition, you have shut down your inner critic. The more you tune into your intuition, the less your inner critic can speak. There are simple practices to build connection to intuition: Meditation is a big one, as is self-care (keep reading), and finding a place you feel safe expressing your emotions. Whatever you choose, being present and living in the now is the best way to tune into your intuition.
Give yourself permission to practice self-care
Take more time for recharging and rejuvenating. Don’t underestimate the power of getting a massage, meditating, exercising, practicing yoga, or getting out into nature. These things clear the head and decompress the body. Practicing self-care is not self-indulgent; it is a health-care must and it boosts self-worth when done regularly.
Interrupt the negative self-talk
When the negative self-talk starts, shut it down. It can be hard to do, so start small. When you feel yourself about to make a negative comment about yourself, put the brakes on. If you hear yourself make a negative comment about yourself, counter it with “not true.” When it happens, don’t beat yourself up for it — just move on. Start or end every day by making a list of your positive qualities. Continue to grow the list as a daily practice.
Replace comparison with gratitude
Comparison truly is a thief of joy. It wastes time and interferes with the gifts we have to share with the world. It’s also petty. When you compare your successes to the successes to others, you’re defining your self-worth in relation to someone else’s rather than honoring our own uniqueness. If you’re practicing gratitude for yourself and others, you are far less likely to compare your life to someone else’s.
Take ‘should’ out of your vocabulary
Banning “should” is a tough exercise, especially if you say it often, but how you talk to yourself influences how you feel about yourself. If you want to get out of the “should” pressure cooker, pledge that you won’t say the word for three weeks. No more “I should have said this/done that/gone there/accomplished that.” If you find yourself “shoulding,” you’re not living in the moment.
Give yourself credit and give credit where credit is due
Perfectionists think of all the things they didn’t do, rather than giving themselves credit for the things they did. To shift that, at the end of each day come up with at least one thing — big or small, doesn’t matter — you did that day that made you feel good about yourself. And give credit to the people in your life for what they do. When you give credit where it is due and are truly grateful for the role that others play in your life, you are lifted up and less likely to fall back on bad habits (like compare-and-despair!). Bonus: There’s scientific evidence that this type of optimism can help you attract more success into your life.
Remember that you are a work in progress
Perfectionism is an epidemic. We could all have a little more compassion for ourselves and others. Give yourself a break, allow yourself to be a flawed human, and you will find a lot more happiness and freedom in your life.