Are you a perfectionist?

Recently we ran a two day perfectionism training session for staff at a hospice in Essex. The session was an opportunity for attendees to explore where perfectionism shows up for them either within the work place or at home. The sessions were great, with attendees exploring ideas and angles on perfectionism they hadn’t ever thought about before.

So what is perfectionism all about?

You would be forgiven for thinking perfectionism is only relevant to people who can’t let go at the end of the working day, or who get up and clean the house in the middle of the night or else they can’t sleep. Of course, perfectionism is very much the driver in such situations, but it’s also a subtle creature too. It’s a subtle creature I believe lurks somewhere in all of us.

For some it’s about creating the perfect career, for others it’s about being the perfect parent, other people want the perfect bank balance, and others want the perfect running time… Sometimes we confuse perfectionism with trying to be the best we can be, but as Brené Brown expertly articulates:

‘Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.’

For me perfectionism shows up physically. Even though I don’t believe I’ve ever had a ‘perfect’ physical body, I sit with the idea every day that I should be striving towards toning, shaping, changing my body in some way. Perfectionism is the ongoing internal conversations I have about what’s perfect and where I am in terms of achieving that.

And it takes up a lot of my time, in fact I believe it takes up a lot of our collective time. As a society, as a species, we spend a lot of time thinking about where we are lacking and what we can perfect about ourselves. We are engaging in a constant struggle towards an often unattainable goal. And what’s more the goal posts always change. When we finally meet the ‘perfect’ body weight, or the ‘perfect’ point in our career, something shifts, and we’re back in the struggle again.

I think we need to think differently about this perfectionism monster.

The conclusion of our work last week was that the only answer to perfectionism is to let it go. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about a number of guideposts that can be implemented to move us away from perfectionism.

Last week we discussed these:

  • Getting familiar with failure.
  • Developing a supportive network who love you no matter whether you’re ‘perfect’ or not.
  • Thinking about your values and who you truly are rather than what who you’re expected to be.
  • Identifying those who are critics and implementing boundaries to protect yourself from them.
  • Letting go of anxiety and changing the story you have about yourself to something more empowering.

What would the world be like if we all shifted in this way? What could we collectively create, what could we heal in the world?

Working on perfectionism is deep, it’s often hard, but we need it.

To learn more, drop me a line.

Sending love, Hannah

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters

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