‘But I should be doing more’ : When we push ourselves too far

When I was working for a charity a few years ago, supporting women who had survived domestic and other forms of abuse, I used to find myself going to ridiculous limits to make sure I’d done my job perfectly. I used to get off the phone to the people I was supporting and think of one more tiny thing I hadn’t reminded them to do in order to stay as safe as possible. I’d call them back with extra info that was most often already implied through our previous conversation. I became obsessed with covering all bases.

At the time I wasn’t very aware of what internal gremlins were. Unbeknown to me my gremlins would increasingly suggest if I didn’t call back with that extra bit of detail something disastrous would happen. This wasn’t just doing a thorough job, this was action driven by a fear that I would be less than perfect in my work. Sometimes it took all my energy to remember I had actually done all that I could to help the client, and didn’t need to follow up. But over time my internal gremlins grew in strength.

Unfortunately in the end my gremlins won, and I had to leave the sector. I burnt out and much of that was in relation to this need to give as much as I possibly could to my clients. Ironically in doing that I ended up not being able to give anything at all.

I like to call this gremlin the perfectionism gremlin. I ran a workshop on him last week to a lovely group. We talked about how the perfectionism gremlin can push you to go way over and above what’s needed, in a way that doesn’t serve you. We drilled down to the underlying belief beneath the perfectionism gremlin to find it fundamentally tells us we aren’t enough, and in response to that we push more and more to try and prove it wrong. It’s a vicious cycle, which most often ends in ill health.

So the session last week focussed on finding ways to drop the perfectionism gremlin. We looked at engaging the part of us that can be self-compassionate, and we looked at the part of our personality that can take charge and do what needs to be done in an effective way as alternatives to listening to our gremlin.

Like most of the work I do through Bird, identifying perfectionism is all about building your awareness of when you are actually operating from that space. It’s also about re-connecting to parts of who we are that have served us in the past, and that might be more useful in times when the gremlin is trying to run the show.

Building awareness and then making a choice, that’s what being in the driving seat of life is all about.

I encourage you to take some time to identify your perfectionism gremlin, and to identify what parts of your personality might be more helpful. Once you get a picture of these parts of yourself, and you start to identify who is at play at any given time, it becomes possible to operate in a more sustainable, nourishing, self-preserving way.

*Image by Jordan Whitfield

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