Life as a Recovering Perfectionist
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
You're not in denial anymore and have even begun working on your perfectionism. Here is how to move forward with action and an example to help you.
So you’re noticing your perfectionism, without judgment, identifying the feelings fueling it and using your breath to center you so you can respond internally with self-compassion. AMAZING WORK!!!
From THAT place –
6. Make decisions toward what you want.
Wait, let’s go back and include:
5.5 Know what you value and what you are working toward before moving forward into
6. Make decisions toward what you want.
If being right is your ultimate goal, you are going to employ a very different set of skills than if your goal is being kind.
If your goal is to have loving relationships, perfectionist expectations of others are likely going to lead to others feeling judged or like they’re not enough and you feeling disappointed or alienated.
Want your family to be close? You may want to work on cutting them slack so nitpicking may not help with that.
Want to feel more at peace in your life? Note and turn down critical thoughts and increase the volume of encouraging self-talk.
Decide what you want and ask before you act (thinking can be an action too):
Simply asking, “Is this getting me closer to or farther away from what I want?”
So let’s cycle through the steps with an example:
You take forever to get dressed … remember when we wore clothes other than pajamas and safely left our homes to go socialize with others? You don’t? Me either. You’ve noticed that getting ready stresses you out and you change a million times and can’t seem to find the right thing to wear.
You start at step one and continue investigating.
There is a tinge of stress when you first accept an invitation. It’s gone by the time you’re at the event but the build-up sucks. You seem to put off getting ready and then feel rushed, which you hate, because then you’re anxiously trying to throw something together and you leave the house feeling like you threw something together. You get to the party disheveled and need some discussions with friends to finally feel settled.
You notice that you really dislike packing for trips and you again, put it off as much as you can. On the trip, you spend a good amount of energy thinking about why you brought this and not that and generally fussing about your clothing.
As you notice, you acknowledge that even though this way of being makes it stressful to get ready for a party or a trip, it must have served you are at some point or come about for a protective reason. You don’t know what that is but you have a sense of faith that it was meant for good, even if it’s not helpful to your life anymore.
From that place, you’re not fighting with yourself so you can move on to step three - exploring the feelings behind it. You realize there is a lot of anxiety that comes up which can prompt the procrastination to push it off (good ol’ flight). What is the anxiety about? Not wearing the right outfit would feel like – being out of your element, not being comfortable, feeling… and then you feel it, deep in the tension of your belly and the lump in your throat … rejected, alone.
You randomly remember what it was like to have to “pack” after your parents’ divorce.
They lived an hour away from one another so it wasn’t as simple as just going back to get what you needed. When you packed, you had to remember it all and to anticipate what you might need – even though you could never fully anticipate what could happen. What if something fancy comes up or I rip my jeans (this happened before that was cool)?
The divorce was rough enough and you didn’t want to make trouble. Your parents were downstairs, the tension was thick, and you could sense the conflict ready to erupt any minute. You had to be quick and be a “good” kid but it was hard to think about all the various scenarios that could play out and be prepared. You felt so much pressure.
And you had plenty of moments of being over/under/ill-dressed to remind you that while everyone else had one family and one closet and seemed to belong in one space, you really had no place to fully call home anymore. Having two homes made you feel like an outsider and so different than your peers at a time in your life where their approval and connection meant everything.
When going to the party now, your body remembers that you once felt like an outsider. It takes a while – and it helps to connect to a friend – to remind you that you do belong here.
So the next time this happens, you notice and you acknowledge and you feel and you breathe .. in and out, in and out, in and out.
You respond self-compassionately. “I am feeling antsy about the party and getting ready. These situations bring up a lot for me, understandably. Like all humans, I want to be accepted and to belong. I am proud of myself for going even though it’s stressful.”
And you decide what is important and move forward toward it.
You look at the invitation and focus on how you are invited by someone who cares about you. You know that having a community of friends was both difficult for you growing up and also something you always desired for yourself. This invitation is a sign that you have created that. It speaks to your resilience.
This invitation is proof that you aren’t a kid anymore being shuffled from house to house with little choice. You have decided where to live. Your clothes no longer serve as the only clue to the difficulties in your familial world – something you want so desperately to hide (“if only I wear the right thing, no one will know what is going on”).
Now your clothes can celebrate who you are and showcase your uniqueness.
You turn on some music and make an event out of getting ready. You choose a bold color. This can be fun now.
Maybe having two closets isn’t such a bad thing as an adult you also decide.