I spent a lot of my life adhering to a perfectionistic streak. Ok, more than a streak…I felt like I had to be perfect at all times to be ok. That was exhausting and led to self doubt and lack of trust in myself, and so much stress and anxiety.
In my senior year of High School I was facing a self-imposed maxed out schedule and became stressed and unhappy. Thankfully my mom talked with me about it and I realized that I just wanted to enjoy my last year and relax a little. I was afraid of disappointing everyone, but my mom assured me that all they cared about was me being happy. I dropped a couple of classes and I did relax some, but I realized much later that what I continued to experience was disappointment in myself. I believed that I should have been able to handle it all.
Over the years through lots of personal work I’d come to a much better place around perfectionism. Then I discovered the trait of High Sensitivity and that it’s a common characteristic of HSPs, and learned more about myself and my own self-demands.That helped a lot. I thought I’d resolved this need for perfection until some things were revealed recently while working with my own coach, then I had some insights in a morning meditation. That inspired me to write this article.
Many of us have struggled with perfectionism. If you’re highly sensitive, this is probably even more of a challenge. It’s common for some people to want to be perfect in everything…not disappointing anyone, always being 100% on, not making any mistakes…ever. That’s a pretty high bar. But is that perfection? Really?
I’ve come to realize that perfection is subjective. It’s different for everyone. There are certainly general tenets that hold true for all, but really, what’s perfect in my mind isn’t necessarily the same as yours, nor anyone else’s. This may be a new thought for you, and you might reject it at first, so let’s take a look…
Are you perfect if…
~you never make a mistake?
~you always know the answer?
~you are always right?
~you never change your mind or opinion?
~you look exactly as you or someone else wants you to?
~you always know exactly the right thing to say?
~no one ever has hurt feelings after something you do?
~you always do things right the first time?
~everyone likes you?
~no one disagrees with you?
I could go on, and I could poll 10 people and ask them what perfection means and get 10 different lists. Did you answer yes to all of these, or did you look at some and think, “Well, no, of course not. That one’s silly.” But that one could be very true for someone else. Or maybe you agree with all of these, but not to the extent of always, never, etc.
Even if you think about what a perfect day is, or a perfect meal, a perfect partner or a perfect job, those are subjective. You could make a very detailed list of attributes that are completely obvious and resonate with you. Yet, if you shared the day, meal, partner or job details with someone else, they could think you’re crazy…they would never choose those things.
The point here is…it’s all relative. And if we judge ourselves according to others’ ideas of perfection, or want to be seen as perfect in their eyes, how can we ever succeed, if it’s subjective? If it’s different for each person, how can there be a true indicator of perfection?
And what is perfection, anyway?
Is being perfect never making a mistake? What if one mistake ended up solving a problem you’ve struggled with for a long time…you didn’t do what you were planning, and it had an even better result! Does that mean it’s not a valid discovery, that you shouldn’t celebrate, because you made a mistake…because you weren’t perfect?
If you were supposed to call someone at a certain time, and didn’t, because you were on the phone with someone who was having a really hard time and you were giving much needed support, does that mean you failed and weren’t perfect? Was it better to give that person your undivided attention, then explain the situation to the other person, or did you fail because you didn’t make that other call?
What if you told someone something you knew to be 100% true, only to find out later that new information showed that to not be the case, that you were wrong (!)…? Would you berate yourself and feel bad because you didn’t know, because you weren’t perfect (you should have known)?
So we can see how this idea of perfection is really quite nebulous. Yet, some of us tend to expect ourselves to not make mistakes, to know everything the first time, to always be right, to never go back on our word, to be able to do everything.
What if we were to decide to allow ourselves to be…perfectly imperfect? As I’ve presented above, there really can’t be an unshakable definition of perfect, yet some of us try so hard to be so. What if our version of ‘perfect’ was a bit more relaxed? We could try to lower our expectations of the results and focus on our intent and effort. Can we be ok with ourselves by acknowledging that that’s enough, even if it doesn’t have the desired outcome?
We can choose to just be the best human we can be and acknowledge that humans are inherently flawed anyway. There are many cultures and religions which have always believed that Spirit/God/Source is perfect, but humans most definitely are not. In order to honor this artists historically would create imperfections in their work; they would not only not try to create a perfect design, but show that they wouldn’t think of doing so by adding a ‘mistake.’
Allowing that we’re not supposed to be perfect gives us leeway toward focusing on our effort and intent, and when we fall short of expectations we can evaluate and see what, if anything, we can or want to do to change. If we’ve done our best and it seems like not enough, then it’s about someone else and their expectations or our own, and just maybe those are unreasonable. We can choose to be perfectly imperfect.
How do we shift the self-statements about our need to be perfect? They’ve likely been around for a very long time. In addition to adopting a new understanding, using the information outlined here, we can choose to reframe our thoughts and beliefs when we catch ourselves judging ourselves for being imperfect. We can say:
~”Well, that didn’t go as planned. What will I do next time?”
~”I’ve tried this many times and it hasn’t worked. Maybe this isn’t my thing,” (and choose something else) or “I think I’ll try it this way,” (if it is important to you to succeed).
~”I’ve done my best, so this will have to be enough.”
~”I’ve done the most I can on my own, maybe it’s time to get someone to help me.”
~”My ‘failure’ is a gift of knowing what doesn’t work so I can keep changing until it does,” (Think of Edison)
~”This was much harder than I expected. I’ll do more research/ask for help/look at it in a new way and try again.”
The key is letting go of judgment…acknowledging that it’s OK that you didn’t get the desired result, and that it only means that you’re human and not perfect. That’s a good thing! You’re perfectly imperfect and you can use this information to continue to grow.
If you’re struggling with self-talk and accepting yourself, tapping can be a very helpful tool, and working with someone to dive deep to unlock those statements can be more effective if you’ve run into a wall doing it on your own. I offer free discovery calls to see if we’re a good fit for tapping or coaching so you can be your happy, authentic self.