Perfectionism is No Match for Self-Compassion
Last week I had the honor of being the key-note for a large luncheon event.
I prepared a good presentation. I practiced and honed my delivery. I was ready. It was show time - and - the mic would not project my voice.
For 20 minutes I pressed the mic hard against my lips to get any sound. The slightest movement of my wrist would cause it to click in-and-out, in-and-out.
Ten minutes in, my attention and focus were clicking in-and-out along with the mic.
I lost my place, I stumbled over a few key points. My monkey brain was taking over, “You dummy – you should have checked the mic”, “Your letting the client down”, “You look incompetent” (big trigger for me).
After what seemed a life time, I climbed into my car, had a massive rush of anxious adrenaline and an instant craving for my go-to numbing behaviors… a drink, candy, shopping therapy.
It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought. I know it wasn’t.
But you see I’m a perfectionist (recovering) and anything but perfect in my mind has always been a failure.
I killed the engine and sat. I breathed once, twice and again.
Did you notice that I mentioned I was a recovering perfectionist. That’s right! I refused to let toxic self-judgment consume me and my actions. I refused to let my mind spin a crazy story of …blah… blah...
My three year - ongoing practice of fostering self-compassion and ditching my perfectionist inner critic paid off when put to the test. I felt like the woman I'm aspiring to be.
Like many midlife women, I’m a recovering perfectionist.
This is no easy task in today’s society. Our culture values perfectionism. Parents and teachers pushed us to achieve narrowly defined excellence.
The corporate world demands us to be beyond perfect – to be a flawless asset in skill and productivity. Don’t let me start about the media.
As wives and mothers we isolate ourselves competing for polite artistic smart athletic perfect kids, perfect homes, perfect husbands and in being all that ourselves.
Perfectionism starts in childhood. When a child's needs to be safe, seen, heard are not met – perfectionism can emerge as a response. This is magnified if parents are overly critical or judgemental. The child strives to win attention, approval and love through performing to be perfect, i.e. being quiet, well behaved, pretty, smart, best dancer, best girlfriend... never failing.
Over the years, my relentless perfectionism fueled anger, isolation, fear of failure and procrastination. Its impact was exponential, an ever increasing toxic wasteland of self-judgment separating me from my true-self and from connection with the rest of the world.
From the outside I seemed to have it all dialed down, but inside my shoes, my socks were slipping off.
For years, it never occurred to me to ditch my perfectionism and its taskmaster - my inner critic. I thought I needed her, to protect me and to motivate me - she was my closest ally.
I use to say that I achieved… two degrees, a great job, a good marriage or whatever accomplishment I created for myself... "against all odds". Low and behold, did I know the only odds against me were created by my perfectionism. I didn’t realize that self-criticism was actually undermining my true motivation and success.
That inner critic had become my jail cell, my cage keeping me from standing in my true voice, authenticity and truth.
Then one day I finally hit the wall, it was time for change.
I learned that if I didn’t start showing myself some compassion, I would not get out of “the hole” as the say in the hoosegow.
You can’t be kind to yourself and treat yourself like a good friend if you are consistently taking yourself down.
If you are struggling with the pain of perfectionism, self-compassion can help you too.
Research shows that self-compassion weakens perfectionism and its close companion - depression.
That’s because being kind and accepting towards yourself helps you to accept your imperfections and flaws. Self-compassion changes your perspective. You realize that you are inherently valuable and being “perfect” becomes irrelevant.
There are numerous ways to cultivate self-compassion.
Explore your self-compassion through writing - journal your way to better happier thoughts.
Start and maintain a meditation practice focused on self (Deepak and Oprah have some great series and there are lots of others out there).
Practice gratitude daily (read my post on Cultivating A Gratitude Attitude)
Shift your mindset - notice when you are being self-critical, pause, breath into the feeling, acknowledge it, and then tell yourself to focus on 1% progress (the next best thing) not perfection (the end game).
I’ve come to see great value in my personal traits that at one time I would have hid as inadequacies. I can now see that these are things that add to my uniqueness. All my bumps, nicks and defects have created the multifaceted person I am. They have shape me and built my character.
Today, I like this me - a lot more.
The great thing about midlife is that you can take everything you’ve learned during the first part of your life and use all those lessons to make the second half happier and more fulfilling.
Need help overcoming perfectionism? Click here to book a Complimentary Clarity Call. I would be honoured to guide you to inspired self-compassion.