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releasing perfectionism

I have been talking a lot lately about perfectionism with my clients. Striving for perfection seems to be a recurring theme for many of them. It’s been interesting for me to see this thread emerge in my sessions.

I understand this quest for perfection. I’m, what I like to call, a recovering perfectionist. I get how insidious it is and how deeply held the belief of perfection can get rooted in one’s heart and mind.

A friend of mine is graduating from a very competitive graduate program this week. She texted me a few days ago and said, It looks like I’ll be graduating with a single A- on an otherwise perfect transcript. {shakes fist at the sky}”

This friend is also a recovering perfectionist. She is doing her inner work, but this is a classic example of how the brain can latch on to the idea that perfection is possible.

A coach I once worked with calls it the Myth of Perfection. It really is a myth. Perfection is not a human option. If you are struggling with perfectionism, I’d like to share with you a few of the tools I used to support me in releasing perfectionism. This will be a two-part series.

Understand your relationship to perfection

Before you can let it go, you have to understand your relationship to perfection. This is where journaling is going to be useful. Even if you don’t like journaling, I encourage you to take a few minutes to answer these three questions. What you discover may surprise you.

When did you first start to believe perfectionism was an option and in fact the only option?

I remember the day I discovered my answer to this question. I can still see myself sitting on the floor journal and pen in hand when I realized that perfection became the only option after an incident in my family when I was a pre-teen. The interesting thing is, I wasn’t even directly involved but the message I received was clear: never make a mistake or love will be taken from you.  

This is important as you do your inquiry because it might not have been something said or done to you directly. It could be that perfectionism was modeled for you by parents or parental figures in your life. Or you learned it based on messaging received from teachers, classmates, or other people in your life growing up.

How does being perfect serve you?

We don’t do things unless they serve us. Your pursuit of perfection is serving you in some way. You have to get honest with yourself to understand the benefits you’re getting from being perfect. Or what perceived benefits you could get by achieving perfection.

In my story, striving for perfection meant I would always be praised. I would always be recognized and seen. As a child who often felt invisible, the idea that being perfect meant I would be seen was incredibly appealing. Of course, I did not have that language as a child. As an adult whose done work around this issue I can see it now.

This brings us to the next question, which is…

What feels at risk if you are not perfect?

The answer to this one might be similar to the previous question. Sometimes, though asking it this way yields some deeper insight for you.

For me, I truly believed that if I wasn’t perfect, I would not be loved. Love was conditional, based entirely on my never making a mistake. This correlation resulted in me tying my worthiness to my ability to excel and always be on top. If I didn’t excel at everything then I was not good enough and therefore not worth loving.

This is such a dangerous lie to believe. It’s a lie that robs you of your confidence, strips you of your joy, and traps you into playing small.

The light you are meant to shine in this world is diminished because you believe your worth exists outside of you. A candle’s flame comes from within, yes something is needed outside of it to light it up, but it burns because of what is within. Your light may be sparked by something external but its force, its power comes from within and is NOT dependent on you being perfect.

More to Come

I have more tools for releasing perfectionism to share with you. I’ll do that in part 2 next week. In the meantime, I want to hear from you.

What’s your relationship to perfectionism? Are you also a recovering perfectionist? Or do you still hold on to the idea (or the hope) that it is possible?

Tell me in the comments below or email me at makeda(at)makedapennycooke(dot)com.

Here’s to you releasing perfectionism and rising into your greatness.

From my heart to yours,

Rise Into YOUR Greatness

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