06 Oct Learning to be Perfectly Imperfect
This is the month of world mental health day on October 10th. After the last year and a half, there has been a shift in people’s perception of mental health and a willingness by a lot of people to share their experiences and drop the shame attached to feeling anxious or depressed when dealing with lockdown situations.
This is a great outcome to emerge from the distress. Being open about how we are feeling so that we all can benefit from our own and other’s experience and engage in conversations and support for each other. In this edition of the newsletter I wanted to focus on the ways perfectionism can impact on your mental health and how to recognise the signs of perfectionism so that you can see how you can shift your perspective.
What are the signs of perfectionism? – do others call you out on it, do you think it is something that affects you or do you think it is helpful? Often we think of perfectionism as a good trait to have. No one wants a ‘that’ll do’ mentality in an electrician or surgeon do they? And of course wanting to reach a high standard helps us strive to be better. But what we are talking about here with relentless perfectionism is when it becomes a problem that is affecting your every day functioning and is pervasive in all areas of your life not just in the particular situation where it is required or essential. This is when you might be responding to UNRELENTING standards that you cannot shift or let go of, and where you feel that your self worth is attached in some way to the meeting of these standards or goals.
What are the costs of relentless perfectionism?
Some of the common features of perfectionism we come across in our sessions with people:
- Loss of boundaries between work and home – bringing work home as there is not enough time for the tasks within work.
- Feeling tired all the time and missing out on fun activities at home.
- Waking up in the night and worrying more about meeting the standards set for the tasks. Being more snappy and irritable.
- Feeling stressed and under pressure to complete the work to the standard that is acceptable.
- Always striving to be perfect but ironically often feeling that you are never good enough, that others are much more effective, confident, better than you.
Here at BraintrainersUK we often work with people who have highly demanding jobs and come to us because they are feeling over stretched and burnt out. Look at previous blogs for warning signs of burnout. What we’ve noticed in the past year is that there are a number of common features of burnout and perfectionism is often a culprit. This is happening for a number of reasons and we are commonly seeing the following aspects of perfectionism – how many can you see in yourself?
Unable to delegate tasks – because of the need for the job to be done to the standard set – it is hard to allow others to do the work. If you allow others to do some of the tasks – how do you know they have been done ‘right’ or in the way you want them to be done. It is hard to not feel in control and often we hear the phrase – I ‘d rather deal with my mistake than try and mop up someone else’s.
Over checking emails, texts, letters any document for that matter. This comes from a need to have it set out to the standard you have in your mind. The time it takes is filled with anxiety and worry.
Fear of making a mistake – being overly cautious about taking on new tasks, wanting to know you will be able to get it right. Fear of the mistake leading to humiliation and becoming more focused on how others will perceive you if you do make a mistake
Procrastination – this is a big one – because of the need to get the task done perfectly and this takes time as there needs to be more checks done and the mindset of not wanting to fail – you worry about the time it will take and the energy required. You can easily talk yourself out of starting until it feels ‘right’ that you have all the elements in place. The idea of doing what ever it is becomes more and more anxiety provoking and less and less enjoyable or even achievable in your mind and so it goes to the back of your mind and is put off and delayed.
Over compensation – taking on all the tasks yourself working harder and getting involved in all the detail in all areas. Not being able to leave a task incomplete can be part of the issue here. The anxiety caused by not feeling it is done to the right standard leads to all sorts of extra work and preparations.
Being a people pleaser – this can be seen if you have the need to be perfect in yourself. Wanting to present yourself as good enough not wanting to let yourself or others down.
Being very inflexible in thinking – it becomes all or nothing. It is hard therefore to compromise if you have a vision for a project and you invest in the outcome as an extension of yourself. Your worth become tied to doing the gob right. It is more than just doing a good job it is as though you are not worthy as a person if the job doesn’t meet the standard set.
Time to call in the Experts?
All of the above lead to increased worry and a negative outlook of what you are going to face in the day and how much energy and resources you need to fulfil the standards set.
The overall outcome often is an inner self-critical voice demanding more and more and the feelings of exhaustion and demoralisation.
If any of this sounds familiar to you – it might be worth taking stock. There are many ways that we work with perfectionism and using techniques based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are very successful.
Some ideas to help you with perfectionism based on our training:
- Letting go of your value and worth being tied to the task – find ways to understand your wider values – what matters in your life – make a list. What are the qualities you want to be known for. Look at your qualities that do not rely on you being perfect, explore what this means for you.
- Talk to close friends and family about how you have been feeling – share the costs being perfect is having on you – find ways to slowly let go of all the responsibilities and share the load.
- Letting go of the checking – do this gradually and learn to understand that the unhelpful thoughts and feelings of anxety are not a true indication of the reality o the situation.
- Delegate – learn to ask for help – understand the inner critic that can make this difficult and talk to yourself as you would a friend
- Set boundaries around work and home life
Find out more about our individual support using CBT or for our new group training for perfectionism. Look out for our ‘soon to be’ podcast PERFECTLY IMPERFECT.
We have over 20 years each of experience working in mental health, and can work with you individually or through one of our CBT based courses that focus on understanding the problem but also giving you lifelong tools to manage your own negative thinking styles and unhelpful behaviours that feed the perfectionism.
Find out how we can help through a free consultation. Book a discovery call today with Carrie or Kim.
Kim and Carrie
+44 (0) 7510 223561 – +44(0) 07549 857216
Covering London & the South East in Person and UK & Europe via Online Services
We cover businesses and organisations across London & the South East. Individual therapy online or face to face all while still providing support for our front-line services working as NHS Mental Health Professionals & the chosen provider for South East Coast Ambulance Service ( SECAMB )
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