I feel like expectations for me are high and that I don't get any slack. At night I lay down and I am so high strung that I have to take time to wind my thoughts down. My body feels tense all the time. I feel like I am going to lose it any minute and just start bawling. I know I need to strike a better balance of relaxation, but its not easy getting to the gym or doing yoga when my two year old thinks its time to climb on me like a play gym.
Sigh. Ok, done venting.
In all reality, I know the only one not giving me any slack is myself. I have a hard time allowing myself to struggle. I often feel like I should have it together by now and I am disappointed in myself for not being perfect. I am a perfectionist, which isn't a healthy pursuit of excellence. The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center says,
"There are big differences between perfectionists and healthy achievers. Perfectionists believe that mistakes must never be made and that the highest standards of performance must always be achieved. Those who strive for excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards. Perfectionists on the other hand are full of self-doubts and fears of disapproval, ridicule and rejection. The healthy striver has drive, while the perfectionist is driven."
Ever wonder if you are a perfectionist vs. someone who is a healthy striver?
|Sets standards beyond reach and reason||Sets high standards, but just beyond reach|
|Is never satisfied by anything less than perfection||Enjoys process as well as outcome|
|Becomes dysfunctionally depressed when experiences failure and disappointment||Bounces back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy|
|Is preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval––this can deplete energy levels||Keeps normal anxiety and fear of failure and disapproval within bounds––uses them to create energy|
|Sees mistakes as evidence of unworthiness||Sees mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning|
|Becomes overly defensive when criticized||Reacts positively to helpful criticism|
A couple coping strategies to help with perfectionism that I thought the most helpful are:
Increase your awareness of the self-critical nature of your all-or-nothing thoughts, and how they extend to other people in your life.
Learn to substitute more realistic, reasonable thoughts for your habitually critical ones. When you find yourself berating a less-than-perfect performance, whether your own or someone else's, force yourself to look at and acknowledge the good parts of that performance. Then ask yourself questions like these: Is it really as bad as I feel it is? How do other people see it? Is it a reasonably good performance for the person(s) and circumstances involved?
Be realistic about what you can do.
By setting more realistic goals, you will gradually realize that "imperfect" results do not lead to the punitive consequences you expect and fear. Suppose you swim laps every day, not as athletic training, but for relaxation and exercise. You set yourself the goal of 20 laps, and you can barely swim 15. If you are perfectionistic, you soon feel disappointed at your poor performance and anxious about improving it. You may even give up swimming because you're not "good enough."
Suppose that instead you tell yourself 15 laps is good enough for now. You accept the possibility that you may never be able to swim 20 laps easily, if at all. So you continue swimming without anxiety. You don't necessarily stop trying to improve, but you swim for fun and exercise and relaxation-for however many laps you can. Perfectionists often miss out on fun, relaxation and satisfaction.