Monday, April 4, 2011

Are you a Perfectionist or Healthy Striver?

Being a stay at home mom of a baby and preschooler with a husband that travels a lot, I feel that everyday is a real challenge. The simplest thing like going to the store is such a production. This last week I had several appointments during the week where I had to arrange for babysitters or drag the kiddos along with me. On one hand I am proud that I am getting out and dealing with the kids too, but on the other hand, its so stressful for me that I feel like I am frazzled all the time.

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?

 Perfectionist versus Healthy Striver


 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.



stephanie said...

Wow, I love this! I am definitely a perfectionist and this is helping me to see that I need to let my anxieties go, because I DO often miss out on the fun of the process :( Thank you for writing this :)

amy said...

I'm def not a perfectionist and don't strive to be one. However, since anxiety has crept into my life I do find that I am very hard on myself and always need to appear to be on the "up and up" even when I feel like I'm falling apart. That is frustrating for me. I never used to be that way...if I was having a bad day, I just let people know that and carried on. For some reason now, I feel some sort of pressure to be happy all the time to ensure people don't see my anxieties! I'm working on that :)

You don't blog that much anymore (which is understandable), but from what I have read before and do a great job with the struggles you have. Having two young children and a traveling husband would be hard on anyone...try and cut yourself some slack if possible :)

Anonymous said...

This post have really helped me view my reactions in a new way. I have always known I am a perfectionist and a control freak, but I have never really given the alternative much thought. I now feel like there is hope!

Sarah Grace said...

I love this post! Your blog is great and I wish you'd post more often. I know, life is hectic. :)

Joy C said...

Love this post--in fact I recently linked to it from my blog. Hope lots of others read it, it's such a good reminder.

Ben said...

I agree with the other comments, excellent post. I found your blog very recently and it has already helped me a lot. What I find about being a perfectionist is that no matter what goals you achieve -- even if you DO reach those perfectionist goals -- that expected happiness and calm never comes. So what would then be the point of all our perfectionist goals? I try to think like this and sometimes it helps me let go, sometimes it doesn't. Look forward to following your blog!

steph said...

I just realized I'm a perfectionist after reading your wonderful post. I've never really looked at myself as being one. =)

Sandy@How Many Calories to Lose Weight said...

Hey i thing Perfectionist will never be happy in life. It would be better to remain striver.

Michael said...

I like the idea of being a 'Healthy Striver'. I never thought of it that way before but instead just worked on not being a perfectionist.

The main thing I try to concentrate on is just accepting that I'll do the best I can and that is all anyone can do. The second thing is not trying to take on more than I can handle at one time.

Great site Aimee!

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