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Anxiety, Stress & Coping
May 16, 2023
I Need to Be Perfect, So What!

Rachel Costa

woman wearing a grey t-shirt with her hands on her head has a frustrated expression on her face.

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How Our Ideas of Perfectionism Create Unrealistic Expectations

Can you relate to any of the comments below?

  • I’m never going to be good enough, what's the point of trying?
  • Once I achieve X then I can/will be happy 
  • I feel so overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things I need to do, and feeling overwhelmed has caused my nervous system to be overloaded and now I feel like I lack motivation to complete all my tasks, which makes me feel like a total failure 
  • If I do X then I will be [insert your feeling/emotion] accepted, loved, seen, by X [yourself, your parent, your partner] 

Where did this come from?

The idea of perfectionism can come about in our lives in many ways. First, it can be about obtaining success or feeling successful in our lives. Success means something different to each of us, it can be our careers, building a family, becoming Insta famous... whatever you define it as. Second, it can be about preventing errors or mistakes in our lives. We create or carry the fear that if something doesn’t go as planned, we are the reason to blame or even worse, that others may be disappointed in us. 

How do I feel perfectionism? 

Perfectionism can creep up on us at any time and really get in the way of our daily lives. These often-intrusive thoughts can develop undesirable feelings, emotions and even physical symptoms in our bodies. Here are some signs that perfectionism is taking up too much space in your brain and body: your stress levels have gone through the roof, you may notice muscle aches, fatigue, and changes in your appetite (skipping meals or binge eating), and you’re constantly worrying. These are just a few ways that perfectionism can show up in your life, there are many other signs and behaviours that can occur too. 

Here are some truths and what I’ve learned about perfectionism

  1. It’s an illusion. You will never win. Your brain keeps you stuck in thinking traps so that you can win this totally rigged game.

  2. It’s a trauma response. We learned from a young age that pleasing others, and prioritizing their needs make us “good” or more desirable and likable. Women are trained from a very young age to ensure that others' needs are met before our own, even when we’re uncomfortable. As children and often women, we are not taught that boundaries are optional. So as adults, we grow up thinking, I need to be selfless, accommodating and have no boundaries in my life to gain the approval of others around me. And thus, a people pleaser is born.

  3. When we become those people pleasers as a result of our perfectionist thinking patterns, we lose sight of our own needs. We don’t know what we care about or need without the opinions or beliefs of others because you never considered YOUR own needs. 

The homework nobody asked for, but your therapist gives to you anyway😂:

Imagine a jar in front of you that you want to open the lid, but it’s stuck on tightly. You grab that jar and begin twisting it in your hand, over and over and over until your palm is red and sore. Then you tell yourself, well I guess I can’t open the jar that’s it. Then your perfectionistic brain goes “wow I can’t believe you couldn’t open that, it would have been so easy for Sally, you can never do anything on your own” OUCH! Rude much?!? 

Perfectionism tells us that we are failing, we aren’t good enough or we don’t have the skills to be successful if we aren’t trying hard enough. Instead, working through your perfectionism and changing that thinking trap to “it’s okay I need help here, I don’t have to be just like Sally and do it all on my own every time…” being much gentler with yourself and not assuming that all is lost because you can’t open a silly goose jar on your own! I mean, the jar here is the metaphor for all the times we feel like we’re struggling with something, maybe our jobs, careers, a relationship, paying our bills, and we feel like we can’t ask for help. We feel like if we do, we’ve failed. That if we aren’t trying hard enough, we simply are not good enough. 

Think about a time in your life when this thinking has shown up for you. What did that perfectionism cost you? What could you do differently to challenge those thoughts to achieve other outcomes? 


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