The struggle is real
To my fellow perfectionists in recovery,
How often do we give up on new opportunities or interesting ideas because we’re afraid we’ll epically fail? How many times have we strained ourselves to the point of physical and mental exhaustion in our efforts to achieve certain standards or outcomes, only to find we can’t ever reach them?
Can you relate to getting lost in the details, spinning your wheels so fast when trying to achieve, control, or perfect, that you lose sight of your goals or motives in the first place?
Perfectionism, what a nasty thing it is -sucking the life out of its weary victims, pushing and demanding more, even when there’s nothing else to give.
After awhile, as many of us find, there is no “end.” Unfortunately, we may not discover this until we’ve pushed and pursued, “controlled” and “perfected” so hard, that we fall flat on our faces in sheer exhaustion or burn out. Ever been there?
Even as I sit here and write, I’m finding it hard to put words to this message, for perfectionism and all its struggles wants to be articulated in the “right” way, of course!
There’s a part of me that wants to give up on this article right now, grab some banana chips from my pantry, and mindlessly scroll through social media in my attempts to avoid such an endeavor. For procrastination and perfectionism really are the best of friends.
Yet, there is also a voice of grace and kindness, which moves me towards continuing. For I’ve learned, that one of the best ways out of an endless cycle of perfectionism, is to give yourself permission to be imperfect. This is the message I hope to share.
When we see a close friend or loved one struggling with self-doubt or a fear of failure, we can be quick to offer words of encouragement and grace. It’s easier to see the burdens of perfectionism weighing on others, at times, than it is to acknowledge it in our own lives.
And, how many of us tolerate and even appreciate imperfection in the stories and lives of others, yet fail to acknowledge or accept it in our ourselves? We can be so quick to forgive and extend grace to others, without extending this same grace in our own efforts.
Kristen Neff, an expert in the area of self-compassion discusses ways to apply principles of self compassion (e.g. self-kindness, acknowledging a shared common humanity, and mindfulness) in her research. For more on this idea of “self-compassion” read one of my posts on this here, or explore some of Neff’s fantastic work here. Neff speaks to the numerous benefits of self-compassion on our mental health, and how it helps pull us out of highly critical thinking patterns and negative emotional states.
Giving yourself “permission”
If you can acknowledge your need to show more self-compassion, yet struggle to let go of your own unreachable standards of perfection, then here’s a trick I’ve learned that might help you.
It’s this: give yourself permission to be imperfect.
That’s right, I’ll say it again, give yooself permisson to b impwarfect.
Gosh, that feels sloppy… anyways, you get the point :)
Do something wrong on purpose.
Give yourself a time limit on a project or task, and when you’re out of time, walk away and compassionately tolerate any discomfort.
Acknowledge when something isn’t completely “right” but choose to let it just be.
We’re all little toddlers
At the end of the day, we’re all trying to figure things out. No one has it all together, and it’s quite useless to try to. We’re never going to “fully arrive” in this life, and our endless pursuits of perfection will just leave us feeling empty and worn out.
The way I see it, we’re all like toddlers exploring a room full of toys, or a puddle full of mud. In these spaces of ours, it’s impossible to keep things all organized and clean. For we’re surrounded by a world full of odd contraptions we have no idea what to do with. Rather than trying to make sense of the flashing train spinning around, or the bouncy chair making obnoxious sounds, we’ve just got to go with the flow, and move with the mess.
Bottom line, no one can keep their playdoh fresh forever. Eventually, it will dry out, crumble, or blend into something else. Sometimes, we have to stop trying to protect it, and just embrace the new colors and shapes it might become.
“Just do your best…”
In giving yourself permission to be imperfect, as your former toddler self did quite well, stepping back and acknowledging the pits of perfection is the first step. Deciding to step out of it all together is the next.
Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of old ways or embrace new ones without some sort of nudge, confirmation, or validation from others.
My fellow perfectionists in-recovery, I’m sure, at some points in your journey, someone has encouraged you to “let it go,” or “just do your best.”
Yes, these friendly reminders are helpful, and so often needed. Yet, perhaps you don’t need to hear this from others as much as you need to hear it coming from you. Everyone else has likely given you permission to be imperfect, so why not extend this same permission to yourself, from yourself?
Go ahead, try it. Just for a moment.
In the midst of any heavy expectations or rigorous standards weighing on you right now, try placing your hand over your head or heart and say something like, “You can mess up, I don’t expect you to get this right the first time…” or, “I may totally blow this, but that’s perfectly ok.”
“I give you permission to be imperfect”
After all, isn’t this what you might say to your own “toddler self?” We wouldn’t ever want to hold a child to such rigorous standards, would we? Maybe, just maybe, your inner child is who really needs to hear this.
Perhaps, in saying this, you feel a heaviness lift. Yet, a few moments in, you also sense an impending sense of dread. Both are understandable in a perfectionist’s attempts to “be imperfect.”
Hold those feelings, cradle them, and pay attention to anything else they may be trying to say.
Turns out, everything tends to be ok.
As you create more space for imperfection in your life, you may find, like me, that the world continues to orbit, the job is still there, your family still loves you, and your dogs — they really don’t care. The “worst” rarely happens, and if anything, you’re freer to think, create, and live without the weight of perfection pinning you down.
Look around, no one is holding you to perfection aside from yourself. Let go of the bully in you, and be free, fun-loving toddler. Go learn, create, and explore amidst this beautifully messy, perfectly imperfect life.
Originally published at https://elizabethanndixon.com