Five ways to feel perfectly imperfect
“There is no shame in struggling, there is no shame in finding things hard and there is absolutely no shame in getting the support you need, whenever you need it. Because nobody is perfect, and nobody is always getting it right – we are all just winging it as best we can.” - Katie Kirby, Hurrah for Gin: Reluctant Adult: A book for the perpetually overwhelmed.
I love it when one of these quotes pops up on my Facebook feed! It’s a great reminder there's only so much I can do, and that I cannot be perfect at everything.
In this article, I'll share my thoughts about why some of us feel the need to be perfect, how this can be detrimental and what we can do to begin easing the pressure on ourselves.
I see so many people putting pressure on themselves to be great - if not perfect - at everything. Regardless of the amount there is to do, they cannot accept that ‘OK’ is good enough. The number of things to be perfect at seems to be increasing all the time, with many of us juggling parenting, working, running the home and caring for our loved ones.
Perfectionists have an internal expectation that they must be perfect and that people will think less of them if they are not. The trouble is, it is impossible to be perfect at everything (or even anything), so they are often left feeling inadequate, a failure, or stressed and overwhelmed.
Why do we feel the need to be perfect?
A perfectionist ego often comes from the beliefs we have developed during childhood experiences. Praise and rewards are seen by many as a great way to incentivise and recognise children. However, in many cases, constant praise like "You are amazing" and "You’re brilliant" can have a detrimental effect.
It gives children an expectation to live up to, making them feel as though they have to constantly be that great at everything. It can also prevent them from taking part in new things that they don’t think they will be perfect at.
Just as praise can have a detrimental effect, so can what we might term constructive questioning. Your child comes home from school and says, “I got 18 out of 20 in my test today” and your response might be, “That’s fantastic. What were the two you got wrong?” We think this will help them to learn the answers to the ones they don’t know so that they can do even better next time. However, it can also reinforce the need for perfection, or cause them to lose motivation in the subject altogether.
Our core emotional needs of certainty and significance can also drive the need for perfection.
Those who are lacking certainty often look to gain control over as much as possible, in order to top-up their certainty bucket. The more they can perfect something, the more they feel in control. Similarly, many of us gain a sense of significance from performance; the external validation from those important to us drives us to be better at what we do. For those who need to be perfect, it can cause stress and overwhelm, or feelings of inadequacy and failure.
What can we do to reduce the need for perfection in our children?
I shared earlier the detrimental impact that certain types of praise and reward can have on children. Praise for their efforts, rather than results is a great way to encourage a mindset of doing their best, without instilling the need for perfection. Using phrases like "You must have worked so hard to achieve that result" can really help to shift their focus.
Inviting them to develop their own internal validation mechanism is a great way of helping them to do well for themselves and not for others. So, rather than "I am so proud of you", which encourages them to do things for external validation, why not say "You must be so proud of yourself"?
Whilst some parents feel it’s important that their children know how they feel about their performance, I believe that it’s more important that children recognise their own performance and as they grow into adults, are not constantly seeking validation from others to know they are doing OK.
How can we relax our own need for perfection?
Changing unhelpful beliefs will have an amazing impact on your view of perfectionism. Start by asking yourself, “If I am not perfect then…” and notice what comes into your mind. This will help you to surface the beliefs you have around perfectionism. You can then take steps to change these beliefs.
Identify ways to fill your certainty and significance buckets with things you do for yourself, rather than from external sources, then decide which ones you are going to consciously do every day. Start each day with your list and plan how you can build them into your time.
Pay attention to what makes you feel good and measure your improvements day by day. Reflect on how you felt the day before and what it was that either made you feel good or threatened your emotional needs. Remember, the more you feel certainty and significance, the less effort it takes to create these feelings.
Remove any negative emotions linked to yourself or your abilities. When you feel the emotion surface, be aware and notice what is happening. Ask yourself "What am I feeling right now?", "What has made me feel like this and what meaning have I given the situation?" Then ask yourself, "How do I know this is true?"
Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has different strengths and constantly making comparisons is unhelpful and can make us feel inadequate.
Being present, in the now, is another great way of moving away from the need for perfectionism. Accepting what is, right now and living in the moment, enjoying, and accepting what we have.
Many of the negative emotions and unhelpful beliefs we have around perfectionism are patterns, formed based on experiences during our 0-7 years. Sometimes these beliefs and emotions are too deep-rooted to resolve on our own. I work with clients to help them change these beliefs and emotions to be positive and empowering, enabling the need for perfectionism to slip away.
I offer a free emotions discovery session, enabling you to discuss the emotions you are experiencing and beliefs that might be holding you back, identify any patterns and decide your next steps.
Contact me to book your free emotions discovery session.