Perfectionism - What is it? Why should I Care?
We all know them. People who have it all. They drive expensive cars , live in large, beautiful houses in the best communities and have lucrative, prestigious jobs.
They volunteer in the community, drive the carpool, bring just the right dish to the neighborhood gathering and casually deliver a hand-made hostess gift which strikes just the right note - and look gorgeous doing it. They make tons of money, their houses are decorated just so and beautifully landscaped. They're attractive, smart, fun, and everyone envies their perfect marriages. Their kids are cute, smart, athletically gifted and well-behaved, with excellent grades and participation in many extra-curriculars (they excel in all of them). They're the people everyone wants to be around. Many of us wish for such perfect lives. So who are these amazing specimens of humanity, these superachieving individuals who walk among us?
Well, around here we just call them our neighbors, colleagues and friends. I live in a community in which it seems that everyone is super-human. Everyone is outstanding, the best of the best. High schoolers with 4.5 GPAs (on a scale of 0-4.0) worry that they won't be accepted to the colleges of their choice. We must be thin, beautiful, smart, athletic and likable. There is so much focus on being the best that many people struggle with anxiety and depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. If you're a highly intelligent person who also happens to be a gifted athlete you should stand out - but there are so many highly intelligent gifted athletes here that it creates this intense push to rise to the top of a group of people who are the cream of the crop. And for those who have any learning issues, or those who are not athletic or even - gasp! - don't like sports, it can feel like there's something wrong with you.
In fact, oddly, even those who are the cream of the cream of the crop seem to feel something is missing. They always try their best but it still doesn't seem good enough. Does our community put too much pressure on all of us to achieve? Are we the ones putting pressure on ourselves? When you have it all and you still feel like it's not enough, you may be a perfectionist. In fact, those of us who have loving families and a safe place to live already have everything that matters, so why are we constantly striving and striving for more, more, more? Not necessarily striving for material things, but working so hard, always doing, never pausing to pat ourselves on the back and appreciate just how great our lives really are?
If any of this resonates with you, listen to Episode 7 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. In it, I talk about Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection. I recommend this book to so many of my clients. It helped me understand how perfectionism was holding me back in my own life, and what can be done about it.
One of the problems with perfectionism is that is prevents us from truly enjoying life. Instead of living in the present moment, appreciating being alive, we are looking outside of ourselves, comparing ourselves to our friends and neighbors and imagining that their lives are so much better than ours. While we are striving to compete and be the best, we are presenting an image to the outside world which isn't authentic because we don't want anyone to know how small we feel. And it gets in the way of having deep, meaningful relationships with others because there is so much focus on pretending to be fine.
For more on this subject, check out my upcoming workshops, learn more about The Daring Way™, or contact me about working together in individual therapy, clinical supervision and consultation or schedule a burnout prevention consult! And if you'd like to hear more from me you can sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. To listen to my podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website.
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Laura Reagan, LCSW-C