How to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionism is another word for fear.

It’s your own beliefs holding you back. It’s your own fear of failure, of not being enough that keeps you stuck in a tortured mindset, unable to move forward.

You can’t get past perfectionism until you recognize what it is and what it does to you. If you don’t, it’ll destroy you completely.

Why do we need things to be perfect?

When was the last time that you didn’t worry about what other people thought about you? Can you even remember a time like that? It took me some real thinking to get there. I think I was probably 4 or 5 years old. So young and innocent. The only thing I cared about was playing with my Barbie and Cabbage Patch dolls.

As I got older I started to care about a lot more. My older sister used to make comments about my clothes and later my hair and makeup, or lack thereof. I wanted her approval so I did the things she told me that I “had” to do. It was a never-ending game with her. I could never win her complete approval, but I tried.

Being the second out of 4 kids I was constantly searching for my parents’ approval as well. There was never enough time or attention to go around. Both of my sisters were louder and much more outgoing than I was. And when my brother came along, well, he was the baby boy that no one expected, but everyone adored.

So I searched for approval in other ways. I was the helper, the one who would help cook dinner and clean up the dishes. I vacuumed the floors and did the laundry while everyone else was going about their business. I believed that I had to do those things in order to get love. I believed that I had to earn love, that it wasn’t just freely given.

I wanted so much for everyone to approve of me that I went to great lengths to get their approval. This behavior carried on through school, college and into my work life. I was the constant helper, the one who did all the work. My friends know me as the person who’ll drop everything for them, whatever and whenever they need.

The funny thing is that the harder I tried to get people’s approval, the less of it I actually had.

I couldn’t figure out why that was. I tried so hard to make everything PERFECT.

Then there was the constant attack on myself.

I will not love you until you look a certain way.

Can you imagine saying that to someone?? I can’t, yet I said it to myself every single day for 34 years. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be a certain size, wear certain clothes, have my hair look a certain way, or it just wasn’t enough. I withheld love from myself as a punishment for not living up to my own standards.

This is what perfectionism looks like. I thought that I had to look a certain way and act a certain way for people to love me. I constantly seeking approval won me very little approval and killed me inside.

I read this book and everything changed.

One of my friends suggested that I read a book by Byron Katie called I Need Your Love. I went straight to Amazon to pick up said book. I was shocked by what happened when I started reading it.

“Thoughts about your wants and needs can be very bossy. If you believe them, you feel you have to do what they say - you have to get people’s love and approval. There is another way to respond to a thought, and that is to question it.” I Need Your Love, Page 14

I started to question my thoughts.

Here’s Byron Katie’s process of questioning our thoughts with my thought that I need my parents’ approval.

My thought: I need my parents’ approval.

Start with this question: Is your thought true?

Yes, it seems true to me.

Can you know it to be absolutely 100% true?

Well, no. I guess not. I’ve survived for years thinking that I need their approval and don’t have it so I guess I can live without it.

How do you feel when you believe that thought?

I feel sad and disappointed. I’m really upset that no matter what I do they don’t seem to approve of me. I see that as them not loving me. It’s really hard to live with the belief that my parents don’t love me. I feel hurt and ashamed that no matter what I do or how hard I try nothing seems to make things better. Nothing that I do is enough.

How would you feel if you didn’t believe that you need your parents’ approval?

I would feel free to do whatever I wanted to do. I would feel proud of myself for my accomplishments and would be the person that I want to be. I wouldn’t have to pretend to be anything that I’m not.

Do you see the difference in just one simple thought?!? It was MINDBLOWING for me. I sat there reading this book feeling like the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders! I started thinking about who told me that I needed their approval. I can’t for the life of me remember, so I assume that it was me who came up with the idea. I feel so much lighter without that thought though!

Turn it around.

The next step is a doozy too. Now you have to take your belief and turn it around and around and around. Stop to consider each turnaround and see how it makes you feel. 

I need my parents’ approval. Turn that statement around: I don’t need my parents’ approval. 

This makes me feel free like an enormous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I don’t have to surrender to the decisions that they want me to make. I can make my own decisions based on how I feel and what works best for me. 

I need my parents’ approval. Turn that statement around again: I need my own approval.

I’ve spent my whole life trying so hard to gain other people’s approval that I often forget about whether or not I approve of myself. I don’t need to meet anyone else’s standards for anything, not work or beauty or love. I only need to meet my own. This leaves me feeling so free!!! Like I no longer have to be a certain small size or dress a certain way to be happy with myself. I no longer have to be highly accomplished or wealthy to have approval. I just have to be happy with me. That’s it. 

Perfectionism is just another way that fear gets in the way in our lives. 

It’s the fear that if we aren’t good enough then no one will approve of us or love us. We won’t be impressive enough. But why do we need to be impressive at all? It’s a belief that will hold you back from everything you want to accomplish in life. 

You don’t need to be impressive. You just need to be you.

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