If perfectionism is something that has accompanied you throughout your life, chances are the two of you have a love-hate relationship. Sometimes you deeply resent this part of you. How he doesn’t let you leave the house looking like that and how he scolds you if you do. How he’s always watching and pushing away. Other times, you’re oddly proud of how far you’re taking yourself, which feels like momentary spikes of haughty arrogance, jabs of external validation, and that fleeting feeling of being better (no, the best) at whatever by comparison. But no matter what, you can never quite “get there”; you never feel “good enough”.
Perfectionism is like an abusive relationship with ourselves where WE are the ones doling out intermittent reinforcement like crusty pieces of bread. Sometimes they look at us sideways: “That was decent”, and other times they stare at us: “You’re worthless”. It’s no wonder we continue to do everything we can to avoid the latter, and no wonder so many of our days can feel brutal.
Many people I know resign themselves to this dynamic within themselves. They affirm perfectionism as an integral part of their personality. I used to. That was before I knew through my training and work with hundreds of clients that perfectionism is not who we are. Rather, it’s what we learned to do in an innocent attempt to heal something that got hurt along the way. It’s this rethinking and some revolutionary insight that changes this whole damn thing: perfectionism is actually one of your best inner friends; it just has a messy way of displaying it.
At Internal Family Systems, perfectionism is thought of as an internal “manager,” a protective part of us that is doing everything it can to, well, protect us. Think about the things you tend to be a perfectionist about: food, weight, achievements, work, intelligence, image, and appearance. Now follow the thread back and I bet you’ll find some shocking previous wounds in the area(s) that perfectionism shows you today. Perfectionism is simply doing whatever it takes to try to manage yourself and your world NOW so that it never happens again or hurts you like it did THEN.
Perfectionism is not who we are. Rather, it’s what we learned to do in an innocent attempt to heal something that got hurt along the way.
Despite your best intentions, our perfectionist self erodes our spirit and drains our lives of time, energy, and confidence. They knock us down and tear us apart. They’re not sustainable, and they’re certainly not enjoyable.
So what can we do?
We heal what perfectionism still feels the need to protect. In IFS, these parts of us are called exiles. The exiled parts of us carry burdens, traumas and wounds from our younger years. They can be individual wounds, like that time that happened and you never got over it. They can also be collective burdens, such as the unrealistic expectations that patriarchy places on women’s bodies or the intergenerational wounds of systemic racism.
Healing is being with, feeling, and allowing the parts of us and the pains within us that have remained silent to finally have a voice and testimony. We are told “What is in the past is in the past”, but similar to what Carl Jung said: “Until you make conscious the unconscious, it will direct your life and you will call it destiny”, until we heal our unhealed parts. we will organize our life by and around them.
This is the heart of why we created the Better Bad Days eCourse. To help educate and empower you to know that perfectionism is doable and curable, whether you dabble in perfectionism or consider it a way of life. In the five-week eCourse, I walk you through step-by-step how to work with the parts of yourself that cause you the most struggle and conflict. Because the bad days will keep coming, but they don’t have to be so brutal.
Mental Real Estate Recovery
WE WASTE A LOT OF MENTAL SPACE TRYING TO BE PERFECT. When we can’t risk the possible consequences of just being ourselves, we replay over and over in advance what we’ll say, what we’ll wear, how we’ll keep it “together” so we can keep our show intact. When you don’t feel the need to do that anymore, you just show up and figure it out as you go. MUCH EASIER.
buying time and Energy
I used to write and rewrite to-do lists if I made a small typing mistake. Talk about a waste of time. With perfectionism healed on a deeper level, she knows when to really apply her attention and when to let it go, which saves time and energy, two resources we always need.
No more playing defense
When we are caught in the trance of perfectionism, we often play life on the defensive, guiding our behavior around what we do NOT want to happen. Ideally, our actions and our world are centered around what we want to grow and nurture. Healing perfectionism frees us to do more of that.
Your being is not an apology
When we haven’t worked on or looked at our deeper programming, we can unconsciously live as if our very being is an apology. We find ourselves apologizing for taking up space. For need. For exist. This is a debilitating way of life that slowly erodes our essence and vitality over time.
Gain more internal space
When our internal landscape is not dominated by our critic, we have more space to dream, wonder and listen to our limits and borders. We have inner space to explore who we are versus who we think we should be. We need to turn the volume down so we can hear our truth, clarify ourselves, and lead ourselves in life, work, and relationships.
working better together
When we are aligned inside we feel at peace. Imagine a flock of birds flying in different directions. Chaos, right? Now imagine them in a neat little V, all facing the same direction. This is how we want our internal family of parts to work: together. When we help heal perfectionism, we get that part of us that struggles to work FOR US, and let me tell you, we are better together on the inside than when we are internally at odds.
Join Kate, Wit & Delight and me as the first students on the Better Bad Days eCourse, where I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process I’ve walked hundreds of clients through to cure their perfectionism, befriend their critic , and learn to relate to themselves in a whole new way. Through the course, you’ll gain access to weekly one-on-one lessons, guided meditations, and weekly live group coaching calls where you’ll learn the “how to” of healing in a hands-on way.
Check out my recent Instagram Live where I discuss the Better Bad Days eCourse and answer some of your questions.
More ways to get the job done
find a therapist
I do this work with clients. You can learn more about my work here, and you can also find a great list of providers in the IFS directory here.
I recommend any Tara Brach or Richard Schwartz meditation on Insight Timer. I am also an Insight teacher at @danna. 🙂
get on your mat
It can be hard to sit still and sit with our inner perfectionist, but yoga packs a punch when it comes to calming and calming the nervous system.
Walking does more than just offer fresh air. It also activates both sides of our brain through bilateral stimulation, so we literally process information and places where we’re stuck. It comes in handy when working on something challenging!
Journal, Track and Record
I believe that journaling and using a planner can be great tools for tracking our goals, progress, and needs. I love Kate’s products for doing just that.
Dr. Anna Roth is a holistic doctoral psychologist and registered yoga teacher with a passion for integrative and embodied treatment approaches to mental health. She loves to identify root causes and provide strategic intervention that is as multi-dimensional as the humans she helps.
Soulful and holistic, Dr. Roth’s method incorporates the best of psychology, somatics, spirituality, mindfulness, functional medicine, and yoga for deep and lasting healing. Often in therapy, mental health professionals focus from the neck up, examining what people are thinking, rather than what they are feeling. Anna advocates for a broader lens, delving into the cues people get from their mind, body, and spirit to reimagine healing in a new light. She currently works in private practice and is accepting new clients.
To learn more about their state-of-the-art women’s mental health program, click here or visit their website for more information.