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I want you to imagine a local 10K race.  You have seen the signs and considered entering it.  But thoughts creep into your mind…..

  • “I’ve haven’t done much running recently; I won’t be able to do a good time”
  • “I won’t be as good as other people”
  • “I will show myself up”

So, you procrastinate for a month.  You finally decide to enter only to find you have missed the early deadline and you must now pay more.  You feel annoyed at yourself, thinking how stupid you were to leave things so late.

You start your training and place high expectations upon yourself.  You decide on the time you want to get, comparing yourself to the past when you achieved a time based on lots of training.  You go on your first run and quickly realise the time you are aiming for is unachievable.  Your heart sinks at the thought of falling short of that and you just want to forget the whole thing.  Critical messages start to circulate in your head…….

  • “I am never any good at anything”
  • “I always mess things up”
  • “I am stupid”

Can you identify with any parts of this story?  The procrastination and indecision, fear of failure, setting unrealistic standards, and being highly critical.

Are you also aware these are all signs of being a perfectionist?

The impact of perfectionism on wellbeing

Whilst we all want to be the best versions of ourselves, perfectionists do this to the detriment of their wellbeing.  By placing such stress on themselves, their quest for perfection becomes more and more unachievable.  This perfection seeking behaviour also has links to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

People can often confuse high achievers as perfectionists.  High achievers are determined and driven people who set to accomplish the goals which are important to them.  These goals are unrelated to what others think about them or a fear of failure.

Perfectionists are not driven by the quest of achieving perfection.  Nor do they consider themselves perfect.  In truth they are avoiding failure and the feeling of not being good enough.

Where perfectionism comes from

Perfectionism can be a product of our upbringing.  As young children the level of our worth (self-worth) is created from the messages we receive our parents, teachers, and other significant people.  If we are told things like we are not good enough/too fat/not pretty enough, we start to believe it.  Imagine how painful it is to truly believe you are not enough.  Becoming a perfectionist therefore is a defence against these terrible beliefs.  It is a way of providing evidence to the contrary.

Having parents with high expectations can also lead to perfectionism.  Imagine a child growing up in this type of household.  Not only would they be expected to perform highly within their academic performance but would also need to shine in their extracurricular activities too.  Where that child falls short, they may experience criticism, disappointment, or disapproval.  So, what does the child do?   They work their socks off to please their parents to avoid the consequences of failure.  Yet this way of overachieving at all costs lasts long after childhood, becoming the “norm” for them as a person.

Another scenario would see a child growing up in a chaotic home and/or with unpredictable parents.  Or perhaps the family suffered a significant trauma e.g., death, acrimonious divorce, extreme financial hardship.  The child strives to achieve perfection as this becomes a way in which to gain control within their environment.

Our culture and schools can also have a huge impact.  Young people are surrounded by images of thin, beautiful people, many of whose images have been altered digitally.  It is impossible to live up to this, yet for some, they measure their worth on how much they can look like this.  Some school environments can also put undue pressure on children, creating a culture that unless you are an A* student, you are unworthy and don’t belong.

It’s our imperfections that make us who we are

Coming back to my race analogy, our life isn’t defined by the races we have won or the personal bests.  Instead, the memorable moments are the funny stories we have which expose our flaws.   I look back on the races I have done over the years.  I have no clue whatsoever what the times were.  Instead, I remember:

  • How I ran a marathon on a broken toe – not to be recommended!
  • Forgetting to bring a change of clothes after a half marathon and sitting in a restaurant in my stinking running kit
  • Getting sun burnt on a 10K after forgetting to put sunscreen on
  • Turning up for a half marathon 30 mins too late as I had got the start time wrong and bursting into tears!

Being perfect doesn’t make us human, it’s our flaws that make us human and aren’t they a wonderful thing?   I absolutely give you permission to be imperfect and please remember, you are enough just as you are.

If you are struggling with the impact of being a perfectionist to the detriment of your wellbeing, why not book in to see me?  We can explore what lies beneath your drive to be perfect, unpick it and find strategies to manage this.  Head over to my website to get in contact.