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Overcome The Oppression of Perfectionism

Emily awoke on Sunday morning with one thought, “I am exhausted!”  She wanted to stay in bed but thoughts were running through her mind, the refrigerator was empty, the house was a mess, she had to review a presentation she was delivering on Monday, she needed to pick up her five year old daughter from a sleepover and take her to get fitted for her dance costume and on and on and on.

At 42, Emily had spent the last 25 years striving to be the very best and to do the very best. Her ambition was not the problem. The problem was that no matter what Emily did, no matter how she showed up, no matter the effort she made, she was not satisfied.

Emily is an accomplished professional who is the head of HR for a large non-profit. Despite her success and the appreciation her company has for her, Emily is still waiting to “make it.” Her work product is a constant worry.  Emily never feels satisfied with her quarterly reports or her workplace presentations. She spends hours preparing for her monthly board presentations and beats herself up afterward for not responding to questions from the board members in exactly the right way.

Though Emily loves being a mom, she rarely lets herself enjoy being a mom. Emily tries to make up for not being a stay at home mom who never uses childcare. She provides elaborate play group dates and holiday parties for her daughter’s playgroup and school friends.

Emily divorced her daughter's dad two years prior. Emily worries about the way it looks to others to be a divorced single mom with a young child. Emily tries to take on activities at her synagogue and at the library in order to project to the outside world the image of living in accordance with what the perfect woman and mother should be.

Emily ignores the fact that her best has been more than good enough.

  She is stuck in a never ending, self-defeating cycle of perfectionism. Her perfectionism has caused her anxiety, frustration, self-recrimination, shame and an inability to enjoy her life.

Emily was taught, by two demanding parents, that she needed to get the best grades, only engage in the most appropriate behavior, and never make mistakes. As a young girl, Emily spoke harshly to herself and used self criticism to motivate herself. Emily felt she needed to do whatever it takes to appear perfect and sustain her value in the world.

Since perfect behavior, perfect outcomes and the perfect image are things that do not exist, they were impossible for Emily to attain. She felt deficient, flawed, and incompetent. When others contradicted Emily’s harsh self appraisals and complemented her, Emily refused to accept their kind words and praise in order to appear more likable and non-threatening.





Unrealistic and impossible expectations are the weapons perfectionists use as a potent form of self-sabotage. Does the description of Emily sound a bit too extreme to you? Is it a way of life you can't relate to?  I hope it is. But, since perfectionists have a hard time seeing themselves as the perfectly imperfect people they so gloriously are, I am going to provide you with some examples of the less obvious ways the trait of perfectionism shows up.

The trait of perfectionism may show up in the following ways:

  • A perfectionist may avoid reaching out for necessary help because they fear to do so will make them appear incompetent.

  • Perfectionists avoid new things or feel unwilling to approach something as a beginner. They would rather avoid the experience of trying something new which they perceive as a chance for humiliation rather than a learning opportunity.

  • Perfectionists may over-commit.  They take on a multitude of responsibilities for a short period of time but expect that means they should be able to sustain the all consuming behavior over a long period of time, even though to do so is highly unlikely. When forced to let some of their commitments go, they feel like they have failed.

  • Perfectionists sometimes experience fear of fear.  Fear of fear is an all or nothing approach to doing and not doing things that arises in the face of experiencing anxiety.  The perfectionist person believes that if they feel even the slightest bit of anxiety, their anxiety will be obvious to the people around them and that they will be judged for being anxious.  The fear of anxiety may also cause worry that there insecurities will escalate and that they won't have the ability or control to handle them. 

  • Perfectionists often downplay their abilities or accomplishments in order to be liked or to appear non-threatening.

  • Perfectionists often believe that others may think of them as being a failure or a fraud.

  • Some perfectionists are held in the grip of needing to cross-check everything they do and even after cross-checking still feel unsure that their work is good enough.

  • No matter what their effort, perfectionists frequently think that they could have and should have done better so they keep pushing themselves harder in an attempt to achieve the unrealistic standards they set for themselves.  

  • Some perfectionists describe feeling like they have two battling parts of themsselves, one part that is pushing and goading and putting them down and another part doing everything that can be done to be a success and always trying to do better or more while becoming increasingly resentful.

Who else would you treat the way you treat yourself? 

I thought so! No one! 

There is absolutely no reason to treat yourself in such a demanding and unkind way. 
 If the tendencies I described resonate with you or remind you of the way you live, it is likely that on a deeper level of mind,  you already unconsciously know that the only person who is really making demands on you to do better or to do more is yourself.

If so,  please ask yourself,

“What would it take for me to become a more self-accepting and self compassionate person?”

“What would it take for me to become a true friend to myself?”


Would it be possible for you to make a small step on the road to a drastic loving change by making a pledge to yourself that from this moment forward, you are going to treat yourself with love and accept that you are already good enough?

Would it be possible for you to accept that the way you act is good enough, the way you think is good enough, and the way that you go out of your way to help and be kind to others is more than enough?

What would it look like to be on the path to becoming your own best friend?


The Path To Becoming Your Own Best Friend

On the path to becoming your own best friend you will do good things, no matter how small, for yourself each and every day.

You will speak to yourself with kindness and know that kindness and love is more motivating than any criticism or contempt could ever be.

You will notice when you are held in the grip of the pressure to be perfect, take a deep breath and on the exhale release that pressure.

Can you imagine how good that will feel? 


Mantras to Evoke Neuroplasticity And Erase Perfectionism

Repeat the following words in your mind:

I am my own best friend and I am kind to myself, just as I am kind towards others.

My best really is good enough. 

If I want to do more or better than I currently am doing, then I can, but perfection is not my goal. 

Every human has limitations and it’s unfair to expect that I don’t.

I know that I certainly wouldn't treat others unkindly, so there is no reason to treat myself unkindly.


Self-Acceptance Can Exist Side-By-Side With High Ideals

As you accept yourself for the wonderful human being that you are, know that you are still a person with high ideals, high aspirations and the potential to exceed the goals that you set for yourself. The difference is that you know when enough is enough and you stop punishing yourself with feelings of guilt, inadequacy or whatever else seems to take over you when it's time to simply let go.



Two Step

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