Hi, my name is Sherelle J. Gilbert and I am a perfectionist. For as long as I can remember I have always been conscientious about following rules and doing what is right. I rarely got in trouble as a child; I didn’t like the thought of making a mistake and I didn’t like disappointing my parents. You can say I was your typical “goody two shoes” or over-achiever. To this day, I take pride in being detail-oriented, organized and dependable. I even joke about my perfectionism by telling people I’m a little “OCD” when it comes to certain things – pretty much all things 🙂
Like I said before, I have always been fearful of making mistakes and this results in me being super controlling and hard on myself. If I do make a mistake in whatever way, work-related, personal, financial, etc., my mind will race for hours and even days rehashing the mistake wishing I had done things differently. It’s hard for me to let little things go, especially things of which I have no control. In any type of work I do, specifically in my blogging and other endeavors, I often try to anticipate what someone will say or think, whether they will like it or not. I often go back and forth in my head for a while before I actually launch an idea or put for effort towards something. I tend to want things to be perfect and will allow thoughts of imperfection or dissatisfaction from others keep me from doing something.
As a perfectionist, much of my drive is an effort to protect myself from the emotional injury associated with criticism, judgement or being told by someone else that I’ve failed.
While being a perfectionist or “OCD” is often joked about, it’s important to really look at the root if this has become a problem in your life or something of recurrence. We all have a desire to be our very best, so this should not be confused with perfectionism. Perfectionism is a trait associated with fear and is driven by anxiety and worry. That fear can actually prevent you from achieving certain goals or being where you desire to be because your focus isn’t on the goal at hand or the process, but instead it’s on avoiding mistakes, failure and criticism and trying to get it right the first time.
Perfectionism is often a personality trait of introverts (hi, I’m an introvert, too) because we are deep thinkers and observers. We’re able to understand and read people. We often evaluate ourselves and spend a lot of time alone. So, a great deal of self-evaluation and internal analysis can turn into the perfectionist monster when those deep-rooted insecurities aren’t assessed and addressed. The goal with this perfectionist trait is to use personal imperfections or shortcomings to make ourselves better and not perpetuate the deep-rooted insecurities with self-criticism.
Since this is something I’ve recognized within myself (and with the help of my husband who lovingly alerts me when the perfectionist monster is loose), I have identified a few ways to help address perfectionism and develop a new way of thinking and doing.
Challenge the fears hidden beneath perfectionism.
As mentioned before, there is a root of the perfectionist trait and for me it is fear of failure, fear of criticism, basically fear which is driven by anxiety and worry. I pretty much challenge those worries by asking myself if the thing I fear happening happened, what would I do? If someone didn’t like your idea, or your blog, or criticized your work, would you stop or would you keep going? – is basically the question I would ask myself. If it’s something I truly enjoy and am passionate about, the answer is keep going. I try to use whatever fear is plaguing me at that moment to propel me forward. Starting off this year I wrote down some of the things I haven’t done because of fear and I said I’m going to do these things because of fear.
Accept mistakes, learn from them and move on.
If you’re a perfectionist you probably harp on mishaps you’ve made. This isn’t helpful as it prevents you from focusing on your accomplishments. While no one likes to make mistakes, we must learn to accept them because they are a part of life. I’ve had to tell myself so many times that if I make a mistake, it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world and the important thing is to learn from it. I think perfectionists think that making mistakes somehow changes our value or self-worth, like we’re no longer good enough or capable after a mistake which is a lie! I had to start giving myself permission to mess up and learn from it without allowing those mistakes to define me.
Stop avoiding challenges.
Perfectionists stick to what we know because it’s what we can control and what we’re good at. We don’t like anything spontaneous or anything that will challenge us to move outside of our comfort zone. We will do a lot and do it well but it has to be within that comfort zone. Challenges, learning something new, developing new skills is tough for a perfectionist because it puts us in a vulnerable position. Because we want to be perfect in everything and know and do everything well and beyond, we tend to stick with the stuff we already know and we perfect and control that. Bringing anything new into the equation also brings the possibility of failure, which we hate. However, the problem with this is there is no growth. While we may have perfected what we currently do, we don’t have room to learn anything new or develop any new skills. We limit ourselves which then stunts our growth. As a perfectionist, I realize and have to constantly encourage myself to stop avoiding things that may be challenging and scary. It’s okay to be on the learning side of a new task or venture. The challenges and the struggles help to make us stronger and they authenticate us making us relateable to others. No one can relate to someone who’s perfect all the time with little to no mistakes.
Learn to relinquish control.
The honest truth is that we can’t control everything. “God is in control, not me,” is what I often have to tell myself because sometimes I forget. My ways of perfection trick me into believing that I am in control of everything I do, when at the end of the day no matter what I do God has the ultimate control. I really didn’t know how bad my perfectionism was until I got married (I’m telling you marriage truly saves you from yourself) to a man with a free-spirited personality. Through my husband, from God, I’ve experienced some hard lessons about what it means to relinquish control and the need to be a perfectionist. I didn’t realize how much anxiety I was causing myself. It’s really a vicious cycle, fear and anxiety causes perfectionism and perfectionism creates fear and anxiety. It just keeps going. In learning to relinquish control to the one who’s truly in control, has given me a sense of freedom and has helped me to worry less and less. My husband always tells me to “just do what you can, the very best you can, and let God do the rest” and that is such a weight off. You mean I don’t have to stress myself out trying to be perfect and get it right the first time without any mistakes? When you allow yourself room to learn and make mistakes some of the best qualities about yourself begin to emerge, areas you didn’t even know you were there because you were too busy trying to be perfect.
If you’re reading this and you were able to relate, then I hope this helped provide a little insight and some tools to help you not be so caught up in the need to be perfect. Again, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be your best you, but if you’re at the point where it paralyzes you from doing new things, it has you so rigid where you are controlling and hard on yourself, or it’s increased your anxiety, then it’s time for some self-evaluation and even some therapeutic help. It’s important that we are kind to ourselves with healthy and accurate thoughts and words. We don’t realize the effect our thoughts and words have on our mental health and the issues we may be perpetuating internally.
Until next time…