Paralyzed by Perfectionism... and how to walk free
Consider how much genuine satisfaction is on your plate when you sit down to eat … and I mean that both literally and figuratively.
For those of us who struggle with emotional eating, the answer to that question is usually very indicative of the level of satisfaction in every area of our lives. Consider your personal level of satisfaction in intimate relationships, at home with your family, in your working relationships and socially.
Why such low levels? That’s easy, we’re so busy striving to achieve something better than what we currently have. We think we need to perform better, faster, smarter and harder. We want more, more, more because we don’t believe that we are enough or have enough right now. We’ve indulged in comparisons and bought into other people’s ideas about how they think we ‘should’ be.
With a high degree of perfectionism, there is always an accompanying lack of appreciation for what we currently have in our lives. We refuse to find any joy in our present situation. We tune out the little things that could provide wonderful opportunities to be present and grateful.
We play the “I’ll be happy when…” game: I’ll be happy when … I lose the weight and get down to that smaller size, when my partner starts acknowledging me, when my kids stop fighting, when I get that pay rise at work, when I complete my degree, when I’m finally on that holiday, etc.
Perfectionism, by its very nature means that we can’t accept our imperfections, which is really code for our humanness or feelings we can’t or won’t tolerate and is usually driven by a desire to present a flawless image to the people in our lives who we want to impress. If we wow them with the outside, they won’t notice the inside, we hope. In this way, being addicted to perfectionism is the perfect cover for everything in our lives that we consider to be inadequate, or that doesn’t quite measure up.
We are often so concerned about presenting an image with a stunning veneer: it must be immaculately polished and we put enormous amounts of energy into preserving it. We work so hard at the externals that we become “human doings” rather than human beings.
Scratch the surface of a perfectionist’s life and you’ll find a perpetually dissatisfied person who spends much of the present either living in the past with regret or anticipating the future with a bleak set of ‘what if’s?’
There is no time off for good behaviour. There is never a time when we can say “There, I did it. That was good enough, now I can rest and enjoy myself”.
We keep dangling those glistening carrots just far enough out of reach so that we have this frustrating slog of trying harder and harder on the uphill treadmill of life - but the goal posts keep shifting. We think this is a great way to ‘motivate’ ourselves. All it really does is heighten our anxiety over our inadequacies and ramp up our fear of failure.
Perfectionism can be characterised by procrastination and a constant striving to achieve (but never arriving), we’re always waiting for the ‘right’ time to carry out that chore, correct a piece of work before handing it in or finish a job to its completion.
The relentless internal critisizm and self-scrutiny are enough to drive us insane – and it usually does. Eating is the only way we know how to escape the resulting feelings we don’t want to feel. Jamming food in our mouths helps us to cut off and dissociate. There, bad feelings gone.
And yes, the problem seems to be solved right now, but this is no long term solution as we don’t get any practise at sitting with the original difficult feelings so the next time they come around, we still feel overwhelmed by them, but now we also have a lack of faith in ourselves that we can deal with them.
Our natural human stress response could be the well-known fight or flight syndrome, however with perfectionism, it’s the lesser known freeze-mode we get stuck in. Freezing is the result of drowning in our own self-doubt, effectively immobilising us to act. It’s an exhausting way to live. It’s probably more accurate to say that we are surviving our lives rather than living them.
If you’ve ever dreamed of tasting freedom and throwing off the shackles of perfectionism, this will require great risk and dare on your part - and we are an impatient lot, so it will be challenging. I believe that with the right attitude, anything is possible and you can prove that to yourself by having miniature experiences of being a success, which can snowball over time to take you to the places you have dreamed of.
Letting go is what it’s all about and here’s some ideas to assist you with that:
You are a human being, not a human doing - practise simply being and knowing that you already are enough, right now, in this moment.
To feel that you are enough, breathe into your ‘enough’ and sharpen your skills in finding your internal pause button before you lose control with food next time. Practise getting out of your head and taking a deep breath all the way down to the bottom of your belly. Feel your belly expand. This is where your true resources live.
Seven seconds of being present right now is a fantastic achievement, maybe you could aim for eight seconds tomorrow? Red lights are a great way to implement this step because you’re not going anywhere for a couple of minutes, why not use that time to help yourself?
Spend a few minutes of your morning in appreciation for everything that is right in your life (not what’s wrong with it) and you’ll find more to be grateful for. You have your health, your life and a myriad of possibilities. What do you value in your life? What’s already here? What is already good?
Perfection doesn’t exist. It is a delusion guaranteed to keep us stuck. To get unstuck, you can choose to surrender and disengage from the battle. This is not the same as resignation or giving up. Surrendering is an empowered choice and we do it with our energy and our breath first. Notice where your breath is when you are fully engaged in The Battle and ask yourself if this how you want to be spending your energy?
There is nothing wrong with you, you don’t need to be changed or fixed. You are already perfect and whole. It is precisely our imperfections or our humanness that makes us lovable and genuine people. Embrace them, joke about them and then forgive yourself for not living up to your own unrealistic standards. (Trust me, if they were realistic, you would have achieved them by now).
Re-write your little golden book of standards for how you would like to be living your life and this time instead of rules and should’s, make it with open-ended goals that excite you and feed you, after all, it is your life, no one else’s. You are allowed to make as many mistakes as you like. Mistakes are brilliant learning opportunities in disguise, they are the only way we humans learn. So, here’s to a lifetime of learning and growing.
"It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”
© Copyright 2016 Karla Cameron