Overcoming Perfectionism With Self-Compassion

February 3, 2017

And just like that, it’s the weekend again! Can I get an Amen?! It’s gonna be a 50/50 split between relaxing with family and catching up on housework for me.  Hopefully you’ve got something planned that will make you feel peaceful and bring you joy! Today I’m addressing a topic that is one of the […]

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And just like that, it’s the weekend again! Can I get an Amen?! It’s gonna be a 50/50 split between relaxing with family and catching up on housework for me.  Hopefully you’ve got something planned that will make you feel peaceful and bring you joy!
Today I’m addressing a topic that is one of the most common issues my clients struggle with: perfectionism.  Perfectionism is rooted in insecurity, and can cause people to feel like they don’t have value or worth if they make a mistake or experience something painful.  It can take many forms, including making a person overly critical of themselves or others, self-protecting by not letting people get too close emotionally, or thinking and speaking negatively more often than not. Unaddressed, pervasive perfectionism can lead to eating disorders, substance addiction, or even self-harm.
If you relate with anything you just read, you may be wondering how to overcome these perfectionist thought patterns.  One of the most effective things a person can do to combat perfectionism is practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion means what it sounds like: you respond to yourself compassionately when things go wrong or you experience emotional pain.  Think about what you would say or do to a close friend if they were experiencing the same exact difficult problem as you.  For example, if your Bestie lost their job, it is unlikely you would berate them when they called you to tell you the news.  I doubt you would list off all the things they could have or should have done better in order to stay employed.  I’m guessing you would say how sorry you were that they had to go through that and maybe assure them they will find something new, something better soon.  I bet you would even take them out for dinner and let them know that this will all work out for their good someday.
So why should we treat ourselves any differently?  On any given day, we are all showing up and doing our best.  Some days that means we get it all right.  Some days that means we get just about all of it wrong.  And most days that means we have a healthy mix of both.  This is the same for ALL people.  Perfectionists tend to be highly consumed with their own shortcomings and struggle to believe that oft quoted phrase, “Nobody’s perfect!”  NOBODY.  
We can practice self-compassion each time we feel hurt, disappointed, angry, or sad.  We can notice what we are feeling and then talk to ourselves as we would our Bestie.  Gently, and with love.  We can recognize that what we are going through is hard, but life itself is hard…and it’s hard for everyone.  We can notice when we are judging ourselves harshly and tell ourselves to stop it already.  Not only does it accomplish zero, but it’s also just plain mean.  This world is mean enough as it is.  Let’s not exacerbate the problem by being mean to ourselves. 
If you are feeling stuck in a rut of negative self-talk, and you need help getting to a place of self-compassion, there are many things you can do. Call your therapist or a trusted friend or family member and tell them what you are feeling.  Listen to what they say.  Hear their compassion for you. Allow yourself to fully believe their words…you shared with them because you know they love you and want what’s best for you.  You can also keep a list of affirmations, or loving truths about yourself and read through them when you are feeling low.  You can remind yourself (non-judgmentally) to stay in the present moment and keep going in your present task.  Ruminating on the past or worrying about the future do little to solve your actual problems and they certainly won’t improve your mood.
If you are interested in learning more about perfectionism and self-compassion, you can visit these sites:

Besties, Mark Twain once said, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”  I’m pretty sure he knew what’s up.  Be kind to yourselves, today and always.

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I'm Cathleen, your new (foster) mom friend.

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