When being perfect is not enough
A few years back, I remember reading this story about a girl named Little Lil. Lil was a very intelligent and sensitive young girl that loved her father but wasn’t sure if he loved her back. There was this “shadow”, as the author described it, over her father that created a distance between them and Lil thought that it must be of her own fault. So she decided that if she was perfect then she was going to be good enough and her father would love her, the shadow would go away and happiness would be all she ever feels.
Little did she known that being perfect is an unattainable dream. As she grew up every mistake she made would be internalized as a failure and as such she would feel sad, angry and blame herself. Every mistake was a memory of not being perfect and it would become a little rock. She piled these rocks around her every time until she could no longer see the sun.
One day she discovered a Light coming though crack in the rocks around her and she made that Light her friend. The Light asked her to put the rocks down but even though she wanted she did not know how. The rocks had turned into rules of how she was supposed to live her life and it was unthinkable for her to handle change as she spend her whole life trying to keep these rocks together.
Her friend told her to let go of her #perfectionism as it was an impossible task but she didn’t know how. In order to help her, her friend took her into her past. There she realized that the “shadow” was not her own but her fathers and she took that burden on herself. That “shadow” was anxiety her father felt his whole life and as a young girl she tried to help him be less anxious by being the perfect daughter. Once she realized her past she was able to send that shadow away and work through the piles of rocks around her.
In a black and white world the idea of being “Perfect” could actually be rather compelling.
Who wouldn’t want to be this unstoppable person that does nothing wrong, says nothing wrong, makes no mistakes and never fails! Yet, we live in this world and make no mistake it is a colourful one. The real issue behind perfectionism is the rigidness it entails. We often think that in order to do something perfect we can’t make any mistakes. But how will we ever learn? A great way to improve is to reflect on a mistake and learn from it. It’s not wrong wanting to be excellent at your job and it is definitely not an issue if you want everything neat and tidy. The real issue arises when the sole focus is on perfection and controlling every aspect around it and instead of learning through each experience every mistake is internalized as a personality flaw.
It’s an issue when you have an assignment to do and you are trying to do it so perfectly that you are never able to finish it. The guilt, the distress you feel afterwards the blame you place onto yourself that is the real enemy. Did you ever have people saying that something you did was perfect but never felt satisfied? I can write and rewrite this article 10 times before I post it trying to make it the most compelling to read, the most informative or grammatically correct, but what will my accomplishment be at the end? What was my original goal? To write an article that hopes to inspire and help people struggling with this to find the right motivation and deal with their perfectionism. It doesn’t matter if I miss a comma, it doesn’t make me any less of a psychologist if I leave out a sentence. If someone gives me feedback I can use it to make the next article better. The important thing is for this article to be out there, available to those I am trying to assist and at the end of the day what matters is that I am taking the time to write it so a person struggling with perfectionism can benefit from it. I want to be clear! I am not saying be lazy or do a rushed job. I am saying balance is the key. In the same way that it is important to produce work that you are proud of it is important to prevent stagnation from trying to meet unreasonable standards of perfection
One of my favourite takeaways from the story of Little Lil is that in order to deal with perfectionism we must first try to understand why we are trying to make everything so impossibly perfect. To my professional experience there is always a reason behind it even if the client can’t see it at the moment. Lil had the core belief that she was not good enough which resulted in perfectionistic behaviours and her creating rules about how she was supposed to live her life. Perfectionism was a symptom of much deeper held beliefs about herself. However, by gaining awareness that this issue came to be because she was trying to make her father feel less anxious she managed to gain power over her perfectionism and work through her symptoms. Finding that reason is very important step to put yourself in a position where you are able to effectively work on perfectionistic tendencies as well as any other symptoms that resulted because of it.
However difficult you might think change may be Light can shine in the darkest of places!
Full story of Little Lil: A Story About Trying to Be Perfect
Marios Shialos, BSc, MSc
Licensed Counseling Psychologist [Reg. No. 598]