Perfectionism is not a virtue. It is a neurosis. It is an obsessive need to be perfect and to do everything perfectly even if such rectitude is not required. Perfectionists do not look for perfection – they look for the imperfection.
And they will always find it – both in themselves and everything they do. They can never be satisfied.
Perfectionism is an expression of the underlying belief that “no matter how hard I try, it is never enough.” It comes from having parents who were themselves perfectionists.
They set the bar high, and if it was reached, they would immediately raise the bar. Whatever was presented, it was never enough. “You can always do better.” This led to an even more damaging belief: “I will never be enough.”
I have no evidence for this, but I have yet to meet someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) who is not afflicted with the disease of perfectionism.
Doesn’t it make sense that if you live your life out of the belief that no matter how hard you try it will never be enough, that one day your body will say, “Why bother? I might as well shut down, withdraw my energy and give up?”
The underlying driving force behind perfectionism is a strong and ever-present need for the approval they never got from their over-demanding perfectionistic parents.
However, the problem is that no one else will do. No matter how many people give them approval in later life, it is the love and approval from their parents that they consistently crave and can never get. It’s a deep wound and a deficit of love they can’t seem to make up.
So what to do about it?
Well, the first thing to do is love and accept yourself for being a perfectionist. It is important not to begin from a place of having done it wrong. You haven’t. It’s just that now it’s time to do life a bit differently so you can enjoy it more. You can do this by using the 13-Steps to Radical Self-Forgiveness.
The second thing to do is forgive your parents for giving you the neurosis in the first place. They didn’t mean to wound you, and they no doubt didn’t realize that by being so demanding of ever-increasing high standards they were in fact withholding love from you and damaging you.
Nevertheless, the fact is they did, and subconsciously you are full of rage about it. So that needs to be expressed and released from your body using all five stages of the Radical Forgiveness process. You also have to give up your addictive need for your parent’s approval and get that out of your body.
The third thing to do, after having done the above release work, is begin to change your habits. Like any addiction, your perfectionism is hard to break even after you have taken away the underlying cause of it. It’s an old habit that you need to try to break.
Fortunately, you have inside you an Inner Slob. Someone who would really like to be untidy, sloppy, relaxed and slothful when there is no real need to be otherwise. So make an effort to love your Inner Slob. Make friends with it and let it come out from time to time.
You may have to coax him or her out because it seems so foreign to you. You will need to practice being a slob from a time, just to feel what it is like to be other than perfect. Here’s what I have suggested in the chapter dealing with perfectionism in my latest book, 25 Practical Uses for Radical Forgiveness.
Finally, you have to practice being a non-perfectionist. As I pointed out earlier, perfectionism is almost incurable, but you can get to the point where you are not obsessive about it. You can perhaps actually find satisfaction in being more relaxed and less self-critical about what you do and how you feel about yourself.
I recommend putting aside some hours or even a day a week where you intentionally allow yourself to be a lot less than perfect. Not quite a slob, but going in that direction. For example, try not washing the dishes right away. If you never leave the house without make-up, go out without it. Don’t check your e-mails for half a day at least. Switch off your cell phone. Don’t return texts or phone calls. Don’t make the bed. But do it all consciously and with full awareness of how it feels. It will create anxiety at first, but push through it.
Something else you might try is to get some paints like the ones kids use at school and do some paintings freestyle. Try finger painting even. If you have kids, do it with them. Refuse to be limited by having to stay within lines or do things ‘properly.’ Be sure to put your paintings up where you can see them and leave them there for all to see for at least two days. They do not need to look good, pretty or like any work of art at all. Just free expression.
Have fun with it, and for goodness sake don’t try to do it right? OK?
Click the arrow above to hear Colin read the first two minutes from his chapter, “Control Perfectionism & CFS, and Find Your Inner Slob” from the audio book, 25 Practical Uses for Radical Forgiveness.