So, let me be completely transparent: I am a self-admitted recovering perfectionist. As a 41-year-old type A personality, it took me well into my 30′s to admit that I had a problem with trying to be the perfect person. Perfect in all ways- perfect wife, mother, employee, daughter, friend- the list is endless. My behavior was completely self-inflicted and the judge and jury who decided the verdict of ‘perfect’ or ‘imperfect’, was always me. And for the most part, I just never measured up to where I set the bar.
Now, I should say that my battle of perfectionism has in many ways helped me be successful. Because I set high expectations for myself, I have been very successful in many parts of my life. However, if a behavioral habit has negative outcomes and is repeated regardless of those negative consequences, it is not healthy. And my perfectionism certainly became unhealthy.
Perfectionism has a lot of ugly friends and the one that I battle the most is guilt. As I continue to coach and mentor young professionals, I have found that guilt especially likes women. Perhaps it is negative media that has told us how we should look, feel and act or it could be socially-connected to how we grew up. Determining the ‘why’ is well beyond my level of education or pay grade. However, as an experienced perfectionist, here is what I can share with you if you struggle with a feeling of always needing to be perfect and feeling overwhelming guilt when you are not:
- Admit that you are a perfectionist- it is liberating and ok to admit.
- Write down the negative self-talk that occurs when you don’t measure up to your own expectations. Then, re-write that self-talk into positive points. Replacing the tapes that repeat in your head is key to changing your behavior.
- Give yourself permission to mess up.
- Set realistic standards for yourself.
- Don’t procrastinate. Perfectionism can make you put things off so you don’t risk messing up.
- Give yourself time. You are most likely working on changing a lifetime behavior and it will be one that you will have to consciously focus on throughout your life.
- Reward yourself for making progress.
- Ask for help. If you are not able to handle this yourself, it is perfectly acceptable to get help from a counselor, psychiatrist, life coach or other professional.
If you are a perfectionist, welcome to the club! It actually can be a beautiful trait if you learn to control the negative implications that come with it. Ultimately, it comes down to loving and accepting yourself, even your imperfections.
Here are a couple of books that might interest you:
Never Good Enough: How to Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage without Letting It Ruin Your Life by M.R. Basco (Simon & Schuster)
Perfectionism: What’s Bad about Being Too Good? By M. Adderholdt-Elliott, M. Elliott, & J. Goldberg (Monarch Books)
Natalie Guzman is a Senior Vice President of Marketing at Fifth Third Bank. She is an active member of Mentoring Women’s Network and serves on the national Project: Lead committee.