Imagine you have a cavity. Maybe you’ve had one before, and maybe it hurt like hell. If you were a child when this happened, did your parents ignore it, throw some Ibuprofen at you and walk away? Heck no! They probably (hopefully!) took you to the dentist for a filling.
You didn’t just numb it with some painkillers, you treated the thing that was bothering you before it spread into an infection, putting you at risk for a root canal—or worse, spreading to your jaw, neck, or brain.
Similar to the physical pain of your cavity, self-criticism is a harsh symptom of an underlying issue: perfectionism. Popping a couple pills isn’t going to cure your cavity, and ignoring it will only make it worse. Same goes for your enoughness, or lack thereof. Let me explain…
Whether seeking consolation from a friend or scrolling through “empowering” feeds on Instagram, you’ve probably heard someone somewhere say something along the lines of “stop being so critical of yourself.” Oh yeah, I’ll just do that, says the perfectionist, sarcastically.
Newsflash: you can’t tell a perfectionist to stop being so self-critical.
Telling a perfectionist to stop being so self-critical is like telling a person with a pissed off, hungry lion sprinting right towards them to stop worrying so much (or, for a less dramatic example, throwing a bottle of Ibuprofen at someone with a cavity).
Simply put, it goes so much deeper than that.
For many, women especially, diagnosing themselves with perfectionistic tendencies isn’t very common. In other words, when they talk about how they’re feeling, they don’t really talk about “perfectionism.” However, many of those women know one thing for certain: they don’t feel like they’re “enough.” Not successful enough, confident enough, thin enough, attractive enough or capable enough.
These self-criticisms—these feelings of not being enough—are the key to diagnosing the bigger issue. These messages are like the pain in your tooth telling you something is wrong. And it’s time to pay attention.
Part of the problem with perfectionism is that, as a society, we’re not taking it as seriously as we should be. When we hear the word “perfectionism” being thrown around, it’s usually in a job interview: the humble brag of “I’m somewhat of a perfectionist” is met with nodding heads, smiling faces and “she’s hired” running through the minds of the HR department.
Perfectionism isn’t a resume-builder. It’s not a compliment. It’s not a skill.
At the core, perfectionism is a way of seeking security, love and self-worth. And for many, it’s working—or at least it seems that way.
At the surface, and similar to a control freak, the perfectionist gets what they want when they “perfect” the task at hand. For example, if a perfectionist is going out for a few drinks with friends, they might find themselves anxious beforehand. They want to make sure they say all the right things, speak only of their accomplishments and definitely not mention that horrible mistake they made at work last month (you know, the one that had them crying for weeks). So, the perfectionist follows all of their rules—flawlessly, I might add—and they come home feeling the high of perfecting the night.
Same goes for a clean home, a loving family, working out, eating right, nailing the interview and so on. The perfectionist can look around at all of their accomplishments and think to themselves, “Wow, I did it!” when really what they did was the equivalent of punching themselves in the face over and over again until they did it “right.”
Perfectionistic tendencies are working for them, which is why many perfectionists can’t seem to just “stop being so self-critical.” It’s already a way of life, and it’s somehow been protecting them for years.
The reality is, working your ass off to perfect yourself isn’t coming from a healthy place. And the key to finally freeing yourself from perfectionism isn’t just about being nicer to yourself—although, that’s very much a part of it. Instead, perfection must be taken seriously (see: perfectionism isn’t a resume-builder, compliment, skill line above). We must look at the way we talk to ourselves, how we react when things don’t go our way and ask ourselves the all-important question: am I afraid of being rejected and unloved if I don’t do this perfectly?
These tendencies are almost always rooted in childhood memories, ones that need to be addressed ASAP. Talking to a professional will help you discover the deeper beliefs you have about yourself, to understand how you actually think about yourself and how you’ve been using perfectionism to protect yourself all of these years.
If you’re experiencing perfectionistic tendencies or feelings of worthlessness, contact me today to schedule a no-pressure, no-commitment phone call to see if I can answer any questions you might have. Together, we can work on those BSFs (aka, big scary feelings) getting in the way of your freedom from perfectionism.