And the Three Counter-Intuitive Tools to Rebalance It

Perfectionism is something that plagues many of us. In a lot of ways, it comes from a good place of wanting to do well, to hold up high ethics and values, and an overall desire to do good in the world. However, instead of being a great motivator, when it’s allowed to become the dictator of our psyche it can lead to a constant state of never being enough or not feeling worthy. We end up becoming a tyrant and unintentionally projecting these feelings on other people, whether we want to or not. We internalize a pressure for perfectionism and create a field-day for our inner critic to run wild. We think it’s the path to reach prosperity, success, or freedom, but it actually does the opposite. Our intentions are great, but we end up being frustrated, annoyed, and angry most of the time and no one wants to be around us. Today, we’re going to talk about the impact of perfectionism and how to change it.

It’s important to note before we dive in that there’s a commonly stated line of being a perfectionist. Humans are not perfectionists—it is not who we are on the whole—it’s one aspect of our psyche we allow to take over. It’s integrated on such a deep level that it’s often hard to separate ourselves from it, but in order to bring it back into balance, we have to find a way to get past our inner critic and back to that inner resourceful, creative part of us that actually is always, already whole, brilliant, safe, and beautiful.

Unbridled Perfectionism as a Control Mechanism

When we find ourselves creating a controlling and restricted environment of any kind, it’s usually an indicator that we’re using a survivor strategy.  We use perfectionism as a coping mechanism to deal with fear and insecurity. We think that if we (and everyone around us) can do everything perfectly, then everything will be under control, safe, and secure. But when we get locked up in a perfectionist headspace, we actually operate out of that fear, and we might believe we are safe and secure, but we get a host of equally as destructive unintended side effects — we never feel good enough, something constantly needs to be fixed in our lives, and those around us are distant and unhappy. 

When Perfections Leads to Destruction

One of the major downsides to perfectionism is that we are immensely hard on ourselves every day. Everything we create – whether it’s a date with our partner, a piece of work, or a moment with our children – is held up for scrutiny and we never feel good enough. As a result, the people around us never feel good enough either. They live in fear or intimidation and feel as if we don’t fully understand their needs because we’re so obsessed with our need for perfection. We end up suffocating ourselves from the possibility of improvement or innovation, it squashes every bit of creativity that comes out of us and ironically, sabotages our original goal – to be an expression of our goodness and love in the world.

What if we don’t address Unbridled Perfectionism? 

If we don’t address unbridled perfectionism, then it will only get worse, and it can lead to serious anxiety attacks and breakdowns. Think about what’s happening in the world right now – everything is so intense, and we don’t know how to deal with it. We double down on control mechanisms and analysis paralysis, trying to fix it when we can’t and this only makes us more stressed and anxious. Having a perfectionist critic have a grip on us definitely isn’t going to fix anything. Plain and simple, we cannot think our way out of feelings of ‘not enough’. 

How to Rebalance Perfectionism 

“If we fail to address unbridled perfectionism, we compromise our relationships, creativity, and sabotage what we truly want: connection, joy, and true expression.”
Address the Inner Critic Underneath 

In order to bring things back into balance, we have to address what is underneath, which is usually the inner critic. We’ve spent so much time with that critical part of ourselves that it feels entitled to be loud and dominant. We feel like we’re obliged to listen intently to whatever that critic says to us – it hypnotizes us with its demands. We can meditate or exercise or think positively all we want, but those are just distractions that temporarily numb the problem because we ignore how we actually feel and what is actually triggering the critic in the first place.  We can become aware of it, but that isn’t the answer, that’s just the first step. 

Courage, Empathy, and Mindfulness

There are three components that counter the controlling grip of perfectionism and lead us back to compassion for ourselves and our experiences: courage, empathy, and mindfulness.

Courage is the burst that we need to start us on the journey. It is the willingness to look at what the perfectionist in you is hiding. Being brave enough to challenge the impulse to control and confront the tender, scared, and anxious parts driving that perfectionism. Once we are able to honestly acknowledge what is happening, we can more easily access empathy towards what we’re feeling right now. 

It’s an actual effort to cultivate the muscle of empathy because the point of the inner critic is that it has none. It is the ultimate taskmaster.  We need to slow down enough so that we put our attention into the actual routines and patterns that are going to have us shift into compassion. We need empathy to be with what we’re feeling, to not push through or force ourselves to be where we’re not. 

Mindfulness is the critical component that allows us to slow down, to pay attention and see what’s happening, and to be able to course correct in the moment. Mindfulness can even become a proactive tool towards navigating perfectionism by cues. 

These three ingredients— courage, mindfulness, and empathy— are what make up compassion and are the exact things that COR is offering through our Brave Heart training. It’s an 8-week online course where together we cultivate this notion of compassion, mindfulness, courage, and empathy. We’ve spent a long time being our own critic, so 8 weeks is actually a very short time to have such a significant shift in the way we act with ourselves and the world. Click here for more.