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  • Kylie van Gelder

My Struggle with Perfectionism and How I’m Working to Overcome it

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

Oh perfectionism, you nasty little bugger.

To be clear, I didn’t just wake up one day and say Hi, my name is Kylie and I’m a perfectionist. Nope, not at all.

For years, I didn’t even know I was a perfectionist.

People would tell me, but that’s like telling an addict they have a problem. Only the person with the issue can be the one who says “Yup, this shit sucks and it’s affecting my life.”

Eventually, I made it to this point and I am so flipping happy I did.

What is perfectionism?

First of all, it’s not a good thing! No matter what society says, being a perfectionist is not the answer. Sure it can support you in delivering quality work, but mainly it causes self-criticism, frustration and anxiety, among other things.

Basically, perfectionism is the thought that you can actually attain perfection.

As Brené Brown, author, researcher and shame expert, writes

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as trying to do your best.”

When you try to do your best, you try. Whereas, a perfectionist will only try if they know they can do it perfectly or can control a particular outcome.

Examples of Perfectionism — True Stories from My Life

An example of my own perfectionism causing a problem was when I went to university for a master’s in psychology. Spoiler alert, it didn’t help.

Before I had even started the degree, I told myself and others that I had to get cum laude — level of distinction or high grade achievement.

There was no talk about what I was going to learn or how I was going to enjoy it. It was only about the grade.

Being an unknowing perfectionist at the time, I did achieve the cum laude grade requirement, but at what cost?

After completing the degree, I shrugged my shoulders and went about my day.

Really Kylie? Yup. I did what I came there for. No enjoyment in my accomplishment, nothing. Boring!

Sure, there was initial excitement, but it was more one of relief. After all, the grade was the expectation. Less than a distinction would have been seen as failure in my eyes.

What a massive weight to put on yourself. Looking back, I realize this, but at the time all I felt was pressure, stress and an abundance of anxiety.

To tell you the full truth here, I was such a perfectionist that I used to carry a portable hair straightener in my purse. WTF?!

When there is a touch of humidity in the air, my hair frizzes up like an unkept poodle.

I’d actually arrive at engagements earlier than most and rush to the bathroom. Of course, being the perfect perfectionist, I had pre-heated my straightener 5 minutes in advance, so it was ready when I hit the ladies.

Controlling much? My poor husband.

What is at the Root of Perfectionism?

The number one factor at the root of perfectionism is a low of self-confidence.

You may also experience:

  • A need for other people’s approval (a.k.a. people-pleaser)

  • Anxiety (all types)

  • Depression

  • Imposter syndrome (thinking you’re not smart/capable/good enough and that others will find out you’re a fraud)

  • Feelings of guilt and shame

  • The need to attain unattainable standards

  • Procrastination — like big time!

  • A focus on the end result, rather than on learning

  • Fear of failing

  • Controlling in every sense of the word

  • Feelings of inadequacy

  • A need to overcompensate or exaggerate to feel like you belong

  • Struggle with criticism

  • Critical/judgemental of others

How I’m Working to Overcome Perfectionism

First of all, perfectionism is like an ex that keeps stalking you. I refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist. It’s something you constantly need to be aware of, but you can get better at it.

Here’s what’s been working for me.

  1. Admit you have a problem No more lies or coverups. Only when you realize it and admit it, can you start to move forward.

  2. Check the story vs. reality Ask yourself some questions to see if the negative story you’re telling yourself checks out. Is it true? The answer is likely no. Look for proof to prove the story wrong. Dig deep and really look at what you’re saying to yourself compared to what you’re doing or have actually done.

  3. Be compassionate with yourself Treat yourself like you treat others. Plain and simple. There is no way you tell your best friend she’s not good enough. Not a chance! Being compassionate with yourself means forgiving yourself, being free from self-judgement and from worrying about the judgement of others. You’re a person and just like all people, you deserve to be treated with nicely.

  4. Meditate Even as little as 5 minutes a day while sitting at your desk or in the bus can have a major impact on clearing space in your mind. It also reduces anxiety.

  5. Try new things Ugh, a perfectionists nightmare. Just shut up now! I know it sucks, but in order to build our confidence and step out of being a perfectionist, we have to try new things. We also need to risk failure and embarrassment. Honestly, I feel like I’m failing just writing this post, but I know I want to help others, so… yeah. It’s scary as hell, but if you start small, the threshold is low. I’ll admit, I still feel like those who read this are staring at my nakedness. Eek!

  6. Start small and take baby steps In his book How to be an Imperfectionist, Stephen Guise talks about doing small, but strange things like lying down on the ground in public or doing push-ups (in my case squats) in a public place other than the gym. These are a socially unacceptable things to do that make us feel silly, but also help us to see it’s ok, we will survive.

  7. Talk to other people Sharing your story about your perfectionism, people pleasing and/or feelings of being an imposter can actually help… a lot. People will surprise you by telling you they feel the same way. Knowing we’re not alone is half the battle.

Being a perfectionist is really shitty. Working through my perfectionism is totally empowering! It’s a bumpy road with twists and turns, but going through the motions allows you to discover who you are, what your dreams are and how you want to live you life . It’s not easy, but it’s totally worth the work, because at the end of the road is self-confidence and freedom.

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