You set yourself high standards. Perfection. The equivalent of the Olympics in your chosen field. Those perfectionism traits? Being the perfect mum, daughter, father, son, colleague. Giving the exceptional presentation. Cooking the most exquisite meal. Choosing the most compelling and thoughtful gift.
Anything less would be unthinkable.
That drive for perfectionism can be compelling and exciting. But it can be so exhausting too. The endless taking yourself to task when you fall short. The virulent self-criticism when you don’t meet the bar you’ve set yourself.
If you feel this way about perfectionism, it’s time to change
But at some point the perfectionism can become cripplingly painful. It’s as if you can never have an off day. A moment of vulnerability or weakness. Even less can you show anyone the chink in your armour. That would feel like a deathly shame.
Here’s the acid perfectionism test. When it feels like a burden rather than an asset, it might be time to ask yourself, ‘why am I this way?’
There can be lots of reasons, but my focus here is the connection between parental narcissistic abuse and perfectionism.
For many clients I meet, perfectionism has become a way of life. It’s a response to a very painful and sometimes forgotten childhood experience of ‘not measuring up’ to a parent’s impossible standards.Perfectionism is a response to a painful childhood experience of not measuring up Click To Tweet
Be more pretty. Achieve higher marks. Do better on the sports field. Win a competition. Shine like a light of reflected glory on the parent.
When you are ‘perfect’ you are suddenly flooded with attention. Affirmation and reassurance come. You might start to think, when I’m this way, I’m loveable at last.
When the feeling flips
The counter side to this experience, is when you don’t meet those standards, the feeling flips. Suddenly you’re unloveable, less cherished, more neglected. For not reflecting the light and glory back on the narcissistic parent.
The consequence? The pain of not achieving or being what the parent wants, leads you as a child, to strive unendingly to achieve that moment of perfection, when for a fleeting instant, you are seen.
As Brené Brown says:
Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance.
The devastating consequences of ignoring this…
The feeling gets hard-wired with two devastating consequences. Your inner-child believes she or he will never be loveable unless achieving perfection.
Alongside that voice, a harsh parent-like critical voice develops telling you to drive yourself harder and further in the persuit of perfection. That voice shames you when you fall short, tells confirms your worst fear: that you really are as bad and unloveable as that parent made you feel.
Who needs the abusive narcissistic parent when you can do it all for yourself.
Julia Cameron puts it well:
Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.
It’s only later in life when you can start to feel enormous stress or anger at the impossible mountains you have to climb continually with scant chance of emotional reward, that you can begin to put the brakes on perfectionism.
If you can be kind to others, can you be kind you to yourself?
And what after that?
Starting small with self-compassion. Somewhere, deep inside, there is a part of you who knows none of this is your fault.
Letting her have a little space to start reclaiming your vulnerable self. This can be a difficult process. For some, even entering the process of therapy can be deeply painful and shameful.
It opens you up to your vulnerability and the potential for imperfection. It lays you up to enormous fear that you might be attacked or persecuted for that vulnerability.
The safety of working with a competent, compassionate therapist is essential for healing that most tender, forgotten part of your self, who was masked and shielded by the perfectionism.
The top antidote to perfectionism
Finding your joy is equally important. Perfectionism can drive you away from what you really love in the persuit of being what someone else wants you to be.Perfectionism can drive you away from what you really love Click To Tweet
Reconnecting with what you are truly passionate about, maybe a childhood fantasy or longing which was squased, can really help here. Crazy dancing in private, unbridled and unobserved.
Drawing, writing, singing or any other creative expression which may have been frowned upon, silenced or driven away.
Saying no to your inner perfectionist and accepting when good, is good enough.
It can be really hard to tame the voice of perfection, who fears you might become nothing or disappear if you let go of the drive of perfectionism.
When you start to recognise the tone of the inner voice which drives you, more freedom of choice opens up to you. If the inner voice is harsh and berating, it’s probably your perfectionist or critic pushing you on.
If the voice is kinder, softer, nurturing, it’s probably the part of you that wants to push on for the joy of it, because you can and truly want to.
The best way to feel better
The only way forward is renegotiating your inner contracts.
It’s probably time to rip up your inner contracts when perfectionism makes you miserable.It’s time to rip up your inner contracts when perfectionism makes you miserable. Click To Tweet
The negotiations might be tough. It will be very hard for your inner perfectionist to tone things down or give up their role if, for any moment, they are scared that it might lay you open to attack, humiliation or shame.
After all, that’s why they took the job of protecting you, albeit in a way that now no-longer serves you.
How to rebuild trust in yourself
Somewhere along the line, in your own inner-work, possibly with the help of a therapist, you can start to rebuild trust in yourself, in your innate goodness and loveability.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey, fraught with twists and turns. But it really is possible.
I see this time and time again with clients who find their way back to a renewed, tender and loving relationship with themselves.
In a way, you can think of it as giving yourself the good and positive parenting you didn’t receive enough of as a child.
Ready to start healing?
If you feel ready to start shedding the bonds of perfectionism, I’m here to help.
I suppport people just like you to find their way back to a happier, more self-confident place. To shed the terrible scars of the being parented by a narcissist, or the experience of childhood emotional neglect. Ad to start to believe in themselves again.
Ready to start? Give me a call, send me a text on 07443 640556 or email me to set up an free initial call to discuss how we might work together. Whatever feels right to you.