By Waseem Kakroo
“IF I’m not perfect, I’m a failure.”
If I don’t aim for perfection, I won’t get anything done or be successful.
“I shouldn’t commit errors,”
“I ought to be able to foresee issues before they arise.”
All of the above negative thoughts are the result of perfectionism, and unpleasant feelings like these can cause anxiety, depression, addictions of various types and kinds, as well as sense of helplessness out of a fear of failing.
Why is perfectionism such a bad thing?
We know for the fact that there is no such thing as perfect in this imperfect world. Pursuing perfection is like chasing the mirage and hence it may become self-destructive. An unattainable and unrealistic ideal of how we should appear or behave is created in our minds by perfectionism.
As a result, we establish an impossible, continually shifting bar that we are chasing but never able to attain. We judge ourselves as undeserving of that “ideal body,” “perfect home,” “perfect career,” or even “perfect love” because we feel incapable of obtaining it. Thus, even if we do succeed in achieving our goal that we had once set for ourselves, we come to the conclusion that it was unsatisfactory and establish a higher standard. Sometimes, we persuade ourselves that our loved ones will perceive us negatively in one way or the other. We are, in a sense, always on a hamster wheel because we let destructive thoughts of perfection wreck havoc in our lives. We are never able to get to a point of genuine contentment and acceptance because pursuing perfection is a draining, addictive effort.
Even while we might be able to accept and comprehend the faults of others, we are frequently our own harshest critics, unable to accept the same faults in ourselves or mistakes of our own. Perfectionism is a manifestation of shame or the sense of not being good enough. Fortunately, the mental agony that perfectionism causes can be reduced or even completely eliminated by engaging in self-compassion practices.
What is self-compassion?
Being self-compassionate means learning to control your inner dialogue and shifting it from “You’ll never be good enough” to “I am enough.” It is the process of looking after oneself and speaking to oneself with care and kindness.
What does scientific research say about self-compassion as a tool to deal with perfectionism?
In order to comprehend the effects that self-compassion has on perfectionism and depression, researchers in Australia published a paper in February 2018 based on their study of more than 1,000 children and adults. According to the study’s findings, persons who were compassionate toward themselves were able to lower their perfectionism levels, which can result in depression and other undesirable side effects.
Another study showed that high self-compassion levels reduce the likelihood of depressive symptoms in those with high levels of maladaptive perfectionism. Given that perfectionists are more likely to experience depression, the findings of the study imply that therapies that teach patients to practice self-compassion may enhance treatment outcomes for depression.
How does self-compassion help in handling perfectionism?
Perfectionism may prevent us from attempting new things because we may be afraid of failing and falling down and hence it may lead to procrastination due to anxiety of not being able to live up to high-standards. When something isn’t “perfect,” it could also make us feel bad about ourselves. On the other hand, in such vulnerable times, self-compassion gives us the room we need to grow, break, recover, and rise back again
• It enables us to learn lessons from our past mistakes rather than looking at those mistakes as something we should be ashamed of.
• Instead of limiting ourselves to what we are confident we can do well or not attempting at all, it enables us to freely explore the possibilities the world has to offer, no matter how vast or tiny.
• Instead of comparing ourselves with others or aiming for impossible standards, it enables us to accept and value everything that makes us who we are.
• Self-compassion enables us to be both attentive and understanding of our flaws, faults, and failures while being non-judgmental of the suffering these things cause us to go through.
• Self-compassion encourages us to discover acceptance and understanding within rather than seeking validation and approval from outside sources (such as grades, compliments, and Instagram, Facebook etc. likes and followers).
• It permits us to be human.
How to cultivate self-compassion?
Next time you struggle with thoughts of perfection, practice self-compassion by performing the following actions:
• Maintain your physical health by eating healthy and working out.
• Practice being mindful and simply observe your perfectionism-based thoughts, labeling them as such as soon as you have such thoughts and respond to such thoughts with warmth and tenderness.
• Try journaling the negative events while having a caring attitude and being kind in your description of such unpleasant experiences.
• Decide on a few things you want to excel at. Instead of having a single benchmark for all areas, be flexible in your approach and don’t expect to perform at your peak all the time. Make your goals attainable and consider your achievement instead of continuously evaluating yourself and criticizing yourself for falling short of them.
• Keep in mind that you are not alone. There are others who experience perfectionism as well. It’s natural to want to please other people and to strive for perfection in an effort to spare oneself the hurt of blame, criticism, and shame.
• Be gentle to yourself. Put your hand over your heart. Allow the warmth and understanding to permeate your body with each beat. Remind yourself that you are completely acceptable with all your imperfections. You are adequate just the way you are.
• Consider what you would say to a friend in a similar circumstance. Can you speak to yourself with the same kindness and support?
You can escape the terrible cage that perfectionism has imprisoned you in by engaging in self-compassion practices.
- The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196
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