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How Perfectionism is a Form of Self-Sabotage

As a recovering people-pleaser, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve had a ravenous desire for other people’s approval. I want to be liked. I want to do “good work”. At the crux of this, is this ideology of perfectionism.

If I’m perfect, I will be good enough!

If I’m perfect, people can’t criticize me!

If I’m perfect, I will be liked and considered talented.

This mindset ruled me and I kept trying to jump higher, be quicker and be better. And yet, I was never satisfied. It still never felt good enough. Only recently, as I’ve done a lot of self-work have I realized that perfectionism is a form of self-sabotage.

You are setting yourself up to fail

It seems counterintuitive to say that perfectionism is a surefire way to set yourself up to fail. You’re trying to be perfect?! But perfect does not exist. Let’s repeat that again. Perfect does NOT exist.

That means there is this arbitrary, unreachable bar that you will never meet, ever. So what happens?

You try so hard to be this perfect person. You fail because you are human. You are disappointed that you “failed”. To try and combat this “failure” you commit to trying even harder to be better. So you work to be perfect yet again and the cycle continues.

You are stuck in a cycle of sabotage, trying to meet a goal you can never meet and blaming yourself because you can’t do it.

Perfectionism is about control

Through my work in therapy, I’ve realized a lot of my issues are around control. Not feeling like I have control causes me anxiety so sometimes I try to manipulate outcomes in my favor, as a way to control things.

A few months ago, I had an epiphany. That my perfectionism wasn’t rooted in this selfless desire to be so good and amazing.

It was really my ego’s attempt at controlling the way people view me. It was my way of trying to control the outcome so something “bad wouldn’t happen.”

If I’m perfect, my client won’t fire me. If I’m perfect, my boyfriend won’t leave me. If I’m perfect, I won’t fight with my parents. If I’m perfect, everyone will like me.

Perfectionism is a subtle way you try to control the outcome of the future and the way people view you.

All the while you continue to view yourself as not good enough, stuck in a cycle of misery. And worse yet, you’ll eventually find out that perfectionism isn’t a magic shield that prevents bad things from happening.

You will have a client fire you. Your partner will leave. You will fight with your parents. And not everyone will like you. Not because you aren’t perfect but because that is life. These things happen to everyone, whether you focus on perfection or not.

You miss the lessons

As noted in the point above, striving for perfection is fruitless. It is also self-serving and about control. When we focus so much on perfection and deal with the inevitable failure, we end up focusing on the fact that we missed the mark instead of looking at the valuable lessons in the process.

There’s the saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Through perfectionism, we always end up in a place we don’t like, that hurts us, missing all of the beautiful points along the way. We lose our mindfulness, so stuck on the outcome that we miss the pleasure, beauty, and lessons of life.

All of life is a learning experience and an adventure. The sooner you realize that and shift your thinking, you’ll loosen your grip and start to enjoy the process.

You’ll learn things along the way, adjust and be more content. You’ll realize that the world doesn’t end if you’re not perfect.

And instead of lamenting how you’re not perfect and go on a shame spiral, you can pause. You can sit with your emotions and whatever comes your way. You can acknowledge that no, you are not perfect. But you are perfectly human.

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Melanie Lockert

Writer. Author of Dear Debt. Host of the Mental Health and Wealth Show. Founder of Lola Retreat. Let’s talk money. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/melanielockert