Self Esteem and being Perfect
We tend to be admired more, related to more, when we show our imperfect, more human side than our brilliant perfect can do no wrong side. No one likes a show off! So why do we strive for it? It could be because of the way we’ve been brought up, what we see on social media, school expectations or work expectations. For example, a lady I know was chatting to me about her new job. After we had been talking for a short time, she said that her new job was causing her lots of anxiety. She felt out of her depth, but she didn’t like to ask for help because she was ‘supposed to know what she was doing’. All of her colleagues appeared to talk about things with confidence and she felt she should too. If her manager asked a question, she should know the answer. After chatting for some time, we agreed that she might be setting herself very high standards to succeed. She really wanted to fit in and feared failure and criticism from others saying she thought others would think she is useless or stupid. Quite often, perfectionism has a knock on effect towards our self esteem, mood and anxiety levels. It can bring on self criticism which acts as a punishment to stop unhelpful behaviour but what it actually does is focus on all the negative aspects of what we’re doing, making us feel demotivated and even a failure.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionists aim to achieve in one or more areas of life. They include emotional, relationship, performance, romantic, moralistic or sexual, identity perfectionism. Having high standards has its uses but it tends to link an unrelenting expectation to do better each time. It’s no wonder a lot of people procrastinate when they have to do something that involves achievement. For example, a friend of mine said that he can only work if his desk is really tidy. He spends quite a while making sure his work area is pristine before he starts working. Once he feels in control of things, he says he feels as though he can work better. Control and perfectionism tend to go hand in hand, many people say that when they feel out of control, they clean and make things look nice. With regards to my friend, he says he is a perfectionist at work because he is frightened of losing his job and being replaced with someone else who is more talented.
Therapy and Perfectionism
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works to explore how perfectionism benefits us and what costs it brings. It also reviews the importance of achieving in relation to our self worth and challenges any unhelpful rules we have for ourselves. The idea of challenging the importance of achieving can seem daunting, possibly irresponsible and we may fear it will bring about negative consequences. However, by doing this, it can paradoxically bring out the best in us and help us achieve more. When we are anxious and stressed, we tend to operate in survival mode which shuts down the part of the brain that includes creativity and problem solving. If we are relaxed, we connect with this area. CBT helps us to create new rules that should motivate, inspire and celebrate success so that we can reach our full potential. The new rules are put into practice on a daily basis to see if they do make a positive difference to our lives.
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