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Part 2: Healing from Perfectionism






“The desire to improve does not have to come from a place of self-loathing”

- James Clear







Welcome back for part two of this series on perfectionism!


So how do we get from perfectionism to healthy striving? By moving from self-criticism to self-compassion. (Easier said than done, I know.) 


Before we get into self-compassion, I want to try to debunk the idea that if you stop criticizing yourself, you’ll be “lazy” or stop striving towards your goals. This is a fear I commonly hear from clients navigating self-criticism and perfectionism. Imagine a small child about five years old, maybe a child you know and love. Because they’re five, they still struggle with reading, sitting still, and other skills. This child has two teachers. The first teacher focuses on the child’s mistakes, uses a harsh tone, and makes the child feel bad as a means of trying to get them to listen. The first teacher says, “Why aren’t you focusing? Other kids can do it, so why are you struggling? What’s wrong with you? You just need to try harder. You should know better by now.” The second teacher is understanding and encouraging. This teacher celebrates the child’s wins, understands when they struggle, and still holds them accountable in a gentle way. The second teacher says, “I see this is hard, let’s figure out what help you need. Let’s do a little more before you go play. I like what you’ve done here, can we do more of that?” Which teacher would you want a child you love to have? Which teacher would motivate a child to learn from a place of feeling supported rather than shamed? Which teacher sounds closer to your inner voice? 


This is the basic idea of moving from self-criticism to self-compassion. Self-compassion has three key elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Self-kindness, instead of self-judgment, is being warm and understanding to yourself when you’re having a hard time instead of ignoring your pain or engaging in self-criticism. You can think of this as changing the narrative of the voice in your head or even just changing the tone of that voice to be a little softer. If it’s hard to imagine talking to yourself that way, think of what you’d tell a beloved friend or child if they were experiencing similar feelings or challenges.

Common humanity, as opposed to isolation, is taking a moment in your hardship to recognize that pain and making mistakes are part of the human experience. Thinking that others don’t struggle the way we do only isolates us and makes us harder on ourselves. Struggling is something we all experience, not something that happens to just me.

Mindfulness, rather than over-identification, is taking a balanced view of our hard emotions so that they are neither suppressed or exaggerated. This practice involves observing your difficult thoughts and feelings as they are, without judging them, changing them, or ignoring them. Simply noticing and naming what you’re feeling is a step towards mindfulness. How does it feel for you to think or say “I’m [insert emotion here]” vs. “I notice I’m feeling [insert emotion here]”? When we notice our emotions and label them as feelings, it can help us observe them without over-identifying.


Outside of self-compassion, other ways to combat perfectionism include practicing gratitude, asking yourself what “good enough” looks like and aiming for that, and trying to connect with play and laughter. 


Healing from perfectionism is an ongoing effort as we cultivate self-compassion and connect to our values in a new way. If you want someone to support you in that journey or help heal that inner critic part, I’d love to work with you.


-Megan


Sources:


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden. 

Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. London: Robinson.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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