This article describes the pains of perfectionism and suggests three ways on how one can start coming out of perfectionism or get over a mistake.
Understanding the perfectionism labyrinth
As human as it is to err, nobody likes it. Faced with this reality, there are two ways to proceed. There are those who, although they do not like it, accept error as an opportunity to learn and improve. On the other hand, there are people for whom accepting error is a very difficult task. Far from being an opportunity, making mistakes represents a threat to their dignity. For these it is not enough to be good, you have to be perfect. And although deep down they accept that they will never be perfect, they try to pretend to be infront of others. This way of proceeding has a name; this is perfectionism, and there are many of us who walk through this labyrinth.
I begin to believe that love and recognition are only earned through perfection
The desire to be perfect is usually born of those experiences in life that taught us that committing some mistake led to punishment, rejection, contempt or oblivion. Unconsciously we begin to believe that love, acceptance, recognition, success and the sense of value – elements so fundamental to our wellbeing – are earned only with perfection.
It might be difficult to expose your imperfections to others
Perfectionism is neither relief nor a solution. It is a survival mechanism. You enter your labyrinth when you cannot find another alternative of how to live. Walking through it is an arduous and lonely struggle, as it is difficult to ask for help and risk that your imperfections be exposed to others. But there is a way out!
Leaving the labyrinth of perfectionism
1. Admitting a failure does not mean I am unworthy of love or respect
The most painful thing for a perfectionist is to feel that s/he failed because this immediately implies that s/he is not worthy of love, acceptance, or respect. That’s why it’s so hard to get out of this labyrinth.
2. Be honest with yourself about your perfectionistic traits
The perfectionist must first recognise herself/himself as such: being a perfectionist; and this is not easy, since that recognition is already against his own perfection. Accepting your own perfectionistic traits requires some honesty and a lot of vulnerability.
3. Try to grow in the fact that being human includes making errors
What will happen when others come to know that you have fallen into the error of perfectionism (because that is what it is, a mistake)? They will know that you are human, and in that you are not alone.
Jesus said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. … Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, sir. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again. (John 8, 7.10-11)
Based on the Original Spanish text written by: Ulises Covarrubias SJ
Translated by: Fr Jimmy Bonnici
Published: June 2019