Learning To Lose Control Sometimes, A Message From A Perfectionist.

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As I begin to write this post I’m laughing to myself about the ironic fact that I’ve put it off for way too long because I felt I didn’t have enough advice to give about losing control of pieces in your life and being OK with it since it’s something I still struggle with every day. Who am I to tell you how to fix your perfectionism when mine isn’t even under control? See, this is what a perfectionist does. If we can’t do it right or it’s not the best, we don’t want to do it at all. Messy and unknowing is not our vibe. 

2 years ago, I read the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and she outlined what a perfectionist personality looks like and I felt as if she was speaking right to me. After reading that section of the book, I set it down, reflected, and then texted my mom. I felt I should let her in on my new self-discovery. Funny enough this was not “new” at all. I think she responded with something sarcastic like “No sh*t” or “You don’t say”. I had no idea I was a perfectionist before Brene told me I was. For me, I was just living the way I thought everyone did. 

For those that don’t know let’s define a perfectionist is. From the research Brene has done on people and the riveting research I have done on well, myself. She tells us that perfectionism is an armor. It’s an armor for vulnerability. It’s an armor that we use to hide the parts of ourselves that are ugly or messy. It’s an armor we use to get the approval of others. We use perfectionism as a way to impress and therefore feel loved. It's not a strive for excellence as most people think. It’s a belief that if we do things perfectly we can avoid all judgement and receive acceptance. Perfectionism is a fear of failing, it’s an anxiety that if we don’t do “it” right we’re going to shunned. Perfectionism is self-worth wrapped up in how well you do at something and how good you look doing it. Perfectionists deny all vulnerability, imperfections, and failures. They deny all parts that don’t fit in with who/what we want to be or what we think we’re supposed to be and we hustle for other’s approval or worthiness. It’s a hustle that leaves no room to fail, no room for others to look in and see the ugly parts. 

From this definition I quickly learned that I was putting on a never-ending performance. If I did everything perfectly, looked perfect, always said the right thing, said yes to everything, had everything planned down to the last second, then all judgement can be avoided. You can’t judge someone that does everything right. 

At this point you might be thinking, ok so you do IT ALL at once with no flaws. What’s the problem? Let me tell you. I’m going to take the next few paragraphs to outline the major problems that MY perfectionism has given to me, and the things I do to try to overcome them. 

First of all, you just can’t please everyone. What’s perfect to you or me differs completely from the next person. The constant strive to hit every nail on the head often leads to a vicious cycle of insecurity and worry. Almost like a real life game of whack-a-mole. Knock one problem down and the other springs right back up. This is where values come in. You have to hone in on what’s important to you. Where do you want to focus your energy and what can you let go? You have to give yourself permission to ignore or release the things that don’t bring you joy or meaning. If you try to give energy and time to every little thing that comes in to your radar than you are depriving the parts of your life that you truly care about that necessary attention. Define your values.

Second, perfectionism is a limiting belief. This is because to step outside of anything deemed “less than” would mean failure. To take a risk or do something different than what others expect of you requires a level of trust in both yourself and other people/things that perfectionists struggle to obtain because the results are so unknown. This is a limitation because if you never take risks, or you never do anything different to challenge yourself, you will never make progress. You can’t do the same thing all the time and expect any sort of change to happen. You can’t grow without moving. The best analogy I can give to explain this is if you’re a houseplant, sitting in the shaded corner of a room, what happens? You shrivel up and die. But if you make a change, do something different, maybe even scary- if you are watered, if you move in to the sunlight, you grow. Yes, you could take a risk and f*cking fail. But the worst-case scenario is that you have to go back to where you started. And even then, you learned something along the way. It’s going to feel uncomfortable but this is where you have got to force it anyway, every single time. Even if you don’t know what’s next. Start small, but then take on things that are more daunting. 

Third and final problem is more specific. It happens when plans change. Man, do I have a s*it ton to work on here. Here’s the situation; I’ll outline a plan, maybe with myself or with friends or family, maybe with my boyfriend. And when plans change last minute instead of just going with the flow my mind freaks out. It feels like my entire body is a clenched fist. I get an attitude, I’m quiet, I don’t want to go. Why? Maybe I’m not dressed properly. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll get hungry or be out too long, the worries go on and on. In reality, the biggest issue is expectation. What I was expecting to happen and what I was prepared for, has now completely changed without enough time for me to prepare for what is actually going to happen. The perfect plan I had in my head is destroyed. It’s ridiculous but my mind has been trained to work that way. The solution for this is mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is a very important practice in my life. It has changed the extent to which my perfectionism controls me. The key to mindfulness is asking yourself internal questions and giving answers. HONEST answers. For example, ask yourself - Why am I bothered by this change of plans? Does it hamper my day? Has it hurt me mentally or physically? Have I lost anything because of it? Will it negatively impact someone else? If the answer to all of these questions is no. You will find at the end of it, you will be much more calm and accepting of what is to come. Still not satisfied? Ask yourself a few more – Will this experience bring me something new and possibly exciting? Will I still be spending my day with x person? Will I still be getting out of the house (or staying in if that’s your goal)?  When the plan changes, it’s pretty simple to just say OK. Detach from what you thought was going to happen and embrace with open arms what is. And finally I think it’s important to acknowledge that no one is threatening you to do something you do not want to do, if it’s really something you are not up for. Simply say no. We have that freedom.