The Art of Anxiety: A Recovering Perfectionist’s Guide
Updated: May 29, 2022
“Imperfection is perfection to a beautiful perspective.” – Mel Robbins
“I can’t be perfect like you.” When a client said these words to me in the middle of a session, I felt like I had been hit by a ton of bricks. Before throwing that in my counseling client closet that I use in sessions to compartmentalize, I remember thinking, “Is this what I show people?” The reality was, yes – that is exactly what I was doing. Donning a mask of perfection that wasn’t true or real but protected me from admitting that I am a complete emotional mess of anxiety because it kept me safe: from vulnerability, from connections, and ultimately from the fear of believing that I am simply not worthy unless I’m perfect. I am a recovering perfectionist. I say that with intention, and a little sarcasm, but perfectionism has caused so many problems in my life.
Just so we’re clear: perfectionism is not a thing…. there is no such thing as being perfect. I used to proudly talk about my perfectionism as a positive trait. In reality, I was hiding from the fear that people would find out I wasn’t perfect and therefore, not worthy – of the job, the friendship, the relationship and so many other things. Perfectionism hides the fear of not being “enough”.
Ironically, perfectionism causes us to do things that are far from perfect: procrastination, courage to do something new and saying no to things that would be good for us (and saying yes to things that aren’t, but that’s another subject for another blog).
Recognizing perfectionism is always the first step and being intentional about change is always the next best path in the journey. Our brains develop habits over time and perfectionism is a habit built in childhood. Children develop perfectionism because of the family culture and environmental world they live in. Does this mean everything is our parents’ fault? Nope..and I really disklike the word “fault”. Parents are raised by parents who are raised by parents. We do what we know, until we know better, then we do something else. So, how can our childhood breed perfectionism?
A’s were the expectation, not the exception, on grades.
Failing was perceived as a bad thing instead of a growth process (this is 99% of families, just saying).
You grew up in a chaotic home with yelling, emotional or physical abuse or just chaotic in general. Kids in these households learn to “stay under the radar” by not making mistakes.
Moving away from perfectionism takes time and intention. Here are a few ways to start that journey:
We WILL fail and failure really one of the best ways to learn. Is it emotionally difficult? Absolutely, but it’s also a lesson in resilience and grit. Change your perspective on failure by writing out this acronym and posting it in prominent places to get it to your brain through visual memory:
Failure is really the way we learn and if we avoid the failures in life, we avoid the beautiful journey that comes after.
Write it out
Writing is quickly becoming a lost art, but our brains work so much better when we write. Writing requires the left and brain to work together, and requires internal problem-solving, attention, concentration and organization.
Write what you do well, and what you don’t do well. Recognize the emotions that come with both lists. Having difficulty with the list? Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started:
What do you know you can’t do? I am fully aware that I can’t be a rocket scientist, and I’m okay with that. Not my skillset.
Write out a time you failed, the emotions you feel and what you learned from it.
Find a counselor or coach to walk with you on your journey
If this all feels too overwhelming, having a professional walk with you through this journey is a great option!
Mattie Cummins, LCSW, is a counselor, brain coach and social worker with over 25 years’ experience working with people with varying life challenges, including neurodiversity, mental chaos, constant worry, and anxiety. She is passionate about empowering people to understand how the brain works, and finding the art of changing their brain patterns.