Not good enough. Undeserving. Never do anything right. Always needing to be better, do better. Your actions define your value. You desire to do everything right the first time and if doing it perfectly the first time isn’t an option, you find that you don’t want to do it at all.
Do you relate?
Did you ever feel like no matter what you did, nothing was good enough? Did you feel like no matter what grades you got, how well you cleaned, what you felt, wasn’t okay? These are common feelings experienced by many. You are not alone.
Perfectionism comes from our felt sense of the world. As children, it is normal to expect our surroundings and care givers to provide a felt sense of safety and love. However, if this felt sense of safety and love is not provided, our child-like self can only try to rationalize why we are not receiving the love and safety expected. Therefore, because our parent is supposed to be loving and provide safety and they aren't, we have to come to the rationalization that we must not be receiving this because we are bad. This rationalization is easier to accept, because if we are good people we would deserve to receive that love and safety and it wouldn’t make sense for that to be absent. The issue no longer becomes the fact that our world is not safe, but rather than we are bad and not good enough, therefore why the bad is happening to us. The change in focus alleviates the anxiety felt by the child.
As children, we look at our parents and think they are perfect, they do no wrong. We put them on a pedestal, as if they have no faults. We essentially de-humanize them and see them as super-heroes. While parenting is somewhat superhero-ish, this does not take away from parents being human. They have faults and their own life experiences that get in the way.
Jenny is 5. She is constantly being scolded by her mom. Every step she takes is wrong, she is always in the way. Jenny tries to do everything correctly and becomes hyper-vigilant of everything she does. She no longer can just be a child, because her child-like ways are constantly scolded. Jenny is now 10 and is trying to get perfect grades. To the point that she stresses over getting an A- on her science test. She dreads going home and telling her parents, because she will be asked why she didn’t get an A. Jenny plays the violin and with any mistake, there is a comment made. Jenny’s mom never has time for her, as she is always at work and when she is home, she drinks to the point of drunkenness. In the few moments that Jenny has her mom’s attention, it is always negative and critical.Instead of Jenny seeing it as her mom being over-critical and neglectful, she instead internalizes it and thinks that something must be wrong with her. If she could only do better, be better. If she could have just received an A on that science test, if she could have played the violin perfectly, maybe her mom would think that she was good enough and want to be around her. As a child, it is difficult to see that our parents have their own life that they are dealing with and therefore letting them take responsibility for that. It is in a child’s nature to want to please their parents and make them happy. However, this is too much for a child to be thinking about at age 5, and unfortunately creates bad habits of extreme pressure on the self. These habits go into adulthood and cause for extreme stress, low self-esteem, self-criticism, and low self-compassion. I present to you, the Perfectionist.
The only way for the child to grasp and cope with the fact that they are constantly criticized is to become perfect. If they just do everything perfectly, their parent will love them.
But, perfectionism takes the human out of you, because it just is not possible. You will always feel that there is a better way or something that can be improved. When you expect perfection out of yourself and will do anything to master it, it doesn’t allow you to live and learn. But the lack of perfection feels vulnerable. What if someone knows that deep down that you really do not feel good enough? The sense of control felt with perfectionism feels empowering, as the lack of control in your childhood encourages you to try to control everything in your life as an adult. This control allows you to choose whether you master something to perfection or you just don’t try it at all.
As adults, when we can start to see our parents objectively, which can transform our thoughts around not being a good person. We can see that maybe our parents had their own life that they were dealing with and let them own that. However, it is then about transforming our thoughts to believe that we are actually a good person, we ARE good enough, we can succeed, and we can give ourselves grace to maybe let some things go and not do everything perfectly - because that pressure becomes too much. Maybe that means taking the stress off of ourselves to constantly have a to-do list that needs to be accomplished. Maybe it means not having to get the perfect grades, maybe it means that we can let ourselves relax every once in a while. Maybe, it is more about enjoying life and loving yourself.
The story above was one story and your story may look a little different. No matter what your story may be, it is important and valuable and YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH! Let me be the first to tell you that if no one ever has.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? How can you take a step towards having self-compassion and grace for yourself?
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