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How and Why Do People Become Perfectionists?

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Overcome Perfectionism and Fear of Failure by Nar Mina

It is important to find out how your need for perfectionism developed. Where and when did you get perfectionist patterns that stop you from moving forward? Yes, it is history now, and we cannot change the past. And yet, the past influences our present and future.

Analyzing your past is a vital step, because it will clarify why you do what you do. It is important to identify the roots of the problem, because addressing the reason is like treating a deep wound. Acquiring new skills can be a temporary solution, it may or may not help without identifying the origins of perfectionism.

We can't change the past, and this is not the issue. We are trying to adjust the way our past affects us now. The past in itself does not hurt us; what hurts us is the way we perceive it, what it "taught" us and what we learned from it. We left the event behind us. However, our thinking process still hurts.

Revise your childhood.

  • Did you see one of your parents or both work all the time?
  • Have your parents stayed up late or went to work on weekends?
  • Did they bring work home?
  • Were they obsessed with cleanliness?
  • Maybe they believed that you should always keep the house tidy just in case of unexpected guests?

Did you often hear sentences like "I hate when people are late: it is a sign of disrespect" or "A real man works hard and provides for his family»; "You are who you are because of your job" If you relax – you are unemployed."

Did you get the idea that if you studied hard and got excellent grades, your parents would love you? Have you been criticized, ridiculed, or punished for low academic performance? Did you have to endure humiliation because of a mistake and then swear that you would never make it again?

It is human nature to want to be accepted and loved by other people. However, in order to win their attention, perfectionists often behave themselves just like when they were kids. "People are proud of my achievements" is transformed into "People will be proud only if I am successful." So their need for success keeps increasing.

Figuring out what made you a perfectionist is essential. This life-changing event still acts as your driving force every day. And it interferes with your success.

When you remember that life-changing situation which provoked perfectionism in you, the next step is to write the details of this event on paper.

Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to describe the event and its nuances in writing. They say, "I already know what I'm thinking about. It's just a waste of time." However, it is extremely important to write down the story and not just think it over. Because our mind can easily trick us. Thousands of thoughts pass through our mind every second. Some of them are conscious, others – are not. And you tend to perceive them all as facts and not your own subjective interpretations.

By transferring your memories from your mind to a piece of paper, you can look at them in a new way. You can analyze the information and understand how accurate and useful it really is. And remember that your notes should not be perfect. This is not a writing contest or English lesson; don't worry about style or spelling). Just write whatever comes to mind.

Describe events that triggered your need for excellence. Do not hold back. If you find it difficult to remember the specific situation, just write down everything that comes to mind when you think about these questions.

Who participated in this event? Did you hear phrases like: "must" and "should have"? Who in your past had perfectionist traits? For example, I had "all or nothing" type of thinking. Who worked without rest? Prioritized work over entertainment had the need to keep everything clean and tidy?

When in the past did you receive rewards for your "successes"? In what situations did you feel embarrassed because you did something wrong or made an error?

Writing down your deepest emotions and thoughts can increase your stress resistance and overall improve your mood. Don't underestimate this exercise!

By simply animating the past in your memory, you are just poking at a bruise. It hurts and doesn't help to heal. That's why you need to learn from the past. Try to get insight – it's the turning point when you go from confusion to clarity, from stress to discovery.

Think about your childlike beliefs. Most of them are not helpful anymore, so why stick to them? The same applies to irrelevant beliefs related to perfectionism.

Perfectionism keeps you from experiencing joy and the fullness of life. It drowns out and blocks your true self.

If what happened twenty years ago still causes you pain, or you have been using destructive patterns of behavior for many years, it's time to change this unproductive approach. Not the situation itself, but your thoughts about it and your attitude affect you.

A major predictor of perfectionism is criticism – from parents, teachers, and other figures of authority. Overly demanding and critical parents put a lot of pressure on kids to achieve.

We all fear disapproval and rejection by our parents – it's something that we will go a long way to avoid.

If you are already a parent or hope to be one in the future, remember this – it's an effort that should be praised in your kid, as opposed to intelligence or achievement. It energizes the child. If Parents themselves are overly concerned about making mistakes, the child can pick up on that and learn to model that same behavior.

Blaming is not very helpful. What is important is that we take responsibility for reducing the negative effect the situation has on our life now and in the future.

Some Experiences in our childhood may have taught us to suppress our emotions, to hide our pain. It can take us years to unlearn this harmful habit and give ourselves the permission to feel, the permission to be human. It is all right for us to be sad, there is nothing wrong with feeling dispirited, scared, lonely, or anxious. It is OK to feel.

A perfectionist has a very rigid view of what her life (and the lives of others) should be like. She rejects as unacceptable any deviation from that ideal.

The reality of living is such that whether we like it or not, we experience the full range of emotions. And if we do not give ourselves the permission to experience it, the inevitable result is intense painful emotions or, perhaps even worse, the failure to feel any emotion at all.

Life is fluid, changing, and dynamic. Just as you accept failure as part of the human experience, you need to accept painful (and pleasurable) emotions as an inevitable consequence of being alive. Try to be open to what the world offers. Accept the variety of experiences and emotions that life has to offer. In this case, you'll be more likely to actually experience and express your emotions – by crying when you need to, by sharing your feelings with your friends, or by writing about your feelings in a diary.

You need to include emotional ups, downs, and everything in between in your life. The Perfectionist rejects painful emotions that do not meet his expectation of an unwavering flow of positive emotions; permit yourself to experience the full range of human emotions.

Many people learn early on to hide and suppress their feelings, the pleasurable as well as the painful ones. We may have been told that boys don't cry, that expressing pleasure at our accomplishments was evidence of pride, or that wanting something that someone else had was greedy. We may have been taught that being attracted to someone and yearning to express that physically was dirty and shameful. Feeling shy and nervous about opening ourselves up emotionally and physically was uncool and shameful. Unlearning the lessons of childhood and early adulthood is hard, which is why it is difficult for so many of us to open up.

This is the end of lesson 9. In the next lesson, you'll learn about negative thoughts and feelings.

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Nar Mina

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