In an effort to be of a better opinion of themselves, perfectionists spend a lot of time comparing themselves and their achievements with others. They define and evaluate themselves in relation to others. They get competitive: me or them. When comparing, perfectionists often judge themselves negatively. And while this pressure motivates them to work even harder, the inner critic provokes stress, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, not to mention reduced productivity and suppressed creativity.
This is how the perfectionist thinks: If I win, they lose. If they win, I lose. If others "lose," perfectionists feel better (at least temporarily), even if the event has nothing to do with them. "If things are better for me than for her, then I'm fine. If she is doing better than me, then I'm a loser."
Have you ever been to a high school reunion and secretly gloat that you look better than others or get upset because others looked better than you? The reason for such competitiveness is low self-esteem. Trying to feel better about herself, the perfectionist asserts herself and builds self-esteem at the expense of other people's failures.
She is willing to give up something good just so that others will get less.
Other people's downfall becomes her victory. Looking at the photo of a celebrity without makeup, she thinks: "She looks terrible. Even I look better without makeup." Like if someone else looks imperfect, this makes her more beautiful!
In reality, celebrities' appearances have nothing to do with us. We do not depend on them in any way. There is enough beauty in the whole world, as well as money, health, prosperity, and well-being. But perfectionists have a sense of shortage: it's either me or them.
Have you ever felt better when something didn't work for others? Or rejoiced at other people's failures? Maybe you secretly wanted someone to fail, especially the person with whom you constantly compete in your head?
The fact that you feel better when others do not succeed does not make you a bad person, so do not blame yourself. Thinking "their failure is my victory" will not help you to become happier, at least not for a long time and on a deeper level. You get stuck in negativity, which ultimately will increase your stress and worsen relations with others.
If a person gets the latest version of the coveted gadget or something he longed for, he starts to look for a new thing. It's an endless pursuit of happiness without a lasting sense of satisfaction. His usual statement is, "I will be happy when event X happens." As soon as the previous goal is achieved, X is immediately replaced with a new one. He yearns for the next achievement, praise, or material value, and he wants it before someone else beats him at it.
But what if you get off the treadmill? What if you stop comparing yourself and your life with the lives of other people and be grateful for what you already have? For people, for experiences, anything. It means focusing on what is going well and not on what should be changed. Gratefulness will help you to stop comparing yourself with others and be happy about who you are and what you possess.
Perfectionists are so focused on their little world that they don't see the big picture. They concentrate on what "needs" to be improved in their life, what they "must" do – they don't find time to step back and ask whether this is what they really want to do and believe in?
If you have planned to go to an exotic place for vacation and marked every mile of the way on the map, it is possible that you will encounter unexpected difficulties, obstacles, and the need to take a detour. And although it will require a little change of plans, do not let the obstacles block your path. Yes, there may be many challenges in your way. And you don't have to overcome them perfectly. You may stumble along the way.
When we are in Too much stress, we tend to doubt our abilities and go back to the old ways of acting. Changes can scare anyone, especially a perfectionist, who needs to know the outcome.
We need to face our fears. One way to do this is to get used to the unusual. The easiest way to overcome fear is to put yourself in a situation when you do not feel 100 percent confident or calm. Try to make changes gradually.
Perhaps your family, friends, colleagues, even strangers won't react like you'd wish them to. But if others get upset, complain about your changed behavior, make unpleasant comments or do something that hurts you, it does not mean that you need to stop and return to your old bad habits.
We need to be more attentive to our own needs in order to take care of others.
Perfectionism affects the way we communicate with other people.
- We may react in a disapproving, judgemental, and critical way when others don't meet our exacting standards.
- In our efforts to gain the approval of others, or in the fear that people might find us uninteresting or unimportant, we may communicate in a rather non-assertive (or passive) way. This can result in not asking for what we want or need; pretending to agree with others when actually we don't; or perhaps taking on a task when we would prefer not to, because we can't say “no.”
- We might react defensively when we feel criticized, and that can come across as aggressive.
Listening is a key part of communication, and because perfectionists are too often focusing on themselves, they often fail to listen effectively.
Being assertive is about standing up for your own rights while respecting the rights of others. It's about direct, honest communication – about taking responsibility for your own communication and behavior. It's not being passive, which is putting up with all sorts, and it's not being aggressive, which is getting your own way no matter what.
There are 4 general styles of communication:
- Aggressive (which is dominating, loud, impatient, angry, rigid, intolerant, intimidating)
- Passive (when you feel intimidated, can't say no, don't speak up, no eye contact, defensive body language, putting up with all sorts)
- Passive/aggressive or indirectly aggressive (like sulking, manipulating, withdrawn, blaming, goading, sabotaging, withholding information)
- Assertive (this is being confident, open, honest, tolerant, taking more risks, respecting others, responsible, cooperative, grounded, responding rather than reacting)
You can stand up for yourself and establish personal boundaries without resorting to aggression. Assertiveness is one way.
- It implies directly communicating your desires and needs in a respectful manner.
- Aggression implies communicating your desires and needs in a disrespectful manner.
- Passive behavior means suppressing your desires and needs so that another person is not offended.
- Passive-aggressive behavior entails indirectly communicating your desires and needs in a disrespectful way.
It is very important to be decisive: to assert your rights while still showing respect to others.
If something is not to your satisfaction, you need not act aggressively: don't quarrel or raise your voice. Don't be passive or silent, restraining irritation. And don't be passive-aggressive, saying something with sarcasm. None of these behaviors will bring anything good either to you or to your companion. Standing up for yourself means expressing your desires without losing respect for others.
This is the end of lesson 15. In the next lesson, I'll talk about making changes and getting rid of perfectionism.