Hello, my name is Kristina and I’m a perfectionist. This can also read as control freak, overachiever, rule follower, problem solver, procrastinator, or even annoying wife. Also, what I have come to realize is that my perfectionism doesn’t just affect me, but it also affects my work, my relationships, and even my health at times.
The past year or so has been tough for me and while I am not going to get into all of that here, the levels of discomfort in not being enough has been overwhelming and even paralyzing for me. I have even struggled with getting myself to write a post because I wasn’t sure how “perfect” I could make it with everything else running through my brain and therefore in my own black-and-white-thinking way, I prevented myself from putting any words together. I thought about it often, but I allowed my own self-doubt to create a pattern of procrastination that kept putting it off until “things were better” and I could get as close to perfect as I thought I needed to be.
I have been someone who has put pressure on myself my whole life to do things exactly how they are meant to be. I am the product of a Catholic school education where we followed rules. When I was young, my parents had to console me and tell me that it was ok when I didn’t do things perfectly or if I didn’t get all the As, and that if I tried my best that was all that mattered. I struggled when my best was not perfect because in my mind that meant I was not good enough.
I get anxious when I see things that don’t look or feel right, and sometimes even struggle to distract my brain from them even when they have nothing to do with me. I feel discomfort when things do not feel as though they are in the right place, or done the right way. When anything is incomplete, to be decided, or up in the air I feel an overwhelming feeling of disquiet. When I get caught in these thoughts, I want to find a solution and my brain goes through all possible fixes until I come up with what I think is the right way to move forward. This gets even further complicated when I do not have control of these things because then the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness mix in with my discomfort and my brain feels like it might explode.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do pride myself in the fact that I am a problem solver. This is something I like about myself. But this is a double-edged sword because I find validation in my ability to fix things but then my brain never stops trying to solve problems because I want that continued validation and I get frustrated by situations that cannot be fixed. I see something and immediately my brain starts creating 10 different options for how to make this thing that I can so obviously see isn’t working, better. Unfortunately for people like me, who have a brain like mine, when solutions cannot be found it feels very unsettling and completely exhausting.
So yes, innately being a problem solver, being a go-getter, or being a perfectionist is a really good thing. I think being able to see big pictures and opportunities for change and to make things better is a true strength of mine. I think I am the therapist I am because I can see the system (that is the relationships that they have with people and how those relationship impact them and vice versa) that my clients are in, and I begin to form hypotheses for how things could be different without even realizing it. I love being able to help and support my friends and family in my personal life as well. I like being someone who others can lean upon and know that I can help to find fixes for their struggles too.
This mindset can create struggles for those of us in this unlucky club because we also do not know how to say no. We THRIVE on others knowing we can and will do our best job at all tasks and will help them in all ways. We define the love language of “words of affirmation”. Because of this, in our jobs, relationships, everywhere, people know they can ask us to do things, that we will volunteer to do things, and we will put 100% (or more) into them. Because of this, we are always presented with opportunities to do more as well. This can lead to people like me being taken for granted or even worse taken advantage of. We create patterns in our relationships from work to friends to family in which people always lean on us and we don’t always feel like we can lean the other way.
My fellow perfectionists and I can also struggle, with how we project our perfectionism onto others because we feel as though if we can give our all, others can and should do the same. What we must realize is that our “all” is typically more than we actually have to give and in the same way we might see others setting boundaries, we have to follow suit. We keep pouring from our own cup until we are empty, but we don’t always have people there who are willing to refill it. We need to set boundaries with people who are unwilling to give anything at all. We must see our worth, recognize how others are taking advantage of our drive, and realize that the relationship and the patterns are no longer healthy for us or creating balance in our lives. We must focus on the people who give back to us and fill our lives with those people.
We also need to accept that there truly is no such thing as perfect. Nothing can be or will ever be perfect. Perfect is a snapshot in the everchanging world we live in. Perfect is the picture we put on social media for others to see that prevents us from seeing the beauty in movement of the things around us and accept that the beauty is in the imperfect. Perfect is the thing that prevents us from showing others our true, anxious, work in progress, inner selves. We must accept what is truly out of our control.
Throughout my life I have been thrown some curve balls that couldn’t be caught, couldn’t be handled, couldn’t be hit. When those curve balls have come my way, I have really had to reflect on what it means to accept that I might not be able to do things in the perfect way my mind wants and pictures.
I have had to accept that I cannot always know what is going to come next, what the outcome is going to be, and that not everything is something we can prepare for. Trauma has an effect on us that often leads to some of these patterns I have talked about. When we go through trauma, our brains decide that under no circumstances do we ever want to go through anything even remotely similar to that trauma ever again. This is often where the idea of trying to control all things comes from. We want to control all things to prevent anything like the trauma from happening because we can’t be sure where the next trauma might come from. We have all-or-nothing thoughts that permeate all our actions, decisions, thoughts, and relationships.
So let’s work on letting go of the idea of perfect.
Let’s recognize our limits.
Let’s see our strengths, but also our weaknesses.
Let’s embrace our imperfections as things that make us unique and special.
Let’s see our scars as part of our journey.
Let’s find the people who want to fill our cups back up.
Let’s give ourselves grace.
Let’s let ourselves rest.
Let’s be happy with who we are.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.