If perfectionism is something that has accompanied you throughout your life, you two likely have a love-hate relationship. Sometimes you deeply resent this part of you. How it won’t let you leave the house looking like that and how it berates you if you do. How it’s always watching and picking apart. Other times you are oddly proud of how far it takes you—which feels like momentary highs of haughty arrogance, hits of external validation, and that fleeting sense of being better (no—the best) at whatever it is in comparison. But no matter what you can never quite “get there”; you never quite feel “good enough.”
Perfectionism is kind of like an abusive relationship with ourselves where WE are the ones doling out the intermittent reinforcement like crusty scraps of bread. Sometimes we get a side-eye—“That was decent”—and other times we get a direct stare down—“You are worthless.” No wonder we keep doing everything we can to avoid the latter and no wonder so many of our days can feel brutal.
Many people I know resign to this dynamic inside of themselves. They claim perfectionism as an integral part of their personality. I used to. That was before I came to know through my training and work with hundreds of clients that perfectionism is not who we are. Rather, it’s what we learned to do in an innocent attempt to heal something that got hurt along the way. It’s this reframe and one revolutionary knowing that changes this whole darn thing: Perfectionism is actually one of your best friends inside; it just has a messed up way of showing it.
In Internal Family Systems, perfectionism is thought of as an internal “manager”—a protective part of us that is doing whatever it can to, well, protect us. Think about the things you tend to be perfectionistic around—food, weight, achievement, work, intelligence, image, and appearance? Now follow the thread back and I bet you will find some earlier impactful wounding around the area(s) perfectionism shows up for you today. Perfectionism is just doing whatever it needs to try to manage you and your world NOW so that thing never happens or hurts you again like it did THEN.
Perfectionism is not who we are. Rather, it’s what we learned to do in an innocent attempt to heal something that got hurt along the way.
Despite their best intentions, our perfectionistic parts erode our spirit and drain our lives of time, energy, and confidence. They break us down and pick us apart. They aren’t sustainable, and they’re certainly not enjoyable.
So what can we do?
We heal what perfectionism still feels the need to protect. In IFS, these parts of us are called exiles. The exiled parts of us hold burdens, traumas, and wounds of our younger years. They can be individual wounds, like that one time that thing happened and you never got over it. They can also be collective burdens, like the unrealistic expectations placed on women’s bodies by the patriarchy or the intergenerational wounds of systemic racism.
Healing looks like being with, feeling, and allowing the parts of us and pains within us that have remained silent to finally have a voice and a witness. We are told “What is in the past is in the past,” but akin to what Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” until we heal our unhealed parts we will organize our life by and around them.
This is the heart of why we created the Better Bad Days e-course. To help educate and empower you to know that perfectionism is workable and healable whether you dabble in perfectionism or consider it a way of life. In the five-week e-course, I lay out for you step by step how to work with the parts of you that are causing you the most struggle and strife. Because bad days will keep coming, but they don’t have to be so brutal.
WE WASTE SO MUCH MENTAL SPACE TRYING TO BE PERFECT. When we can’t risk the potential consequences of just being ourselves, we replay and replay in advance what we will say, what we will wear, how we will keep it “together” so that we can keep our show intact. When you no longer feel the need to do that, you just show up and figure it out as you go. WAY EASIER.
I used to write and rewrite to-do lists if I made one small writing mistake. Talk about a waste of time. With perfectionism healed on a deeper level you know when to really apply your attention and when to let it go, which saves on both time and energy—two resources we are always in need of.
When we are stuck in the trance of perfectionism we often play life on defense, orienting our behavior around what we DON’T want to happen. Ideally, our actions and our world are focused on what we want to cultivate and nurture. Healing perfectionism frees us up to do more of that.
When we haven’t worked with or looked at our deeper programming, we can unconsciously live like our very being is an apology. We find ourselves apologizing for taking up space. For needing. For existing. This is a disempowering way of living that slowly over time erodes our essence and our vitality.
When our internal landscape isn’t being dominated by our critic, we have more space to dream, wonder, and hear our limits and boundaries. We have room inside to explore who we are vs. who we think we should be. We need to turn down the noise to be able to hear our truth, get clear, and lead ourselves in life, work, and relationships.
When we are aligned inside we feel at peace. Picture a flock of birds flying in different directions. Chaos, right? Now picture them in a tidy little V all heading the same direction. That’s how we want our internal family of parts to work—together. When we help heal perfectionism we get that part of us that fights to work FOR US—and let me tell you, we are better together inside than we are when we are internally at odds.
Join Kate, Wit & Delight, and I as the first students in the Better Bad Days e-course where I will walk you through the step-by-step process I have led hundreds of clients through to heal their perfectionism, befriend their critic, and learn to relate to themselves in an entirely new way. Through the course, you’ll gain access to custom weekly lessons, guided meditations, and weekly live group coaching calls where you’ll learn hands-on the “how” of healing.
I recommend any meditations by Tara Brach or Richard Schwartz on Insight Timer. I am also a teacher on Insight at @dranna. 🙂
It can be hard to get still and sit with our inner perfectionist, but yoga packs a punch when it comes to calming and soothing the nervous system.
Walking does more than just offer fresh air. It also activates both sides of our brain through bilateral stimulation—so we literally process the information and places we are stuck. It’s helpful when working through anything challenging!
I think journaling and using a planner can be great tools to keep tabs on our goals, progress, and needs. I love Kate’s products for doing just that.
Dr. Anna Roth is a Holistic PhD Psychologist and Registered Yoga Teacher passionate about integrative and embodied treatment approaches to mental health. She thrives at identifying root causes and providing strategic intervention that is as multidimensional as the humans she helps.
Heartfelt and holistic, Dr. Roth’s method folds in the best of psychology, somatics, spirituality, mindfulness, functional medicine, and yoga to bring about deep and lasting healing. Often in therapy, mental health practitioners focus on the neck up—examining what people think, rather than what they feel. Anna advocates for a wider lens, digging into the cues people get from their mind, body and spirit to reimagine healing from a fresh perspective. She is currently working in private practice and accepting new clients.
BY Dr. Anna Roth - November 10, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.