I’ve been doing some self-analysis lately, trying to get a grip on, well, on why it is I can’t quite seem to get a grip. I have marvelous days, but they are outnumbered and overshadowed by horrible, dark, crazy-making days, where I feel like I am doing everything terribly wrong and screwing up my children forever.
So I turned to the trusty Internet, where one can find answers to any of Life’s greatest (and most trivial) questions. Googling [I so love that “Googling” is now a common verb] “learning patience” – the root of my struggles, I believe – I came across Coping. And, yes, there is an entire chapter devoted to learning and developing patience.
Most of the advice on Coping seems to be rather trite and cliche, but there were some useful ideas sprinkled in, along with some nice validation. Under the “Perfectionism” section, which also appears to apply to me, they suggest journaling, which I find very therapeutic (when I remember to do it). One idea was to elaborate on the following:
- Step 1: In your journal, answer the following questions:
What characteristics of perfectionism are true for me? How do these perfectionistic traits impede my efforts to change my problematic behavior?
Well, let’s see. Coping says that Perfectionism entails some of the following:
the irrational belief that you and/or your environment must be perfect. This is an irrational belief? It sounds very logical to me.
the striving to be the best, to reach the ideal, and to never make a mistake. Second place is the first loser.
an all pervasive attitude that whatever you attempt in life must be done letter perfect with no deviation, mistakes, slip ups, or inconsistencies. There is no room for mistakes here.
a habit developed from youth that keeps you constantly alert to the imperfections, failings, and weakness in yourself and others. Anything other than an “A” on your report card had better be part of your name.
a level of consciousness that keeps you ever vigilant to any deviations from the norm, the guidelines, or the way things are “supposed to be”. I am painfully aware of how most things are not as they are supposed to be.
the underlying motive present in the fear of failure and fear of rejection, i.e., if I am not perfect I will fail and/or I will be rejected by others. I am perfect; why would anyone reject me?
a reason why you may be fearful of success, i.e., if I achieve my goal, will I be able to continue, maintain that level of achievement. Of course I can maintain success. I can do everything and anything, and often do.
a rigid, moralistic outlook that does not allow for humanism or imperfection. My way or the highway, mister.
an inhibiting factor that keeps you from making a commitment to change habitual, unproductive behavior out of fear of not making the change “good enough”. I know how I’m supposed to do things. Isn’t that enough?
the belief that no matter what you attempt it is never “good enough” to meet your own or others’ expectations. As long as it’s better than what everyone else expects, it is just fine.
Okay, then. Maybe I have a little work to do. Well, let’s see what the next step is.
- What irrational beliefs of perfectionists do I ascribe to?
Hmm. For starters, I appear to ascribe to all the irrational beliefs of perfectionists. Assuming, of course, that said beliefs are indeed irrational. Most of them sound pretty good to me. I know that punctuation and spelling errors happen to make me physically twitch. It was all I could do not to go back and edit the questions from Coping after pasting them in my post. I really believed that the first word of each bullet point should have been capitalized as they were ended with a punctuation mark, and it bothers me that they are not. But, I am trying to improve. I left them alone. For now.
- How do these beliefs influence my desire to change?
Well, I guess now that they’re down in writing, these “beliefs” make me sound pretty anal and inflexible. And I don’t want to think of myself as being such, nor do I want others to think about me that way. So that makes me want to change. Plus, I find myself always upset or annoyed or complaining, and that’s not healthy.
- How do these beliefs contribute to a failure script in my efforts to change?
I guess it’s like any self-destructive behavior. Overeaters (like myself) will try to eat less, or eat better, but their natural tendency to eat badly will always threaten their efforts to improve. As such, it sounds like being a perfectionist is a good kind of self-destructive personality. I mean, if you’re a perfectionist, wouldn’t you automatically strive to achieve your own vision of perfection? Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way. I think they mean that this is an uphill battle, with only high gears available. There’s going to be a lot of tire-spinning.
- What rational alternatives can I adopt to reduce the negative impact of perfectionism in my life?
I have no idea. That’s what I was looking for on Coping. I suspect that this will involve a lot of mental self-discipline, perhaps some chanting and yoga, and maybe a little bit of alcohol.
- What are the negative consequences of perfectionism in my life? What am I doing to address these negative issues in my life? How do these negative issues affect my past and current efforts to change my problematical behavior?
Coping suggests that the result of perfectionism includes horrible fates like:
Low self-esteem. Because a perfectionist never feels “good enough” about personal performance, feelings of being a “failure” or a “loser” with a lessening of self-confidence and self-esteem may result. Already there, I’m afraid.
Guilt. Because a perfectionist never feels good about the way responsibility has been handled in life (by himself or others) a sense of shame, self recrimination, and guilt may result. I was raised Catholic. How can I feel anything but guilt?!?
Pessimism. Since a perfectionist is convinced that it will be extremely difficult to achieve an “ideal goal,” he can easily become discouraged, fatalistic, disheartened, and pessimistic about future efforts to reach a goal. That’s the way the cooky crumbles.
Depression. Needing always to be “perfect,” yet recognizing that it is impossible to achieve such a goal, a perfectionist runs the risk of feeling down, blue, and depressed. Sigh. And here, I though it was just hormones.
Rigidity. Needing to have everything in one’s life perfect or “just so” can lead a perfectionistic to an extreme case of being inflexible, non-spontaneous, and rigid. Absolutely not. Never. No way.
Obsessiveness. Being in need of an excessive amount of order, pattern, or structure in life can lead a perfectionistic person to become nit-picky, finicky, or obsessive in an effort to maintain a certain order. I’m still looking at those improperly-capitalized bullet points earlier in this post…
Compulsive behavior. Over-indulgence or the compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, shopping, sex, smoking, risk-taking, or novelty, is often used to medicate a perfectionist who feels like a failure or loser for never being able to be “good enough” in life. I don’t take drugs…
Lack of motivation. Believing that the goal of “change” will never be able to be ideally or perfectly achieved can often give a perfectionist a lack of motivation to attempt change in the first place, or to persevere if change has already begun. I’ll start tomorrow.
Immobilization. Because a perfectionist is often burdened with an extreme fear of failure, the person can become immobilized. With no energy, effort or creative juices applied to rectify, improve, or change the problem behavior in the person’s life, he becomes stagnant. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time online?
Lack of belief in self. Knowing that one will never be able to achieve an idyllic goal can lead a perfectionist to lose the belief that he will ever be able to improve his life significantly. If you can’t beat them, why bother playing the game?
All this leads to the burning question, which I am supposed to explore and expound upon in my journal:
- What new rational behavior do I need to develop in order to overcome the negative impact of perfectionism? How will these new behavior traits help me to fully achieve change in my life?
I really take exception with the phrase “rational behavior” here. That implies that my current behavior is irrational, which is entirely untrue. I am not chaotic or random, at least, not in my actions. Perhaps I might be a little entropic in my housekeeping duties, but a lot of that is a result of having children and being constantly pulled in fifty six directions without hope of ever completing a task once it is begun. No, I don’t think that I behave irrationally at all, under the circumstances.
However, I would agree that something should probably change, and that I am definitely the victim of at least some of the “consequences” of perfectionism. This little exercise has helped me identify a few behaviors and qualities that might be worth a looksee, like my tendency to go back and edit posts that are three months old for grammar and clarity. That’s just silly.
Now. About those bullet-points, above…