Lesson 1.8 - ‘Good’ versus ‘bad’ perfectionism
Alright, my friend, I want to wrap up this module with a final lesson addressing a common concern and question I get asked a lot: “But wait, there is such a thing as good perfectionism, right?”
I think my answer to this question is clear to you by now, but let’s chat.
There are people, even scientific researchers, that argue that perfectionism can be a good thing and that perfectionism can be divided up into good perfectionism (that is having high standards and striving for excellence) and bad perfectionism (which is feeling insecure and not good enough and buckling under stress).
I strongly, vehemently, passionately disagree with this.
First of all, it perpetuates this myth that perfectionism is a collection of personality traits, like being type A, having high standards and an eye for detail, and being very organized.
Second of all, it assumes that people who are confident and competitive are ‘good’ perfectionists and people who have low self-esteem are ‘bad’ perfectionists. That is a very cynical way of thinking that relies on the assumption that being part of the rat race is a good thing. Here’s a hint: I don’t think it is.
Plus, it falsely assumes that self-esteem comes before perfectionism, while in reality perfectionism leads to low self-esteem.
Third of all, perfectionism and striving for excellence are not the same thing. They’re not even related in any way:
Healthy striving is internally motivated and perfectionism is externally motivated.
Striving for excellence means focusing on personal growth and healthy achievement: 'How can I improve?' or 'What are my goals?'. Perfectionism means focusing on the other and trying to win their approval: 'What will they think? Will they like me? Will they think my effort is good enough?'
Can you tell I’m passionate about this? It makes me so mad that people are out there spreading false rumors and perpetuating these myths that keep us stuck in this vicious cycle of perfectionism with no way out. They’re even trying to make us feel shame for being ‘bad’ perfectionists! #nobueno
Perfectionism is a coping mechanism that we use when we feel scared, insecure, uncertain, and not good enough. It’s an UNHEALTHY coping mechanism, which - as we talked about in the previous lesson - damages us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Here’s the thing… once you realize what perfectionism truly, honestly, REALLY is and you understand it, you can begin to change it. You can make different choices. You can begin to break that cycle. You can slowly unlearn that unhealthy coping mechanism and start building healthy habits instead.
But this notion of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ perfectionism just keeps us stuck in the hamster wheel.
Okay, over to the worksheet. Do you still feel like perfectionism can be a good thing? Be really honest here. I want you to examine your but’s: “Yeah, I want to let go of my perfectionism, but…”
“... it means giving up my edge.”
“... I’m scared.”
“... I’m 100% convinced my boyfriend is going to hate me for it.”
Listen to that scared little voice in your head and write down what it’s telling you. Because on one level you know these but’s, these objections are total lies, but on another level they have this hold on you. Most of these objections are fear talking.
In the next module, we’ll talk more about dealing with that fear in particular, but for now it’s important to become aware of these objections, these statements keeping you stuck and keeping you small. Again, you know they are lies, but we’ll work on that small part of you still believing them in the next module.
In finishing up this module, there are two more exercises on the worksheet. But first, I want you to answer this question:
“How has this module changed the way you think about perfectionism in general and your perfectionism in particular?”
Now, look back to the perfectionism story you wrote in lesson 0.3. With all that you’ve learned in this module, go over your story again to see if you want to make some changes. Where do you need to add to or subtract from the story? Is there a certain chapter (perhaps a situation or event or person or area of your life affected by perfectionism) missing from your story? Do you feel like emphasizing certain aspects of your perfectionism story more?
Next, I want you to get an outside perspective on your perfectionism and your story. Obviously, talk about it with people you trust, who can hold space for you, and who you can be honest and vulnerable with. Have a conversation with a good friend. Tell him or her you’re working on your perfectionism right now and ask them how they see you. Do they see you as being a perfectionist? Why is that? How do they see it show up for you? What are some of the negative effects they think perfectionism has on your life?
If possible, have a chat with your parents about when they first noticed your perfectionism when you were growing up. Or maybe even talk to a mentor or high school teacher.
Write all of the insights you’ve gained from having these conversations down on the worksheet, so that they’re all together in one space. Plus, take a look at your perfectionism story again to see if some tweaks need to be made.
Why do I think writing down your perfectionism story is important? Well, for a number of reasons:
First, seeing your history and your story down on paper is powerful. It has an impact. Most likely, some plot points, some parts of your story have been with you a long time. Stuck as a memory in your head, where you keep repeating it and keep replaying it over and over again. It’s stuck in your head and it has nowhere else to go. Not anymore, because now you’ve written it down on paper. You’ve shared some of the burden.
Your perfectionism story can help you identify triggers and patterns that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. In turn, this can help you recognize those same triggers and patterns in your life right now, in your current situation, and so you can take action to hopefully prevent it or, at least, keep your perfectionism from getting out of control.
And lastly, writing your story will help you create distance between yourself and your perfectionism, between who you are and what you’ve experienced. For the longest time, perfectionism has been part of your identity. You’ve called yourself a perfectionist. But, after going through the lessons in this module, you know that perfectionism isn’t who you are, it’s how you behave sometimes. Seeing your story on paper helps you literally distance yourself from your perfectionism and from the stories you’ve been telling yourself.
And finally the last exercise, gather up all of the entries in your daily perfectionism journal that we talked about in lesson 0.3 and start analyzing the data. I guarantee that, when you take a close look at all of your journal entries, you’ll start to see a few patterns emerging. Perhaps you notice how your perfectionism shows up in certain parts of the day, around certain people, or in certain circumstances. Write all of these patterns and insights down on the worksheet.
Now, you’ve been keeping a daily perfectionism journal for a while now and I highly encourage you to continue with it. Sit down for 5 minutes a day and reflect on the ways your perfectionism showed up that day. And if writing in a journal isn’t really your thing, go with your preferred method of choice for reflecting on your day, whether it’s scrapbooking, art journaling, going to a kickboxing class, or talking about it with your partner or best friend.
Okay, we completed module 1 of this Perfectionist Bootcamp course. I truly hope you’ve gained a deep understanding into your perfectionism, how it works and shows up for you, and how it affects your life. I’m sure you’ve become the expert on your own perfectionism by now.
Before moving on, make sure you complete all of the worksheets. The next module, module 2, is where we’re going to be dealing with the freakin’ fear. Can’t wait to see you on the next module.