How many of you have burdened yourselves with unrealistic expectations of perfection? First, what is perfectionism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “[a] disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially: the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.”
Excelling in our endeavors is something we all want; however, a problem arises when we receive messages from our parents – verbally or nonverbally – that our efforts aren’t “good enough.” I don’t think parents realize how damaging those message can be to the self-confidence of their children. Time after time in my coaching practice I hear from my clients about the often devastating emotional effects of these messages and unrealistic expectations of perfection – that some are still struggling with 30, 40, 50 years later. Below is an excerpt from a Psychology Today article, describing some of those effects and their impact.
“Concern with mistakes is a reflection of what Frost [Randy O. Frost, psychologist and professor at Smith College] calls the core issue in perfectionism, the unspoken belief or doubt that arises in a child’s mind: ‘I’m incompetent or unworthy.’ It leads to hypercriticalness and the rigid adherence to strict standards of performance under all conditions. It is the element of perfectionism most linked to psychopathology. And it comes about because a child has been made to feel that approval is contingent on performance.” “Pitfalls of Perfectionism,” Psychology Today, publ. March 1, 2008.
Children who have grown up in this type of environment – where only an “acceptable” level of performance was “rewarded” with approval – grow into adults who are driven to perform by an internalized “acceptable level” at great cost to health, relationships, inner peace and satisfaction. In most cases, no other standard is used to measure a successful life. How many of you suffer from the effects of this early childhood conditioning? And how is it affecting your life to this day? Do you become anxious if you don’t measure up to some internalized standard of performance and/or perfection? Are your relationships negatively impacted by your own unrealistic expectations of perfection of yourself and others in your life? Answering these questions will require your willingness to explore your suppressed and/or repressed emotions that are keeping you trapped in perfectionism. Are you ready?