Pressure to be perfect
So many of us feel intense pressures to achieve more, do more, and be more. We live in a technology-driven society that never stops. We’re constantly bombarded with the “my life is perfect” messages found on social media. It’s no wonder that so many of us are self-critical perfectionists who feel like we’re not measuring up.
But what is it that we’re not measuring up to? Perhaps we need to take another look at how we’re measuring our worth. Perhaps awards, titles, having the perfect “beach body”, earning six figures, and other traditional markers of success aren’t the best measures of our worth. Perhaps valuing these things is actually causing us to hate ourselves.
Perfectionism leads to self-criticism
I’m sure you’re intimately acquainted with self-criticism -- one of the hallmarks of perfectionism. Perfectionists never feel good enough. We’re never satisfied with our performance or even our effort. We create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and when we inevitably fail to meet them, we use it as evidence to prove we’re not as good as everyone else. Perfectionists meet this sense of failure with harsh self-criticism.
You might think being hard on yourself is necessary and will motivate you to do better. But criticism usually leads to shame, not to greater motivation. In other words, criticism makes us feel worse about ourselves and we can’t do better when we’re cutting ourselves down.
Many of us find it easier to love others than to love ourselves. Sometimes we're truly quite awful to ourselves. We subject ourselves to a harsh inner critic, unhealthy relationships, toxic substances, and self-mutilation because we’re convinced that we’re different and inferior, instead of that we’re flawed, like all humans, and still completely lovable.
You’re probably hyper-aware of your faults and shortcomings, but quick to dismiss your strengths and positive qualities. Perfectionism gives you an inaccurate perception of yourself. You’re internally obsessed with your imperfections and failures while trying to present a perfect persona to the rest of the world. This inevitably leads to a negative view of yourself and harsh self-criticism.
Perfectionists can decrease self-criticism
- Have realistic expectations. It’s not possible to do everything perfectly, so don’t set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. Use progress as your measuring stick instead of perfection.
- Acknowledge your strengths. As a perfectionist, you’re so focused on your imperfections that you have trouble noticing your strengths. Everyone has good qualities, though. You may have look hard to find them only because you’re not used to acknowledging your strengths. But when you intentionally look for something, you’re more likely to find it!
- Accept your weaknesses or imperfections. Just as we all have strengths, we also all have weaknesses. Some we simply try to accept because we can’t change them and some we work on improving, but we don’t have to be ashamed of our weaknesses or ruminate about them because it’s normal to have imperfections and make mistakes.
- Self-worth isn’t determined by “success”. When people think about what matters most, they recognize that they don’t have to be perfect, or “winners”, or “successful” in order to be loving, generous, creative, or hard-working. Successful people aren’t the only ones who are worthy; consider that it isn’t your accomplishments that matter most.
- Turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, try seeing them as opportunities to learn, grow, and do better. Instead of beating yourself up when you make a mistake, ask yourself what you’ve learned and try to see your mistake as a valuable experience.
- Don’t depend on others to make you feel worthy. Self-worth should be an inside job. You’re giving away your power if you let other people determine your worth. Instead, try to validate
- Keep negative people at a distance. This is challenging for sure (you can read more here). But, if others refuse to treat you with respect, you can choose to separate yourself. It’s hard to leave unhealthy relationships when you feel like a failure and think you deserve lousy treatment from others. This is why you have to work on both the inner and outer critics at the same time.
- Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness. We all screw up. Most of us just don’t talk about our biggest failures and our insecurities, so it’s easy to think that everyone else has it together and you’re the only one struggling. Self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism. It’s a way to give yourself grace for being a flawed individual who’s trying the best s/he can.
- Challenge your negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is automatic and well ingrained. Before you assume it’s accurate, check-out the negative things you’re saying to yourself. Are they true? What’s the evidence? Do you really believe them or are they things other people told you are true? You can create new beliefs about yourself based on your own experiences and your own values.
We all deserve kindness – from others and ourselves. You can decrease self-criticism by gaining a more accurate picture of yourself – seeing your strengths, acknowledging your mistakes and seeing them as learning opportunities instead of dwelling on them, setting realistic expectations, remembering self-worth isn’t based only on performance, and offering yourself compassion and forgiveness. Being kinder to yourself is likely to help your productivity and goal achievement, improve your emotional health, and strengthen your relationships.
Ditch Your Rigid, Perfectionist & Self-Critical Thinking
Do you hold yourself—and perhaps others—to extremely high standards? Do you have a nagging inner-critic that tells you you’re inadequate no matter how much you achieve? Do you procrastinate certain tasks because you’re afraid you won’t carry them out perfectly? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, chances are you’re a perfectionist. And while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, perfectionism can take over your life if you let it. So, how can you find balance?
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