Have No Fear of Perfection, You will never reach it. ~ Salvador Dali
Echoing from a post I wrote a few weeks ago week (see here for more) about perfectionism, a client of mine came to me about her need to be perfect. She was miserable but she could not cut the habit.
As you know, I consider that perfection is not a standard, it is a way to abuse yourself and/or make yourself so miserable that you are likely to give up or push yourselves into depression for never being enough.
Considering the person (we’ll call her Jane) was a very successful, driven person, I suspected that she was about to drive herself to the floor. Yet, she had realised the problem before actually being on the floor. I commanded her for that and started the journey. I asked:
“How does perfection make you miserable?”
Her response was a mix. She was driven to be perfect in an attempt to avoid being judged by others. So she critiqued herself, pushing herself further and further in an attempt to avoid being judged. She was clearly conflicted because being driven had served her so much as well.
She could attribute so much of her success to that need to always improve and always be better.
Unfortunately, it came at a price. She was not fulfilled despite her success and she felt increasingly isolated. People could not relate to her need to always be running towards her goals, to overachieve whenever possible, and to never be satisfied.
She admitted that she felt strong most of the time, because she had achieved all her goals most of her life, but she also, almost shyly, admitted that while she was succeeding, she was not fulfilled.
I asked her,
“Why are you driven to be perfect?”
She raised a shoulder and said: “I don’t know, it’s a habit I guess, I don’t like to lose”.
I asked her
“When you are perfect, are you not being judged?”
Her first reaction was to say: “Of course not, people congratulate me when I win. It is actually like a drug” with a big smile on her face. But then she paused, became pensive and I could see her attention had drifted away. She continued: “Well not everybody is happy about that, but they are just jealous, you know. You can’t always please everybody.”
I challenged her on that point:
“Are they jealous or are they judging?”
She smiled and said: “Both I supposed. But I don’t really care”.
I kept pushing:
“So they are judging, when you are being perfect? How does that work? because you are driven to perfection to avoid judgment”.
Jane grew frustrated: “I don’t know, OK?”
“But it is not logical, don’t you think? You are perfect in order to avoid judgement, but there are still people who do judge you! How do you cope?”
She became pensive again. “I don’t think one can please everybody I suppose.”
“So when you are perfect, you are not aiming at pleasing everybody! Just part of the population.”
“Yes, I suppose!”
“A large part of the population?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“But it is still important, right?!”
“Yes, yes, it is a driving force. I feel that if I am not perfect, everything will stop.”
“When did this start?”
I saw her escaping again and she responded: “I don’t know exactly, when I was a girl I suppose”
“Can you remember when it started?”
She was pensive for a while, then, with a sight, she said:
“Yes, it was my father. He needed things to be perfect”.
She became agitated and uncomfortable at that point. Her discomfort was at an 8 (on a scale to 0 to 10), we started tapping on this discomfort. After a couple of rounds, the discomfort was gone. I continued:
“What would happen if things where not perfect with your dad?”
She just said:
“It was dangerous. You did not want things to be less than perfect, because it could become dangerous”.
Knowing her story, I asked her to tap while focusing on the emotions and the ideas that came to mind and to let me know when it was easier. She tapped for a good five minutes.
And then said. “Yep, I could never be good enough for my dad. It was never enough, no matter how hard you tried. And I tried! But he never saw me, which was lucky, really”.
I asked her to go back to the idea that being less than perfect was dangerous.
I could see her tense at the idea. I asked her to imagine imagining what happened when things were less than perfect, basically asking her to distance herself from the problem emotion. She said it would be a 10. So we tapped indirectly on the imagined imagined emotion. We managed after a couple of rounds, to bring this imagined imagined emotion down to 0.
So I asked her then if she was ready to think about what happened if things were less than perfect.
She nodded and said: “It was ugly and dangerous and there was no logic, really! It was just random. So you spent your time trying to imagine what could trigger him in order to avoid having to deal with that.”
I asked her how she felt when trying to avoid triggering her father. She immediately said: “Fear. It was dangerous!” We then tap on this fear, this primal fear of a child.
She started crying softly. We kept on tapping silently until the tears dried up. She opened her eyes and said: “I could never win. It is sad, really. All I ever wanted was for him to love me and he never did.” We tapped on that sadness for herself. She then went on to say:
“Actually he is a sad man. He could never see the treasures he had around him. This obsession of his about controlling his environment into perfection killed joy and happiness for him and those around him”
Her eyes expressed an enormous surprise at this realisation.
She went on: “Am I missing something? Does my attitude kill joy and happiness around me?”
We tapped on her realisation that her father was a sad man and that he was responsible for the total lack of happiness and joy around him. She finished saying: “I really loved him and I would have loved for him to love me back.”
I asked: “How do you feel about that?”
She raised her shoulders once again: “It is sad but it is also what made me stronger. I feel, I don’t know, empty in fact right now. It is not painful but it is empty… ”
I asked: “Do you love him?” She gave me a firm Yes. So we did a couple of rounds with the following sentence:
“Even he does not deserve it, I do love my father with all his strengths and his weaknesses.”
After a couple of rounds, I could see her shoulders relax and her face smile.
I asked her: “Do you need to be perfect today? What would happen if you were not perfect?”
She thought about it and smiling she said: “I guess I could live for a while. I could love myself. I would be less stressed. I would be less difficult to be around.”
I probed and asked on a 0 to 10 scale, how true is the statement, without this drive to be perfect, I would be less stressed. She said absolutely true, no doubt.
I then asked her:
“Without this drive to be perfect, can you succeed?”
She stopped and thought about that. She said: “I can still do the best I can, and still be better than most, yet, I don’t have to be driven by fear. I can set my own standard for what I want to achieve.”
I thought that it was the definition of excellence. I asked her how she felt when she was saying that. She said: “It does not feel real to be honest. It is like what I have always done. How can I not be perfectionist and still be successful?” So we did a couple of rounds on this, along the line of
“Even though I am not driven by fear of the consequences, if I don’t do perfectly, I know that I will be ok and that I will succeed.”
Within a couple of rounds, once again I could see her shoulders relax and she was smiling again. “I am an adult now. I don’t need his needs controlling me when I have been away from him for so many years. I still wish he loved me, but I do love myself and I know it is unconditional. That’s good enough.” We did a couple of rounds around that positive statements.
She left shortly after and called a couple of weeks later. She was astonished by the fact that she had been much more relaxed and that she had discovered her own passion for her job. She felt much more fulfilled in her job.
Perfection is not the best standard.
It was driving Jane but she was running on empty. By moving away from the fear of consequences, should she be less than perfect, she could define a new standard that would work for her.
That standard was still high but the meaning behind it was hers and was for her own fulfilment.
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