Perfectionism is a terrible cycle to get stuck in. It’s like being a hamster running on a wheel. No matter what you do right, it always feels like you have to keep doing more to get better results. Your to-do list never seems to end and you don’t obtain real satisfaction when you achieve the goals you set.
Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor that has studied courage, authenticity, shame, and vulnerability for over a decade. She says perfectionism is like a 20-ton shield that is carried around to protect oneself from criticism. The logic behind trying to do things perfectly is that you will avoid or minimize any negative criticisms or blame from others.
In an Oprah series titled, “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” Brown explains that “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun — and fear is the annoying back seat driver.” Pay close attention to the areas in which your perfectionism thrives, because that is where you are most vulnerable to shame.
When It’s Time to Draw the Line
You are trying to become a better – if not the best – version of yourself. Having the ambition and willingness to learn from your mistakes and grow is important. It’s a key part of the recovery process.
Yet, striving for perfectionism is not. Trying to be perfect can actually create so much pressure, stress, and disappointment that it puts your recovery at risk. If you’ve become obsessed with getting things right all the time, it’s time to draw the line.
Signs You May Be a Perfectionist
An important component of addiction treatment is learning about yourself. The process of developing a deep sense of compassion and patience does not change once you’re an alumnus of a treatment program. If you are a perfectionist, though, these gifts can be incredibly challenging to grant yourself.
It’s understandable that allowing yourself to be vulnerable to imperfection can be downright terrifying and even triggering. Consider the following signs of perfectionism from the University of Texas at Austin; do they describe your situation?
- Being very afraid of failure and disapproval
- Becoming overly defensive when criticized
- Feeling worthless when you make mistakes
- Setting unreasonable standards for yourself
- Feeling dissatisfied with anything less than perfection
- Experiencing depression when confronted with failure or disappointment
What Healthy Ambition Looks Like
Goal-setting is another important aspect that you focused on in treatment. As a perfectionist, it can be hard to draw the line between a healthy pursuit of excellence and overdoing it. What does a balanced approach look like?
Your goals should be achievable with the resources (including time) that you have now. Set a timeframe or deadline, and plan the process in stages. Slowing down and taking things step-by-step can help you discover the pleasure in the journey, not just the outcome.
Healthy ambition also looks like resilience, the ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks and disturbances. Remember, failure and disappointment are by no means experiences exclusive to you. Acknowledging your mistakes and being open to criticism provides you with an opportunity to grow and learn.
Learn to use these moments wisely and know that there is nothing to panic about. You are safe. Even better, you are transforming because of these challenges. With these things in mind, you will learn to manage your fears and embrace the reality that perfection is a fragile and unobtainable trait.
The Antithesis of Success & Happiness
An important myth to crack here is that perfectionism is how you will make progress in recovery and life. When you really dive into it, perfectionism is the antithesis of success and happiness. It prevents you from appreciating what you have achieved and makes you anxious and bitter. It prevents you from truly feeling fulfilled.
At the end of the day, doing things perfectly is not what makes life deeply rewarding. Love and compassion towards yourself and in your relationships is what makes a healthy, happy, and satisfying life. Without a deep sense of connection to yourself and others, little in life has meaning.
Finding a balance between change and acceptance takes practice, and it stems from loving yourself no matter where you are at in your journey. With this mindset, your efforts to create the best version of yourself will not be based on perfection, but rather on self-improvement rooted in loving kindness.
Remember this lesson from Corinthians 12:9-10:
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Your desire for perfectionism can trigger fear and disappointment no matter what you achieve. Being patient with yourself and learning to love yourself deeply, no matter where you are at in your journey is a game-changer. At Renaissance Ranch, we know the expectation for success in recovery can be a heavy burden. The stakes are high and sometimes it feels like you might just break under all the pressure to stay sober. We also understand that as a man, vulnerability and shame can be hard to talk about. That’s why our treatment program is reserved for men. Our alumni program called the Band of Brothers is here to support you as you learn to balance changing old patterns of thinking and behaving with loving self-acceptance. We have two treatment centers, one located in Bluffdale, Utah, and another in Heyburn, Idaho. Call Renaissance Ranch today at (801) 308-8898 to break the cycle of perfectionism.