Taking my power back – me vs. perfectionism

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about perfectionism. I’ve known for a while that this was my nature, but I never stopped to question whether or not it was serving me or if I was serving it. When that thought entered my mind, I jolted. I’d hit a nerve. It was definitely territory worth exploring.

The first thing I did was to look up what perfectionism actually is. It was a term I used freely to describe myself, but I’d never actually taken the time to read up on it. It turns out that yes, I do have perfectionist tendencies. But the good news is that the form of perfectionism that I practice is actually the more positive version of it.

There are two types of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive. Basically, adaptive perfectionism is more about striving for personal excellence and achieving at higher levels. For adaptive perfectionists, we tend to not experience severe hardship or mental duress if we don’t live up to a standard we set for ourselves. Sure, it’s disappointing, but it doesn’t induce debilitating depression or anxiety. It’s seen as a more productive and positive form of perfectionism, overall.

On the other hand and in short, maladaptive perfectionism is marked by negative behaviors and thought patterns. Self-sabotage and procrastination are common for people with maladaptive perfectionism. They tend to worry themselves into the exact situations they seek to avoid. They also usually suffer from depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking.

As I said, thankfully I have been able to identify better with the adaptive form of perfectionism. That actually gave me hope for my situation and helped me to realize that my situation wasn’t as dire as it could be. For that, I am quite grateful. But I still have to deal with this perfectionism. Why? Because I realized that I was getting to the point where I was serving the perfectionism, not the other way around.

In doing some thinking, writing, and soul searching, I realized that I can harness my perfectionist tendencies in a way that they work for me and not against me. I can use the trait to better myself. I don’t have to let it control me. Basically, I’m learning to make perfectionism my minion, instead of the other way around.

One way I’m combating perfectionism is with mindfulness and awareness. When I’m practicing being in a mindful and aware mental state, I ensure that I’m not making decisions and taking actions out of fear. When I employ mindfulness I’m aware of my motivations and drives for doing things. Once I realized that I’d been operating out of fear with many of my perfectionist tendencies, it helped me to re-examine the behavior and question whether or not it was serving me.

As part of this process, it was important to me that I dig deeper into my past to figure out how I got so deeply into perfectionism. It should come as no surprise that I’ve always been a high achiever in my life. I made great grades all the way through grad school, and I was a model student, daughter, and friend. I was great at rising to meet expectations, and I was eager to show everyone what I was capable of. But what I lacked in my earlier years was guidance and direction. I’ve been living on my own since I’m 18 years old, and I’ve never had a mentor or been really close with someone older than me or with much experience.

My parents were the type to let me live my own life. I greatly appreciate that, though. I never thought to ask them for much guidance and they never really offered any. I don’t say this as a lamentation or a complaint. I’m genuinely grateful that my parents were a bit hands off with me. It’s allowed me to grow and change and evolve at my own pace and in my own way. I’ve become who I am today on my own, not as an extension of over-parenting.

But I realize now that I’ve used these perfectionist tendencies as a way to cope with life and with the uncertainty that I faced in my 20s. I was lost for most of those years. I thought I knew what I wanted and then I’d eventually realize I was wrong. I spent most of my 20s changing my mind and course-correcting as I went along. I was caught up in inner turmoil, but I couldn’t even see how unhappy I was.

I’ve realized now that I used perfectionism as a way to cover up my sadness and dissatisfaction with my life and the choices I made in my 20s. I used the perfectionism to project an air of success and happiness. When someone looked at my life, they saw no problems. They saw no conflict. Everything seemed perfect and in its place. Hell, I even had myself fooled for many years. I bought into it and closed my eyes to what was really going on inside of me. I lived so many years in denial.

But now I can see the truth. Now I live from a place of awareness and mindfulness. Now I actively work to overturn all those stones and look inside each dark cob-webby closet. I’ve taken self-examination to the other side, the other extreme, because that’s my nature. But as I’ve said, I’m using my perfectionism powers for good and not harm this time. I’m using them to better myself and get where I want to be in life, not to cover up the truth. That’s how I’m getting in touch with my real power. ROAR!