The Illusion of Perfectionism + 2 Steps To Overcome This Pattern
All behaviors make sense in context.
When we lack the basics in our childhood (safety, consistency, care), we adapt. We mold ourselves to whatever is being provided by our caregivers, settling for breadcrumbs because it’s better than nothing at all. We survive in instability.
As we get older and start to explore our autonomy, we get a taste of the control we never felt growing up. And what a sweet taste it is, especially for our brains. Any situation that our brain perceives as unknown or where we feel powerless activates our fight/flight response.
Feeling the power and knowing that we are in charge is soothing to the mind/body system. This is how we learn that if we have control, we can keep ourselves safe, limit our pain and no longer feel victimized.
Is it any wonder then that as adults the need for control was reinforced, intensified because it provided a false sense of safety? Wouldn’t it make sense, if it soothed our anxiety and allowed us to survive?
Similarly, the need for control and perfectionism also go hand-in-hand, they’re best friends. The more control we seek to feel a sense of safety in our life, the higher the probability of engaging in perfectionism.
Control and perfectionism are not “bad” per se but they can become problematic in our romantic relationships, work environments, and families. The rigidity, inability to let go and need for everything to be “right” can even harm our health.
This is where we can start to get curious about ourselves. Instead of shaming ourselves, we can:
1.Explore our upbringing, ask ourselves:
“What am I seeking?”
It’s likely not control or perfection, but rather safety.
Now is also the ripest time to look at the landscape of your own life.
Were you raised by caregivers that you couldn’t depend on?
Maybe your parents were barely present in your childhood. Maybe they were dealing with their own issues so they couldn’t look after you. Maybe you were put in situations that were too much for you to handle at such a young age.
These experiences could have pushed the small version of you to form beliefs such as:
“I am not safe.”
“I am not chosen.”
“Nobody is there for me.”
Now, the adult version of you could take those beliefs and rely on control and perfectionism to create a sense of safety.
The thing about these behaviors is that there is a strong tendency for harsh criticism of self and others resulting in overly demanding, difficult, inflexible and even dysfunctional relationships.
On the surface, what may appear to be manipulative, domineering adults, are at the core children begging to be chosen, yearning for acceptance.
If you believe you are controlling and engage in perfectionism, please note that this is a survival mechanism and it is rooted in fear. Instead of shaming yourself, catch these nasty voices in your head and start healing them.
2. Start looking inward and employing ways to create safety:
Self-regulate the internal (breathing, meditation, movement, counseling, etc.) instead of excessively needing to control the external.
The fact of the matter is that nobody - not even your own mother or spouse - will always be there for you.
Yes, of course, they love you and they care for you, but you have to understand that your safety and satisfaction is not other people’s job.
It is your job.
The key to letting go of control is taking your power back.
Once you adopt the belief that your worth is not - and cannot be defined - by other people’s choices and behaviors, you liberate yourself.
You stop feeling anxious when they behave in ways that don’t seem to favor you.
You stop texting your partner 25x a day asking where they are and who is with them.
You stop arguing with people about religion or politics.
You stop telling your friends/family how to live their lives.
When we allow ourselves to let go of control - one step at a time - we start engaging in more rewarding and authentic ways.
Plus, control and perfectionism are an ill