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Two Words That Will Change Your Life

Perfectionism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable. I see this with individuals of all ages, from the child who has a melt down because their art project doesn't look just right, to the teen who has an eating disorder because she feels in adequate, to the mom who feels like she has to stay on top of everything in the household or things will fall apart, to the professional who is driven to achieve success, yet never feels satisfied. I believe that the drive to be perfect is so ingrained in our culture from the media's portrayal of perfect homes and bodies on TV and in magazines; to our homes, where parents struggle to work, pay the bills, keep a tidy house, take their children to endless activities and appointments, monitor homework, and make last minute baked goods for the fundraiser at school.

What are the implications of living a perfectionist life and what can you do about it?

People who feel the need to be perfect judge their value based upon what they have achieved. If they fail to meet their expectations on one aspect of a project they may consider the whole project a failure. These individual's cultivate their self-worth based upon the outcomes and compare themselves against these standards (self-imposed, yet influenced by what others look like, have, or achieved).
We are all guilty of this to some extent, yet when this is the sole way we operate it becomes a concern, because whatever you do will never be good enough.You will either chase more and more things to make you feel happier, or you may just not try at all doing things that may potentially embarrass you or expose your inability.
As a parent you have a tremendous influence upon your child and if you seek perfectionism by trying to be, do, have it all, your child will do the same. If you convey to your child their self-worth is linked to what they do or how they act, you have modeled perfectionism. Rather that praising outcomes, like rewards for good grades, parents can emphasize qualities the child exhibited to achieve their goals, such as persistence and dedication. Life is a learning process, and by demanding or criticizing when things aren't just right (for your standards) you diminish learning opportunities. So rather that stepping in to solve a problem for your child or rescue them from "doing it wrong", give them an opportunity to try, offer support by asking them what they need from you. Yes, this may lead to a poor grade, a messy room, or a sibling conflict, but the rewards are so much bigger- developing problem solving skills, learning natural consequences, and the realization that what you do is different from who you are.

As an adult if you were raised with high expectations or critical parents who didn't teach you to problem solve but told you what to do instead, you ma
y be a perfectionist. Your need for order and control may prevent you from having meaningful vulnerable relationships because of your fears that your imperfections may be exposed. Many people who are perfectionists stay really busy to avoid some of the deep feelings they have. They may be fearful of being overwhelmed with emotions, and choose to shut down or shut off their feelings. What you need to know is that your desire for psychological safety keeps you from having wonderfully open relationships. It also keeps you chronically feeling bad, because you are never good enough. Here's the secret, it's truly about self-acceptance and self-love. When you are able to embrace all aspects of yourself, things you consider both good and bad, you open the door to living a more fulfilled and happier life- not only for you, but those around you too. So here are the two words that will change your life: good enough.

If you want to explore this deeper take out some basic art materials and a big piece of paper. Make a line down the middle of the paper. On the left side make a drawing or use collage images to create an image of your critical self (however that may look) and the right side make an image of your accepting self. See what the image
and the process uncovers. Practice this week saying "good enough" when you are trying too hard to do things just right.

If you'd like to learn more, click here for an easy to read article in Psychology Today.

Woman with Flower

by Naomi Long Madgett

I wouldn't coax the plant if I were you.

Such watchful nurturing would do harm.

Let the soil rest from so much digging

And wait until it's dry before you water it.

The leaf's inclined to find its own direction;

Give it a chance to seek sunlight for itself.

Much growth is stunted by careful prodding,

Too eager tenderness.

The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.