“One of the motives behind perfectionism is the hunger for approval. As a perfectionist, you have a highly conditional and mostly unfavorable view of yourself, and you strive for approval and validation to feel better about yourself. As an approval-hungry perfectionist, your pursuit of perfection is a foot in the door into somebody else’s mind as you try to peddle your talents and abilities in exchange for others’ approval.” ~ Pavel Somov
One of the perfectionist tendencies from the work of Pavel Somov that hit home for me was my hunger for approval from others. I think because I heard, as a child, that I wasn’t good enough from others that I thought I needed approval from others to prove I was worthy. In the book Present Perfect, Somov shares that perfectionists base their sense of self-worth on others’ thoughts and reactions about them. It is important for perfectionists to acknowledge that they are hungry for the approval from others, because admitting your insecurities is a crucial step towards self-acceptance.
Perfectionists are judgmental of themselves and others. We believe our self-esteem and worth comes from the judgment of ourselves. We are constantly judging ourselves against a standard to determine our worth. I used to think that if I accomplished certain goals, then I was worthy and if I made mistakes or didn’t do things, then I was unworthy. At the end of the day I might have done hundreds of wonderful things, but what stuck in my head were the few things that I judged as being bad or wrong. I based my self-worth on conditions I created, and as a perfectionist I created very high standards.
In order to deal with this hunger for approval from others, we must practice Self-acceptance. Self- acceptance is unconditional love for yourself. When I practice self-acceptance, I know that I am doing the best I can at this moment in this situation. I am no longer comparing myself with some yardstick of what I think I should have done in this situation. When I sought the approval of others I was dependent on others for my self-esteem and I lost my sense of self. Now, I am conscious of what I am doing and I do my best. I no longer seek out praise. I am self-aware. I have come to a comfortable place in life where I know I am valuable even if others don’t value me. I have setbacks from time to time where I catch myself feeling that I am not good enough, but then I return to the present moment and practice self-acceptance.
Do you hunger for the approval from others?
How can you practice more self-acceptance in your life?
“Any mind is a hostage to its habits. For perfectionistic minds, this is even more true. The perfectionist’s mind is a high-security prison guarded by guilt-tripping shoulds.” ~ Pavel Somov
Many times in my life I have fallen victim to the “shoulds.” I did things not because I wanted to, but because a guilty feeling in my thoughts told me that if I was a good girl then I should do this. Perfectionists even take the shoulds to another level by telling themselves to try harder and never make a mistake. When guilt enters into the formula, then we do something out of sense of duty rather than desire. Many times we aren’t even aware we are doing these things we feel we should be doing, it is part of our driven perfectionist mindset – we are on automatic pilot and being mindless.
So, how do you deal with the shoulds? First, you recognize that you have used the word should when talking about doing something. Awareness is the key and I find it amusing now how often I say, “I should do this.” Once I am aware, I realize that I have a choice. So, I look at the situation and truly determine if I have a desire to do this thing or if I am only doing it out of a sense of duty to someone or something. It is so freeing to know that I have a choice and I can say no without guilt. The purpose is to unmask the shoulds to find our true wants and desires. I have learned what others have been saying for years and that No is a complete sentence. I usually want to add qualifiers and reasons why I can’t do something, but that is just my pleaser personality wanting to make everyone happy, so I am aware of this and stop at just saying no. It wasn’t initially easy to say No, but I practiced with some simple things as first. I don’t always say no as smoothly and comfortably as I would like, but I continue to improve and get better. The only person who can take care of me, is me and this perfectionist is no longer falling victim to the shoulds.
Do you ever fall victim to the guilt tripping shoulds?
The next time you recognize yourself saying you should do something, stop and realize you have a choice. Ask yourself, “are you doing this out of a sense of duty or do you truly have a desire to do this activity?” What happens?
"To overcome perfectionism, you’d have to learn to accept reality for what it is at any given moment." ~ Pavel Somov
One of the aha moments for me in Pavel Somov’s book Present Perfect was that as a perfectionist, I was rejecting reality. I was not accepting things were as they were. In my mind, I believed that I knew what perfection was and I was doing everything in my power to make me perfect and the situation perfect. I was spending way too much time and effort striving to perfect the present moment to be in line with what I thought reality should be. No wonder I felt so much pressure and stress.
Somov states, “We can think of things being different from how they are at this point in time, but this hypothetically better, ideal reality exists only in our minds. In reality, there is just reality.” This is so true; I realized I was living in my thoughts and not in the reality of the present moment. The advice that the author gives is to practice acceptance of this present moment as perfect. Many people view that acceptance and surrender means passivity. But acceptance is an active engagement of being mindful of the present moment and having the courage to be fully present. When you practice acceptance there is no comparison or judgment. Perfectionists are constantly judging what is with what theoretically could or should be. With acceptance I have learned that I am perfect and doing the best I can with my current level of knowledge. If I make a mistake, I own up to the mistake and recognize how to change and improve. The most important thing is to know that the present moment is perfect. It might not be what I had planned, but when I accept that this is how it is, life flows so much easier, and in most instances things are better than I ever imagined in my mind.
Have you ever rejected reality by having a perfectionistic view of how things should be?
Do you accept reality for what it is at any given moment?
“Many of us are in a race against time. As a perfectionist, you are ahead of the pack with a yellow jersey on. In your fixation on meeting goals, you are speeding toward the future, dismissing the present as having only the significance of being a step on the way to a future moment of completion and accomplishment.” ~ Pavel Somov
In the book Present Perfect, Pavel Somov discusses time as it relates to perfectionistic tendencies. For much of my life, I felt like I was in a battle against time. I had a view of time that Somov describes in the quote above where I dismissed the present for the completion of future accomplishments. I love his bicycle racing analogy with the yellow jersey as I was truly focused on achieving as many goals as I could until the time in that day was gone. I was not living in the present moment, but focused on the future. I was always rushing from one obligation to the next and not taking time to smell the roses. I would work long hours and multitask to get as many things done in a day as I could. But the list never seemed to end. I was focused on the destination and not the journey. Somov tells us that “Perfectionism is a future orientation, a looking beyond the present. As a perfectionist, you tend to be in the present only long enough to reject it: to confirm that reality once again failed your expectations of perfection and to reset your sights on the future.”
And then I found art. I took my first art class and I loved it. I had never studied art in school. Remember, I was a perfectionist and art was not part of the curriculum to achieve my goals. For one day a week, I would leave work on time and go the art class. And during that class I learned about the flow of life and time was not an issue. I would be in the present moment, I did not think about work or anything else in my life. It was during my art class that I learned about needing to have a balance between work and play.
Time is man-made phenomenon. We have created measurement devices to break life into decades, years, months, hours, minutes and seconds. But what I have really learned is that there is only now. I have changed my attitude, perceptions and beliefs about time and it is no longer a battle. Mindfulness has helped me to understand that I have a choice and there is only now and it is up to me to make each moment precious.
How do you view time?
Is there anything that you do where time feels like it stands still?
How can you live more in the present moment?
“Perfectionism is mostly a result of learning, programming, and conditioning. I see it as an ingenious adaptation to a hypercritical, high-pressure, invalidating environment, a psychological self-defense strategy that unfortunately creates more problems than it solves” ~ Pavel Somov
For the next several blog posts I am going to talk about perfection and the ideas from the book Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control by Pavel Somov. If you ever deal with issues of being a perfectionist then this is a great book to help you see each moment as perfect and not be so hard on yourself. The purpose of the book is to help you experience perfection without being perfectionistic.
The book describes three types of perfectionistic hunger: approval/validation hunger, reflection/attention hunger, and control/certainty hunger. In approval/validation hunger you seek approval from others for your self worth. I was good at that, I worked hard and wanted a pat on the back from authority figures to tell me I was doing a good job and worthwhile. If you grew up insecure, you may have the second perfectionistic hunger which is to be perfect so that you gain attention from others. The third kind of perfection is controlling situations with the belief that everything will be perfect. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and my young mind thought that if I did everything perfectly and controlled everything at home then my parents would not get upset, would not drink and everything would be fine.
As I embraced a mindfulness and meditation lifestyle, I now understand the present moment is perfect. I have learned that I am worthy and that seeking the approval from others doesn’t strengthen my self-esteem, it actually weakens it. I must love myself and get validation from within. True happiness comes from within. Trying to control things to make everything perfect doesn’t work. I had no control over my parents and their actions. and reactions My perfectionistic tendencies may have helped me survive my childhood, but they are not serving me well in adulthood. I have learned that it is much easier to go with the flow in life then to try and control it. I do my best in life and I do prepare and plan, but then I detach and let the Universe handle the details. I enjoy life much more when I surrender and don’t try to control situations. I can plan a party or a meeting, but I am not in control that everyone will have a great time or enjoy himself or herself. I do my best and let go of the rest. I have learned that I don’t have any control in what happens in life, only in my reactions.
Do you have any of the perfectionistic hungers: approval/validation hunger, reflection/attention hunger, and control/certainty hunger?
If yes, what can you do to live in the present moment and accept it as perfect?
Peggy Steffens is an artist and Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor
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