The other day in my Healers’ Circle, we were discussing how perfectionism can get into the way of putting your work into the world. 

A client had been working on a website for four months and was hesitating about whether to push “publish.” Another has a vision for bringing a new type of class to yoga studios and is needing to reach out. Maybe you’re working up the nerve to launch a new program, and part of you is super excited, but you’re taking weeks or months longer than you’d planned to get your work out there. 

If you’re taking way longer to start or complete a project than you originally planned, perfectionism may be getting in the way.

People often believe that procrastination is a result of laziness. But my clients who struggle with procrastination are the opposite of lazy. They sometimes overwork and overstress to get a project to perfection. They have strong inner Perfectionists.

In the Healers’ Circle, when contemplating the role of perfectionism in her life, one participant shared, “I’m kinda a perfectionist, but I’m not entirely a perfectionist.” I decided it was an excellent opportunity to teach my client to see her inner Perfectionist as a part of her. 

Here’s what I shared—

When we were little, we developed all sorts of survival strategies to meet our needs, especially our need for belonging. Many of these survival strategies took on a life of their own, and we began to identify with them. For example, you might find yourself saying, “I’m an Overachiever.” Or, “I’m a People Pleaser.”  Or, “I’m a Perfectionist.”

The problem is, when we identify with the parts of ourselves, it can be hard to get the distance we need to choose our response to them consciously. 

Rather than trying to figure out how much of us is a certain way or not (“I’m kinda, but not entirely a perfectionist”), it can be more helpful to talk about the parts of ourselves as if they were separate entities. For example, “I have a strong Overachiever.” Or, “Part of me is a People Pleaser.” Or, “I have a loud inner Perfectionist part.” 

I call these parts “Strategy Children” because they’re strategies that have taken on a life of their own. Instead of saying, “I’m kinda, not entirely a perfectionist,” it’s more accurate to say, “Part of me is a Perfectionist, and another part is a Messy Artist.”

What if you think you might have a strong inner Perfectionist, but you’re not sure?

Here’s what to watch for—

The Perfectionist tries to avoid negative judgment by doing everything perfectly. They set unrealistically high expectations, which makes it inevitable that they fall short. Sometimes, they don’t reach for their dreams because they’re so afraid of failing. They are, therefore, often disappointed in themselves.

The Perfectionist tends to see skills as black and white. They believe that they’re either good at something or bad at something. If they don’t know how to do something well the first time, they beat themselves up and doubt whether it’s worth it to keep trying. 

If they’re facing a new challenge, the Perfectionist may get stuck in analysis paralysis and have an excruciating time getting started. 

For example, the would-be blogger keeps reading other peoples’ blogs instead of writing their own. The would-be speaker keeps revising their speeches but doesn’t take steps to set up speaking engagements. They may get distracted by behind busy work or concrete tasks (folding clothes, washing dishes, answering emails) rather than grappling with messiness and vulnerability of learning. 

The Perfectionist also believes that if they ask for help, they’ll appear weak. As a result, they may stay invisible or isolate themselves. This can create a negative feedback loop in which they don’t ask for support, so they don’t get the help they need, so they’re less likely to achieve their goals. This leads to shame, which can lead to more isolation, even less support, and lower chances of meeting their goals. 

So what do you do if your Perfectionist is rearing its head?

The first step is not to try to make the Perfectionist go away. This may seem counterintuitive, but if the Spiritual Judge in your head chastises the Perfectionist or tries to get rid of it, the Perfectionist is apt to cling even harder to their strategy.

The next step is to take a step back and witness the part of you who is struggling with compassion. Listen carefully to how it feels, what it needs, and what it wants to share with you. 

If you have a loud inner Perfectionist, I invite you to try this dialogue now.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Then, get centered. Feel your feet. Feel your breath. Imagine that you’re able to view what’s going on within you as a compassionate, objective observer, and do the following:

  • Bring to mind the project you’re procrastinating on or struggling to start, and pay attention to how you feel inside. Notice the physical sensations and emotions in your body, and say “hello” to each like you would a good friend.
  • Then, imagine yourself sitting down next to these feelings. You may identify them as your inner Perfectionist or something else. Be open to what you discover. There might be multiple parts who are struggling to get started, each of whom has different needs. It doesn’t matter precisely what you call them as long as you’re able to sit beside them with compassion and listen to what they want to share.
  • Sitting down next to your feelings and saying “hello,” ask each feeling what it wants you to know. Write down everything that comes up.
  • Then, ask each one what it needs. Again, write it down.
  • Ask if there’s anything else they’d like to share. Write down what comes up, and keep asking until you feel complete.

As a result of this conversation, you might feel a lot of relief, notice yourself taking a deep sigh and letting go. Or, you might feel a small shift but wish for an immediate, entire transformation, a way to get rid of your inner Perfectionist. 

Notice that it might ironically be the Perfectionist itself who wants a perfect solution to your challenges. If this is the case, offer yourself compassion and let the Perfectionist know that you hear it. Neither agree with it or try to make it go away. Just acknowledge, with compassion, that it’s having a hard time.

The more that the Perfectionist (and all of your strategy children) knows that you care and are listening, the more you will meet their need for belonging, and the more they’ll be able to relax.

I wish you so much patience and compassion for yourself on the journey ahead!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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