Perfectionism, and other ways to screw up our lives

Thursday, August 3, 2017 Permalink

I’ve talked about perfectionism A LOT on this blog. Not to mention my own perfectionist tendencies. In fact, when I attempted to find an old post to link here, I found so many I figured I’d just link to the many MANY posts I’ve written.

However… flicking back through them, along with a new realisation has made me think about the notion of perfectionism – not to mention my own behaviour – quite differently.

I was listening to a Straight & Curly podcast recently and interested to hear Carly Jacobs and Kelly Exeter talk about perfectionism. It reminded me of something I’d recently read in Thrive Global and bookmarked (at the time) for closer attention.

From thework.com

Kelly talked about some research she’d uncovered while writing her book Practical Perfection which suggested perfectionism can manifest in three forms:

Self-oriented perfectionists – adhere to strict standards for themselves and their behaviour

Other-oriented perfectionists – set very high standards for significant others

Socially-prescribed perfectionists – believe others hold unrealistic expectations of them and are evaluating them critically.

And the fog lifted. Angels sang. A light bulb flickered before burning brightly.

I’d wondered you see, how I could call myself a perfectionist but actually be happy to be exceptionally crappy at some stuff. Like cooking. Or craft-oriented things. And softball, touch football and hockey. (In the days I played stuff.)

Until I realised for me it’s all about everyone else. And what THEY think of me.

I recently talked about the fact I was struggling with a lot of stuff in my life. I’ve lost weight but worry I’ve disappointed my doctor and surgeon by not losing as much as I should. I worry that people at work think I’m not dedicated enough. I worry about my writing and have never really allowed it to be read by others (in front of me / out aloud) for fear of their judgement.

The sane part of me recognises that others really aren’t looking at my life and thinking what a fuck-up I am. (Which makes me realise there’s a bit of self-oriented perfectionism in there as well.) I’ve often mentioned the fact I’m a people pleaser – sometimes to a ridiculous extent. I worry excessively about how others feel and – importantly – what they think of me.

perfectionism

As usual I’m not saying I have answers, but I think recognising this trait and actually asking myself if my suspicions or perceptions are true is surely a good starting point. I am – if nothing else – a logical person. I’m pragmatic. If I stop to question whether this person is REALLY judging me or has high expectations of me it’s likely I’ll realise they’re not thinking of me at all.

Do you think of yourself as a perfectionist? Do you agree there are different types or see yourself in any of the definitions above? Any tips for overcoming perfectionist tendencies?

the-lovin-life-linky I’ve joined Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit and some other bloggers to help promote “ageing positively” and the Lovin’ Life mindset across the interwebz. You can link up via any one of us!

The Lovin’ Life Team includes:

** Not sure where the Steinbeck image is from as I found it on Pinterest shared a million gazillion times.

30 Comments
  • Jo
    August 3, 2017

    Ummmm I just had a bit of a hallelujah moment too then. I think I’m more outwardly focused too – the what everyone else thinks…yet am super hard on myself over things that other people probably are thinking so what about. I don’t expect anyone else to be perfect – heaven forbid – but I’d like to be seen to be achieving.

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      It’s kinda confronting isn’t it? I wondered if I wanted to be seen to be doing good stuff but not actually doing it? Is the perception more important than the reality I wondered?!?!?!

  • Janet Camilleri
    August 3, 2017

    Wow! I love that description, it’s very helpful. I think I’m self-oriented towards perfectionism … hubster is definitely socially …

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      I can think of a lot of people who are others-oriented – the types of people are really demanding and have ridiculously high expectations and constantly judging others!

  • writeofthemiddle
    August 3, 2017

    I am a perfectionist but not to the point I used to be. When still working in the corporate world, my perfectionism had narrowed to my work. My work had to be perfect – the expectations I placed on myself. Now it’s even narrower. However, as much as I hate to say it … I am still very sensitive to my ‘perception’ of what people think of me and this has been a bit of an issue with me lately. #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Yes, it’s been a problem for me lately too Min and I think I touched on it in the weird video I shared last week…. that sense of being unfulfilled or thinking I should be doing / achieving more, while also being kinda happy with what I have. It made me question WHO I was doing some of this stuff for.

  • Denyse Whelan
    August 3, 2017

    So so good to read this and for you to have had your ‘lightbulb’ moment. I like those descriptors too. I hope that this helps you moving on and through your life. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist until recently (the past couple of years) because I tied it in with ‘having everything I did just so’ and I thought I could let stuff go by. No, apparently not and I see now where this kind of thinking did not help me as a boss and a mum…and at times a wife. I wanted everyone to do and see how things needed to be MY way. Oh. I also know I am a people pleaser but less so now as my awareness into ‘me’ has grown. However, it is in our nature to be who we are and I can see many a time I still ‘try’ to be who I think others may want me to be BUT I also recognise it and can tell myself ‘to let it go’ or ‘is this going to matter tomorrow.’ Until I did lots of ‘research’ in my own learning journey from 2015 I would have stayed the same as what I was: wanting things to make me happy, wanting people to behave the way I thought they ought to and so on.
    Byron Katie – who you quoted here – has an App called The Work and you use it interactively with some questions you ask yourself and then the ‘work’ helps you reframe it. I have used it quite a bit. There is also another one which is even better called: Thought Diary Pro (it costs but not much) and it so so good about reframing thoughts and seeing how you can turn them around. I found it terrific in the lead up to my cancer surgery when thoughts of the negative kind kept coming at me!
    This is a good news post Deb! So pleased for you.

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Thanks Denyse. I get weekly motivational quotes / emails from Byron Katie’s site which I enjoy. I don’t follow much of her other work though.

      The piece I read on Thrive Global mentioned Gordon Flett (also referred to in the research I linked to via Kelly) and I can’t remember the specifics, but it was about the fact that it’s possible to be perfectionistic about elements of our lives but not everything – which interested me as well.

  • Vanessa
    August 3, 2017

    I think recognizing is a very critical first step. I know for me, when I recognized how bad over thinking when tired is, I was finally able to (often, not always) learn how to avoid it.

    I’ve had a bit of a shit, full on week. I do feel like others have let me down and that the blame is being shifted to me. I wondered if having expectations hat others do basic decent things (like basic parts of their jobs) is now considered a high expectation! It certainly feels like in a week like I’ve had.

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      I have very low expectations of others Vanessa and think it’s probably a bad thing a lot of the time. I like to say I’m cynical or pessimistic so I’m not disappointed and I think the same goes in terms of my expectations of others. I don’t trust easily and tend to assume the worst of people. (I guess that makes me the OPPOSITE to a others-oriented perfectionist!)

  • kathymarris
    August 3, 2017

    Yes I used to be. For many years I tried to keep up the pretence of being the perfect mother, wife, employee, well-groomed and well-dressed lady about town. I tried to impress my friends at that time and was highly competitive, and I tried to advance myself in my career by working my butt off. The light bulb moment came for me when I started this blog almost 4 years ago now. I realised that I was finally doing something I loved and I soon got rid of the toxic and harmful friendships that I had in my life. I also started to care less about what other people thought of me and dropped my standards of keeping an immaculate house and being immaculately dressed. I am so much happier now. So my advice is to start loving yourself Deb for who you are and YES forget about everyone else. #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      I think I’m much better than I used to be and actually Kathy I think you shared a meme on your Facebook page I nearly used. It was about the fact we worry about what others think of us when we’re 20, don’t care what they think of us when we’re 40 and by the time we’re 60, realise they haven’t been thinking of us at all!

  • Jodie
    August 3, 2017

    I do think that we worry way too much about what other’s think. Because do they really even think of us at all?? Aren’t we all too self absorbed in ourselves to critique others? Well..not all of us, of course, but you know what I mean!!
    I think the best part of my aging process, has been the ability to realize I’m not perfect, never have been and never will be. And it’s such a relief!!
    XOOX
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Ah yes, it’s true others are rarely thinking of us. I used to have a bad habit of projecting all sorts of bad stuff on my bosses. If they were grumpy it was because of something I’d drafted or written or done and they were HUGELY disappointed in me and surely I was going to be sacked. Usually it was nothing to do with me but I’d stress myself out and catastrophise for ages before realising that was the case.

  • sizzlesue15
    August 3, 2017

    Hmmm I’m a Self-oriented perfectionist Deb and really put pressure on myself to be better all the time. That can be quite exhausting but now as I’m almost 60 I am finally realising I can cut myself some slack and it is self-imposed pressure and I do have a choice. Really enjoyed your post – thanks!
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Ah yes, I wonder if I sometimes struggle with recognising when something is self-imposed or externally-imposed. I know I feel like I’m letting others down when I’m quite contented and other times it’s really only me thinking I should be doing more / achieving more.

  • Retiring not Shy!
    August 3, 2017

    Some of the other comments above have really nailed this I think. Particularly Jodie asking have they really been thinking about us at all. It is a kind of self-centredness that has us thinking others take as much notice of us as we [wish/think] they do. I don’t mean to sound as though I am saying you are self centered – far from it, but there is a lot of value in realising most people are so caught up in their own worlds they miss a lot of what is going on in your world. Great insights Deb x

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Oh that’s very true I think Jan. It’s something I can see in other people… when others are worrying or young people / kids worrying what others think I can objectively look at their situation and realise that the other people don’t care at all. It’s sometimes hard to translate that thinking to our own situations though! (Well, for me it is!)

  • leannelc
    August 3, 2017

    From one perfectionist to another – I get it!! I’ve been working really hard on this over the last couple of years – Brene Brown’s stuff on being imperfect finally helped me see that perfectionism isn’t something to be aspired to (who’d have thought???) But while we’re talking about others judging us…..the first thing I saw was your blonde profile pic and banner! You look great and I think you should be proud of how you’re going with everything and together we’ll do our best to stop sweating the small stuff. And BTW – adult kids are the worst for making you feel like crap so there is a silver lining for you not having any xx

    • Debbish
      August 3, 2017

      Your comment last week reminded me I needed to update the pic on my website. I’ve been blonde for about 3mths now but kept waiting until my hair looked okay for a new profile photo but decided I couldn’t wait any longer!

      I love that Brene talks about empathy (towards ourselves) as being something we need to have to avoid perfectionism. It’s so very true.

  • seizetheday20
    August 3, 2017

    I’m a reformed perfectionist. I used to obsess about what people thought of me, but now I worry about it a LOT less. I wouldn’t say that I don’t care, but it’s not such a big deal to me any more, which is very liberating. Love the John Steinbeck quote too 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      August 4, 2017

      Ah yes, people pleasing can be debilitating!

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    August 4, 2017

    I am definitely a perfectionist of sorts – all self imposed. I have high expectations of myself in whatever it is I’m setting out to do. Having said that, I’m never quite striving for perfection as such – more striving to be the best that I can be. Which may fall below the bar compared to other people. So I guess I’m always striving to be the perfect version of myself (not perfect full stop). Am I making any sense?
    Wow, this perfection stuff can really have you thinking in circles!
    #teamlovinlife

    • Debbish
      August 4, 2017

      I think that’s a great approach Leanne – to focus on being the best you can be. Surely doing our best is all anyone (including ourselves) can really ask of us!

  • Natalie
    August 4, 2017

    Hi Deborah: I’m #18 in the above Loving Life link-up. I’m not a perfectionist. I accept what I am not good at or have no interest in pursuing. I focus on my strengths or interests, and don’t pay attention to what others may think of me LOL. I look for self-growth in whatever I’m doing and enjoyment in the journey. For example, I’ve been learning Spanish online by myself, just as a brainteaser. I spend about 15 minutes/ day doing it which isn’t a lot, but I do it every day and enjoy the fact that I’m progressing in the modules. I don’t set any goal to be 100% fluent in Spanish. When I was in Costa Rica in July, I was thrilled that the hotel staff understood my basic Spanish 🙂 I think when we enjoy what ‘re doing, the end result will likely be satisfying. If we focus too much on the “perfect” end result, we forget about the journey to get there, and will more likely feel dissatisfied. Perfection is like beauty which is “in the eyes of the beholder”. My two cents 🙂

    • Debbish
      August 5, 2017

      Natalie I completely understand and I was very impressed at your dedication to learning Spanish when I read your updates in your blog. I think it is most definitely a sign that you’re enjoying something when you’re prepared to do it every day and I guess it’s a cyclical thing… you do something if you enjoy it and if you improve (by doing it regularly) you enjoy it. x

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    August 4, 2017

    Really thought provoking how perfectionism can be broken up into those three classes. I think I have a streak of the self orientated variety running through me.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      August 5, 2017

      I must admit to not having read the initial research but suspect several types can co-exist or perhaps we all have a degree of each in us!

  • Michelle W (@pinkypoinker)
    August 5, 2017

    The truth is that no one gives anyone else much thought at all so why bother worrying about it? The only person who thinks about you a lot is your Mum. Everyone’s Mum. Other than that all people think about is themselves. The biggest change I’ve made which has very much increased my happiness, is to stop saying sorry. Unless I’ve done something bad of course. But if I make a mistake I will acknowledge it and then shrug it off. It’s water off a duck’s back. xxx

    • Debbish
      August 6, 2017

      I think it’s the people-pleaser in me in general, but my current dilemma is probably related to a couple of aspects of my life I need to work on. And I definitely think my thoughts on others’ expectations are probably faulty to an extent… but accepting that is hard.

I'd love to hear your thoughts