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  • Writer's pictureGavin Conochie

The Curse of Perfectionism


Perfectionism first enters our lives as a solution to a set of insurmountable problems. In the face of circumstances that were beyond our capacity to cope with, our young body-mind came up with this simple solution to a situation we didn't know if we could otherwise survive: “If I can just be perfect, maybe things will be ok.”

It was a way to be loved, to gain acceptance, to survive an overwhelming experience of danger or abandonment...an attempt to find safety where none existed. But, as with every other adaption to trauma, what began as a solution comes, in time, to look more and more like the problem.

In the case of perfectionism, we've set ourselves an impossible task, a task without end...because we're never going to be perfect. And if perfection is our criteria for measuring success, then we’re always going to be failing at the business of life somewhere, always going to be haunted by the feeling that we’re letting ourselves and others down.

Tragically, because we keep failing to be perfect, we feel we can neither trust ourselves, nor feel safe in our own company. Safety: the very thing we were seeking in the first place. And underneath it all, the part of us that is driving our perfection-seeking behaviour still feels miserable, unfulfilled and alone.

We can end up feeling trapped between the pride-fuelled and ultimately exhausting quest for perfection on the one hand, and the raw feelings of the unhappy child within on the other.

The task, of course, is to slowly learn how to release the terror, the loneliness, and the overwhelm that have been driving this part of us for so long, and to discover that we can survive coming into contact with these feelings again.

Far from destroying us as we might have feared, we are brought, through this process, back into relationship with our own vulnerability, our ordinary humanity, and can start to build a more realistic picture of what we want for our lives – one that plays to our strengths but also takes account of our limitations in a way that nourishes our innate goodness and wholeness.



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