She’s poised, pen held above, staring at the white paper intently. She eyes the blue, then the yellow, before finally settling on a lighter blue. Pen is put to paper, the outline drawn ever-so-carefully. I look away for a second, and turn back to see her scrunching the paper up, crushing it into the tightest ball. She catches my confused look, “I didn’t get the line right Mummy” she explains, very matter-of-fact. And with that, she’s back to square one. And if it happens again and again (as it does) often there’s a quiet “I’m no good at this” muttered under the breath.
This scenario happens round these parts. A lot. Not just with drawings. There’s seat positions in cars, colours, toys needing to be a certain way. Refusing to climb under her bedsheets after making her bed. You know when you wish your cherubs wouldn’t get your worst traits and then BAM! There they are? That. Well, I can’t take full credit. 50/50 gene pool and all.
I have a perfectionist on my hands.
Perfectionism is when we put pressure on ourselves to meet some ridiculously high standard, and it can shape the way we look at ourselves. It’s not just ‘being perfect’, it’s not negative or a good thing. It can be helpful and unhelpful. Remember when we looked at anxiety, and the upside down U shape? Yeah, me neither. I think I waffled so much crap it got lost in a sea of word vomit. Anyways, being that perfectionism can be found in the same family as anxiety (think of them as cousins if you will).
- Strive for extremely high standards (that’s ok, right?)
- Judge their self-worth largely on their ability to strive for such unrelenting standards (erm, yeah not so ok)
- Find themselves experiencing negative consequences as a result of setting such demanding standards, but yet continue to aim for them (ouch)
So, while it’s good to aim for goals and to set ourselves things we want to achieve, when we go too OTT with them, it can render us incapable of achieving anything. Like my cherub, we can get stuck on a task and take eleventy billion years to get anything done. Or worse, we just don’t even try because we fear we might fail. This is really common, particularly for kids in school. Perfectionism can also leave us overly critical, seeking reassurance, being unsure of when to stop, trying to change things (including people), excessively organising and list making (*ahem* I do not know anyone like this….)
What can we do? Perfectionism can be a tricky one, because we don’t want to remove that drive entirely, wanting to do well can be a good thing. BUT we don’t want it to be so excessive that we (or our kids, loved ones etc) can’t function properly, or enjoy life. Here’s some ideas:
- Learn to keep relaxed. When that niggly feeling arises, use calm breathing to push it away.
- Feels ick, but sit with that niggle. It WILL go away
- When a mistake is made, leave it! It’s time to reframe that bad boy. Mistakes aren’t a bad thing, they help us to learn and can be very useful. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Make a note of all your successes through making mistakes. What have you learned? How do you feel once you work out what to do? Remember that horrid perfectionistic feeling? Yeah we don’t want to go back there.
- Reward yourself for giving it a shot, NOT for getting things right/perfect.
- Put it into perspective. Is it really going to be the worst thing in the world if the line isn’t perfectly straight? Or if things aren’t lined up just so? Are your arms and legs going to drop off? Will it stop you from going to Disneyland? (all questions I use with kids on a regular basis. I’m such a jokester) No!
- You can’t wipe these tendencies away in one foul swoop. It can be tricky. So keep trying, it will get easier.
All of these tips are easily used for our cherubs too. And it’s important to model to them staying calm, having a laugh and coping with mistakes. Sometimes it can get pretty bad, and might tip into a more defined range of anxiety (such as OCD, which we’ll talk about another time), and if you’re concerned then go and chat with your GP who can point you in the right direction.
As for my little perfectionist? She’s still not a fan of getting the outline not completely joined, but we’re getting there.
How about you? Are you a perfectionist? How do you cope? Where do you think your perfectionism came from?