Perfectionism, overwhelm, and stress are like a roving gang of mean girls whose haughty posture and snarky distain suck the joy right out of the holidays. Perfectionism is, of course, the leader of the pack. The other two simply do her bidding, as they blatantly shred the self-esteem of anyone in their vicinity.
Perfectionism tips the balance away from what is most important to us: love and connection, the celebrations and expression of joy, the feelings of calm and peace, and silent, mindful minds, and instead turns the month of December into a major comparison game in which we consistently fall short.
As a recovering perfectionist, I must say I am not immune to the effect of perfectionism and her gang; they can still take me down. My ego deflated a tad when at Thanksgiving my mother noticed the cobwebs dancing in the corners of the kitchen ceiling. My heart sank a bit when we got the Christmas tree home, and only then, did I notice a large bare spot in among the branches – damn it.
What is different now is the INTENSITY with which I react to such observations.
In the past I would have taken both of those incidents as an indication of a personal flaw or failing.
Cobwebs would have meant I was an inadequate housekeeper.
A less than perfect tree would have meant I had poor judgment and had failed to make a perfect selection.
Now, I more exuberantly embrace the mantra “a clean house is the sign of a wasted life” and we simply turned the tree until the “hole” wasn’t quite as noticeable.
Five Signs of Perfectionism:
While there is somewhat of a fine line between having high standards and expectations and falling into the trap of being a perfectionist, there are some obvious signs that perfectionism and her posse are stealing the show.
Fear of failure. One of the key places to check is how you feel about yourself. If you feel you are a complete and utter failure for not being able to afford a more lavish holiday filled with decorations or gifts, you may be in the grips of perfectionism. Ditto, if by not meeting your standards and expectations, you feel badly about yourself, and beat yourself up, or find your sense of self-worth diminished.
Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure and there are so many ways to make mistakes over the holidays: agonizing decisions around finding the “perfect” gifts, the “right” type of decorations, and the correct holiday cards and so on.
Fear of disapproval. If you find yourself trying to be perfect and not rocking the boat, or maintaining a tired tradition as a way to protect yourself from the criticism, rejection, and disapproval of friends, family, the in-laws, then you might be in the grip.
All-or-none thinking. If instead of appreciating all that is abundant and marvelous in your life, your focus this season is on all that is lacking: the perfect partner, or the two kids and a dog, or a perfectly done-up house, or cabin up North, or what have you – your perspective may be skewed towards perfectionism.
Overemphasis on “shoulds.” If you find your holidays governed by an endless list of “shoulds” serving as rigid rules for how certain things must be for the holidays to be the holidays, then you may find yourself getting a little too friendly with perfectionism.
Three Ways to Loosen Perfection’s Grip:
Once again, as a recovering perfectionist, there is nothing wrong with the desire to have a beautifully appointed home, or in taking time to find the most appropriate gift for someone, knowing what will suit them to a T.
What is important is to take stock of the underlying meaning you are creating and assigning when you find yourself (or others) falling short of a particular expectation.
Over time I’ve found three ways to extricate myself from perfectionism and her merry band of stress and overwhelm:
I choose. I, yet again, choose to let my life, as it is right now, be enough. I remind myself: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” ~ unknown
I decide. I decide to not make a less-than-perfect event mean anything specifically about me; I don’t take it personally. A friend introduced me to her favorite mantra: “I am enough; I have enough; I know enough.”
I get curious. I ask myself the following grounding questions:
Does it really matter? (For example: That the tree stand was too small, toppling the tree and breaking ornaments.)
What is the worst that could happen? (For example: My mother-in-law hates her gift and has to return it for something else.)
If the worst does happen, can I survive it? (For example: I’ll feel humiliated, but yes, I will survive.)
Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?
May you have a perfectly wonderful (and perfection-free) holiday season!