6 Helpful Insults
1. “I’m gonna slap the ‘should’ out of you.”
Seriously, strike the word should from your vocabulary. When perfectionists use the word, like in the sentences, “I should go over this again to make sure it’s 100 percent right,” “This should be a lot better than it is right now,” or “I should have done X and Y,” it’s like granting a license for perpetual revisiting and remorse. Stop. Will more massaging really change the outcome? Tell yourself done is done, dammit.
2. “Your perfectionism isn’t just hurting you.”
The collateral damage of your perfectionism is everywhere—don’t underestimate it.
Perfectionists tend to judge and criticize not only themselves but everyone else. The more they see their own flaws in others, the more they pick, as a sort of displacement mechanism. The constant criticism and judging isolates and distances the perfectionist from others, further exacerbating their “I must not be good enough” belief. Perfectionists are often unaware of the impact this corrosive behavior has on others. They’re assuming that everyone else is harshly judging them, so to do so as well is just the way of the world.
Expand your worldview and understand that your misplaced heat, like that of global warming, is indeed affecting the world around you for the worse.
3. “Accept yourself before you wreck yourself!”
I had a friend who was a “textbook perfectionist” but reading between her lines didn’t take much. Her perfectionism was a shield to protect her from any potential rejection, disappointment, or criticism. She was afraid everyone would see her for who she was, flaws and all, and that she just wouldn’t stack up to their expectations. She was a prisoner to her perfectionism, and as I got to know her better and better I came to realize what she really longed for was love and affirmation, like we all do.
She broke free after a lot of introspection and after realizing, as in the prior point, that she was hurting more than just herself. The key to her exoneration was that she learned to forgive herself. She came to have the courage to be imperfect, began to appreciate that she was worthy of love and belonging, and learned to live with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting— a prescription in line with the teachings of noted vulnerability expert Brené Brown. [F.21] Brown teaches that we’re all imperfect and wired for struggle.
Yes, even you.
4. “How about less attitude and more gratitude?”
For me, my magic elixir for kicking the inner perfectionist in the groin is to practice gratitude. I’ve found that appreciating all I’ve done, versus obsessing over what I haven’t, sets me free. And when I see in others all that they’ve become, rather than just seeing what they still need to be, my relationships with those people blossom. I’m more drawn to them and vice versa, and the deeper connection invites authenticity in—warts and all.
5. “Get good at good enough for God’s sake!”
The majority of the time, the odds are pretty good that no one is holding you to the same standards that you’re holding yourself to. So how about we make like limbo and lower the bar a little? (Which was also the only way I could hit my numbers in the corporate world.)
The key to helping you do this? Realize that your goals are guides, not absolutes, and that they don’t represent your worth. [F22] It’s important to discern the difference between healthy striving and dysfunctional perfectionism. There’s nothing wrong with keeping high standards, of course—it’s healthy to do so. The problem arises when we view success as “all or nothing,” all the time.
Learning to delegate and let go is also helpful, as it reduces the temptation to engage in inspection, the security blanket for your inner perfectionist.
6. “Stop being such a Catastrophic Cathy!”
Perfectionism can be fed by catastrophizing, or massively overestimating the negative impact of miscues or imperfections. We all know doomsday analysts like this, and also know how positively draining this negative outlook can be. Pay attention to your self-dialogue, and when you catch yourself drifting into this dark space, yank yourself back out into a lighter, more optimistic outlook. Keep in mind one of my favorite Twain quotes, “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.” [F.23]
21 J. Hoover, “4 Tips to Help You Overcome the Fear of Failure,”
thejasonhoover.com/4-tips-help-overcome-fear-failure/ (May 8, 2015).
22 G. Winch, “10 Signs That You Might Have Fear of Failure,” www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/10-signs-youmight-have-fear-failure (June 18, 2013).
23 T. Knudson, “Why We All Have Fear of Failure,” www.psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/06/23/why-we-all-have-fear-of-failure/ (June 23, 2014).