Trying to Be Perfect is Making You Unhappy

Perfectionism is making you unhappy

Recently, I was the first person to show up at a friend’s for our monthly book club.  I listened to her story of frantically cleaning her home last night after working overtime all week with her husband out of town. She felt guilty leaving the kids at daycare a bit longer a couple of days due to her busy job and barely had time to cook anything nutritious for the family. The laundry was piled up, the yard was a mess, and her children were not listening to her. To top things off, she was sure she was getting a cold.  

She wondered if it was due to staying up half the night cleaning then spending time lying on the bed with ruminating thoughts why she couldn’t lose weight, look younger, and get everything done like “other women.”  Nothing much comes from this behavior except feelings of failure from not achieving perfectionism and chronic anxiety from trying so hard.   

Does this sound familiar? 

In Marilyn Tam’s book “The Happiness Choice,” she states that women are unhappier than they were 40 years ago and this difference is controlled for race, age, socio-economic status, marital status or number of children. So, why are post-modern women sadder and ridden with anxiety?   

In a therapy practice working with all types of women, it seems that trying to be all things for all the people in our lives is bringing on a constant state of dissatisfaction and feelings of failure.  In a culture that wants a perfect female specimen, inside and out, women are ridden with a sense of disappointment trying to achieve it.  What can we do to shed the superhero persona and just be content with ourselves as we are? 

There are many healthy coping mechanisms that a person can do to manage the anxiety of trying to be all things to all people.  First you must make a decision that taking charge of perfectionism is a priority. If life feels out of control, then it is time to control the way you respond to it in thinking and in action. Begin by realizing and accepting that one woman cannot be everything to everyone. 

To help yourself start a life of less perfectionistic thinking, remember these four steps to changing your thoughts and actions:

  • Avoid needless tension.  Not all tasks can be turned away from; however, learn what is a “should” or “must” on your list of what you need to do.  Try saying “no” and delegate tasks, for a change (let your husband feed the kids hot dogs instead of chicken). 
  • Amend situations that you are unable to turn away from.  Deal with problems head on and change your behavior toward them.  For example, learn to respectfully tell others about your emotions instead of blindly saying “OK” to be a perfect employee or perfect wife. By letting a co-worker know you feel overburdened on a project may lead to getting help, you can avoid exhaustion and stress while you try to attempt everything on your own. 
  • Adjust yourself to a situation. There are plenty of times that we are faced with challenges in life that are unchangeable, but we can change how we react to them.  Instead of focusing on you not being at the job of your dreams, try thinking of the two co-workers you laugh with at lunch a few times a month and the boss you enjoy working for.   
  • Acknowledge and accept yourself as imperfect.  Sometimes railing against a particular set of conditions such as being behind on housekeeping or not being able to go back to school, is like beating your head against a brick wall. It does nothing but leave you with a headache and blood in your new hairdo. Learn to accept imperfection in yourself — in fact, if you can…embrace it! It can be the perfect catalyst for growth once you accept that mistakes will be made and mistakes can mean learning opportunities. 

Of course, these steps seem simple and need to be tackled one change at a time. If you find that even small changes like these are impossible, it could be time for help from a professional counselor who is ideally trained in handling anxiety brought on by stress and feelings of not living up to one’s potential.  Many times this trained professional can get to the root of the dysfunctional thinking and have self-acceptance be the norm instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with perfectionism in no time.

This story was provided by our content partner, YourTango, a digital media company dedicated to love and relationships. No matter what love stage our users are in — single, taken, engaged, married, starting over, or complicated — we help them live their best love lives. Written by Kim Openo.

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