So when you have three kids you watch a lot of Disney movies. And if you have little ones then you probably have to watch their favorite ones 1,000 times. I’ve been there! I just recently saw Encanto about a Spanish family whose Grandmother experiences tragedy and then is given a miracle of an enchanted house. Each member of the family is also given a magical gift that they are expected to use to help their family and serve their community. As I watched it, my counselor brain started rolling with the amazing analogy of perfection it presented. Of course, in true Lin-Manuel Miranda fashion, you have to listen to the songs with the subtitles on so you can catch everything.
In one of the songs called Surface Pressure, the one sister, Luisa, wrestles with the pressure of feeling like she has to be strong all the time because that is what is expected of her. One of the lines is “I don’t ask how hard the work is. Got a rough, indestructible surface. But…under the surface I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service…Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” Does this sound familiar? It paints such a great picture of that fear of being imperfect that bubbles right below the surface and takes all our energy to keep from exploding.
Here are 5 characteristics that might signal you struggle with perfectionism:
1. You find your self-worth in what you do
Like Luisa, your abilities have become your identity. You may feel like your job defines you. And if you can’t do that thing perfectly then your self-worth is significantly lowered. The problem is your self-esteem is dependent on meeting impossible standards that anyone would be sure to fall short of. This false belief increases anxiety because if your grade on a test determines your self-worth then it means more because there is way more at stake.
2. You have a fear of failure
Some people spend all their time and energy killing themselves to be the best or worrying that they will mess up. Others procrastinate and choose to not try because if they don’t try then they can’t fail. This fear of making a mistake can be consuming. This might look like replaying a performance or a work meeting over and over in your head analyzing every aspect looking for flaws. All that time and energy could be spent doing something more beneficial to you like spending time with your family or doing an activity you enjoy.
3. You are a people pleaser
Do you tend to want to make people happy all the time? You are afraid to let people down so you create the illusion on the outside of perfection because the idea of disappointing your loved ones is way too much to bear. This might look like never asking for help or never showing how you really feel because that would be too messy. It could also look like never saying no or an intense fear of being criticized. While it is normal to want people to approve of you, it is impossible to make everyone happy all the time.
4. You tend to only see black and white
Do you tend to think in all or nothing terms? Your performance needs to be perfect and anything less is a failure. B’s will not be tolerated cause only A’s will do. When we think like this, we sell ourselves short because we never get to celebrate small victories or steps you’ve taken toward your goal. As imperfect humans, we need the trial and error process to be able to grow. No one comes out of the womb being able to walk and talk perfectly. So why do we expect other things in life to come quicker? It takes the time that it takes to learn.
5. You need to be in control
You try to always control the outcomes of situations. You have to plan everything in advance so there is no room for error. Maybe you are the one who takes over when a group project is due or you hold off on teaching your kids how to do chores because you need things done the “right” way. Surrendering control can be really difficult but trying to control everything around you will only lead to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and eventually feeling depressed when those spinning plates start to fall.
As the song continues, she says, “But wait, if I could shake the crushing weight of expectations. Would that free some room up for joy or relaxation or simple pleasure? Instead, we measure this growing pressure.” She very bravely starts to consider what her life might be like if she let some of this pressure go and chose to be who she is instead of who she thinks she is supposed to be. Picture how freeing that would be to embrace being beautifully flawed.
At Lime Tree Counseling, we understand that when perfectionism continues to go unchecked it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical problems. It can cause increased anxiety, stress, or depression. It can also increase your vulnerability to substance abuse or eating disorders. Our trained counselors are available to do in person or online therapy. Don’t spend more time worrying about failing than you do living your life to the fullest. Call today to set up an appointment or for a free 15 min phone consultation.