Do you have a habit of putting relentless pressure on yourself to please others and be perfect?
Does it sometimes feel as if there’s a Manager or Boss living in your brain who is constantly cracking the whip?
What would it be like to be gentle with yourself when you make mistakes, which, by the way, is a very normal part of being human?
Are you ready to get off the endless “not good enough” treadmill that saps your self confidence, and leaves you feeling too spent to be creative, playful, and enjoy the love and support in your life?
Though Her Life Looked Great on Paper, She Never Felt Good Enough
Sienna came to therapy because despite the fact that her life looked “great on paper”, she never felt good enough.
Like Sienna, Jim, also had a thriving career, but despite being very successful professionally, his inner Critic was clobbering him every waking moment, so much so that he started to have suicidal thoughts.
If you are like Sienna or Jim, the people in your life may either experience you as either very hard to please, excessively self reliant, or isolated and depressed.
Rumination and Worry Don’t Work The Way They’re Supposed To…
Both Sienna and Jim came to therapy to get relief from the constant drone of rumination and worry that made them feel insecure, indecisive, and exhausted.
In therapy they had the opportunity to take meaningful steps to overcome their perfectionism, and take better care of themselves.
Relentless Pressure to Please Others and Be Perfect Is Often Rooted in Our Earliest Attachment Relationships
Not surprisingly the pattern of putting relentless pressure on oneself and trying to please others does not exist in a vacuum.
In Sienna’s case being hard on herself helped her to meet her Mom’s exceedingly high standard, and avoid her disappointment and criticism.
In Jim’s case, being a high achiever literally saved his life, or he may have met the fate of his neighbor’s kids who joined gangs and got into drugs.
Putting relentless pressure on yourself to please others and be perfect is often a strategy rooted in your earliest attachment relationships. It’s an outlet. Instead of feeling anxious, putting pressure on yourself to perform is a great exit strategy.
“You learned to hold yourself with pressure.” I often tell Clients who feel anguished, soul sucked and exhausted from a debilitating version of this pattern.
“It’s Not Your Fault, And You Do Have a Choice”
“It’s not your fault, but you do have choice.” I tell them.
“Would you like to be more kind and compassionate with yourself?” I ask.
“Would you like to put yourself first?” I encourage.
For many people therapy is the first time they become conscious of the real painful toll their relentless pressure to please others and be perfect has had on them .
A lot of people have a hard time letting it go, because without the necessary evil of perfectionism, and the intense stress and fear that comes with it, many people are convinced that they’ll forget their keys, make irreparable mistakes, put their foot in their mouth, and basically commit professional suicide!
But this is anxiety talking.
The truth is that a bit of pressure is okay, but off the charts pressure over time has a very negative impact on health, wellbeing, and as a result our performance inevitably suffers too!
Therapy Can Be a Crossroads to Treating Yourself with Kindness, Respect, and Compassion
Therapy is all about acknowledging WHAT IS with compassion and understanding – such as the way you learned to treat yourself – and then recognize that you can develop a kind, respectful, compassionate relationship with yourself.
It starts with new, better habits, such as turning “not good enough” into self appreciation.
“It feels scary,” Sienna said.
Challenging the Irrational Belief that “If I Don’t Put Relentless Pressure on Myself to Please Others and Be Perfect, I WILL FAIL And Nobody Will Love Me!”
“If I just appreciate myself as I am, I won’t get anything done and I’ll let everyone down!” she said as the tears sprang to her eyes.
Like many people with perfectionistic tendencies, Sienna was afraid that if she didn’t put excessive pressure on herself she wouldn’t meet her goals, and everyone would reject and abandon her.
“I wonder if taking some of that pressure off yourself would actually give you more energy to care for yourself better, do a good job, and build relationships with people who value you for who you are? I said, offering her a gentle invitation.
“What would it be like to trust yourself instead of getting hijacked with worry?”
“I’d like that!” she said.
“Maybe then I’d have more energy and motivation to take that acting class I’ve been wanting to take for the last three years!”
“Exciting!” I said smiling at her warmly.
While putting relentless pressure on oneself to please others and be perfect is often an attachment strategy that developed to insulate children from an overly demanding parent, in adulthood it can take a toll on a person’s confidence, self esteem, creativity, and relationships. Overcoming perfectionism starts with acknowledging where it came from, and the protective function that it served. Through understanding and self compassion we can develop more sustainable and satisfying relationships with ourselves and others.