The idea of perfectionism is often created and developed during our childhood. Growing up too many of us were criticized (intentionally and unintentionally both) by parents, and other authority figures when we weren’t able to perform or behave in ways they found acceptable.
When we’re raised in environments with emotional and physical stress, perfectionism as adults can become a trauma response. Especially as sensitive kids if we were considered too emotional, or maybe we didn’t enjoy or thrive at things our parents were good at or enjoyed, like sports or academics. Or if we’re the children of divorce or our families struggled with issues like poverty, illness, mental health, substance abuse. There is also the growing bombardment of cultural influence on unattainable beauty standards.
All of these things and more can establish perfectionism as a sort of defense mechanism against unpredictable or chaotic environments where we have little to no control.
In modern western culture seeking perfection is usually labeled as a great thing! Being a straight A student, a celebrated athlete, or performer is praised. As a whole we love awards shows and prizes for being “quote” the best. There’s even a popular saying you may have heard- “second place is first loser”.
So even if your parents, caregivers, and teachers were able to provide you with a stable nurturing childhood, the pressure of perfectionism will not escape your orbit for long.
So how does the mindset of perfectionism shape us and stay with us as highly sensitive adults ?
As kids if love and acceptance is conditional upon our performance, our ability to fit in, if in order to be accepted, we feel we need to alter who we are to be liked or loved more, and we given the space to embrace our authentic selves, we can carry a heavy burden of self-doubt and real questions about our abilities to do anything “good enough” and our worthiness to be loved.
As HSPs these experiences overwhelm our nervous system as it is growing and developing, a system that needs stability and nurturing to learn how to self-regulate. When we’re deprived of this basic need, and too many of us are, we create our own reasons in an attempt to understand. Growing up we rarely have the emotional or mental capacity to process the whats or whys, so we do what we do best as humans to make sense of it all… we tell ourselves stories.
So how do we begin to unlearn these stories we were told about ourselves and continue to replay in our minds long after we’ve transitioned into adulthood.
The first important step to know that the urge to seek perfection can be shifted and redirected. This takes daily awareness and intention to silence the stories that were imprinted on us during our childhood.
Second is to give ourselves what I call grace and space.
In turning to yoga philosophy the practice of Santosha has helped me to change my story around perfectionism and maybe it can help you too.
Santosha is the second Niyama from Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path. If these teachings are new to you they are like a map that guides you on your life’s journey. Santosha translates from Sanskrit as “contentment” or reaching a higher degree of satisfaction in the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual paths in our time as human beings.
We start by simply noticing.
Are we afraid to start something that is important to us because we’re worried about getting it wrong, are we abandoning projects or people because they aren’t fitting into an ideal we have created in our imaginations, are we procrastinating, are we fearful of what others will think, are we worried that we aren’t enough?
All these emotions, feelings, and more can show up in our lives as perfectionism.
The key to applying Santosha is that when we notice these things rising up for us we can begin to shift our seeking of perfectionism into one of satisfaction, of contentment.
It is a matter of intention and it is a matter of choice. Once we notice, once we see, once we recognize, everything in our lives is a choice. When we know we have choices, that is when the shift happens, this is when real and lasting change begins.
Here are 5 of my favorite affirmations to help strengthen your connection with Santosha and begin the shift from perfectionism to contentment.
Take a nice deep breath in through the nose and long slow exhale through the mouth…
1: I am confident. I am capable. I am sensitive. I am strong. Repeat x3
2: I don’t have to be perfect to be powerful. Repeat x3
3: I have enough. I do enough. I am enough. Repeat x3
4: I choose progress over perfection. Repeat x3
5: I accept myself just as I am. I accept others just as they are. Repeat x3
Change is hard, healing is a painful process, and this when allowing ourselves grace and space become the most important. But once you’ve opened the door to awareness the possibility for change is limitless.