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When Perfectionism Becomes Toxic

Wasatch Family Therapy Woman

Self-evaluation can be a good thing when it helps us to move towards a goal.  However, there is a vast difference between, “I need to spend more time with my family” and “I’m a terrible mother.”  Excessive self-criticism backfires because it leads us to focus on our so-called failures instead of the simple ways that we could progress.

A qualitative exploratory study done at Utah Valley University in 2013 by Professor Kris Doty revealed that Latter Day Saint women in Utah are at risk for depression due to “toxic perfectionism.”  Toxic perfectionists are those who judge themselves to an impossible standard feeling they have to look, do, and be perfect.  This means that the house should be spotless, children well behaved, laundry done and folded, memorable flawless church lessons, and a sparkling happy marriage.  This lifestyle is a one-way ticket to unhappiness, where individuals become incredibly focused on avoiding failure as they strive for success.  This thought process is common among LDS women as church teachings geared towards striving for perfection have led to misinterpretations and great feelings of inadequacy.

Instead of people feeling that they are on display and trying to achieve an unobtainable ideal, it is time for women to be who they really are.  The following are six ways you can do just that.

Embrace your Imperfections:  Become free as you stop holding yourself to insanely high standards, and give yourself the same empathy you’d show to a friend.  Be willing to mess up and move on.

Realize You’re Enough: As Brene Brown, author of the Gifts of Imperfection shared, be willing to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”  And when bedtime rolls around think, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable….but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Be Gentle with Yourself: If you treated your friends as badly as you sometimes treat yourself, you would not have friends.  Acknowledge that you are doing your best and be accepting of your efforts, as well as others.

Tell Someone What Happened: Brown also pointed out that shame only works if it is kept in secret.  If you experience the continual thought saying, “I can’t believe I could be so stupid,” talk about it.  Call a friend, talk to your spouse, and let others hear what is pestering you inside.  This courageous act will provide relief and can often end in laughter.

Lean into the Discomfort:  Take a look at hard feelings and emotions that you may be trying to numb with perfectionism.  Become more mindful with self-compassion and love, rather than self-criticism and shame.

Be Grateful: Be grateful for what you have.  One thing I often share with clients is to start a gratitude journal, looking for those times during the day where you can celebrate the blessings in your life.  It’s the simple things like my son smiling and waving at me when he runs into preschool or the sun coming up over the mountain as I’m driving that can put me in a whole new state of mind.

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