Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Off-Course but Not Lost – Even Though It May Feel That Way
Perfectionists are at the helm of their own ship, but with a fluid and subjective reality, they may feel that they are constantly Not Quite on course towards their destination (their goals). Their course can change for many reasons, but the result is the same - a frequent and hasty scrambling to re-chart towards a new and Definitely Better destination. New Landmarks are established to help mark progress along the journey to the Definitely Better. But when the new destination is almost within sight, perfectionists again re-chart towards a different and Definitely Even Better goal. Landmarks which once marked the path forward, are instead transformed into beacons of imperfection and instantaneously become new reminders of Not Quite.
In my recovery from perfectionism, I suffered from shifting landmarks and changing destinations often. At work, rarely could I surface from under the very high performance standards and goals I had set for myself. As quickly as I saw goal achievement approaching, I would equally quickly lose sight under the darkness of doubt. Doubt adapts extremely well to any situation. It is a weapon of variable force and intent that strikes with the accuracy appropriate to inflict maximum damage. Doubt can tip-toe into consciousness as subtle as one solitary questioning thought, or it can storm the soul with its deafening war cries of berating self-hatred until we are consumed by overwhelm. Doubt can have us Goldilocks-like question our goals. Doubt is a path for dissatisfaction to easily find us, and in the process, we justify changing our goals when we are moments from reaching them.
Doubt classifies goals as too difficult or too easy, too uninspired, or too passionate - but never are they the bed, bowl or chair that is just right. Doubt has us question ourselves. Did we effectively challenged ourselves, did we set the bar too high or low? If we did achieve a goal before swapping it for another, perfectionists don’t believe our achievement was merited. We perfectionists reason that success must have been achieved through some kind of flaw, fluke, loophole or duplicitous means. We are not really deserving because the game was rigged in our favor somehow. Many victories are false to perfectionists, and upon that realization, we can then also fault ourselves for shoddy goal-setting and for being inherently flawed. Perfectionists love to look for proof to fit our twisted beliefs that justify our failures and justify ourselves as failures. But, what if we became aware of these twisted beliefs and thoughts lacked truth, and were in fact twisted confirmation bias?
When the questioning elicited by doubt is used in a positive way to increase open-mindedness and curiosity, it can contribute to strength and enrichen our experiences. But, structuring any system with doubt in its negative form is constricting, and can forcefully twist us off-course. It may be very difficult for perfectionists to see and enact the positive side of doubt. If they can though, by loosening their grasp on control, then a framework of what if can help them to start to create change, or at least some space for change. Openness and curious belief in possibility can be subtle or can be as momentous as a lightning strike. If doubt prevents us from celebrating our victories and keeps us striving, then openness allows acknowledgement of successes and halts our striving. Things become less forced, we feel less lost and our efforts become less strained as we start to glide in the slipstream of what if.
External Influences & Intuition
Despite perhaps being perceived as stubborn because they may not value other’s opinions or even be listening to anyone in the first place, perfectionists are in fact highly influenced by societal, cultural and familial rules, past trauma and past experiences. These influences act with almost elemental force on the perfectionist, and can play a singular or cumulative part in determining their course. With this pressure of external influences, perfectionist’s internal compass can become faulty - its needle swinging from one external influence to another, unable to point in a discernable direction for more than fleeting moments. Perfectionists can lack trust in their intuition, or not know of its existence; the only constants they may have are believing and manifesting proof that they are Not Quite, and then steering a course to correct these deficiencies.
In the darker days of my journey in perfectionism recovery, it was for a time impossible to not bear an ironic curse. I lived in unknowingness, unable to hear the guidance of my intuition, yet was desperate to know (and control) everything. At the beginning, I wasn’t even aware of this foreign concept of intuition. Later, when I discovered intuition, I could not trust that mine was correct and thought that people who claimed to be guided by their intuition where clearly full of sh*t. I felt that my and anyone else’s gut-sense was pure nonsense. As a perfectionist, I went a little mad; I felt the pressure of being solely responsible as interpreter and guide for all direction in my life, but also felt desperately unqualified for such responsibility. I understood that guidance was to come from within, but the pull of external influences was so very strong my compass needle swung back to them repetitiously. Even if they didn’t serve me, they filled the gap left by my absent (or under-recognized and ignored) intuition with familiarity and some comfort.
The elements of influence (the why behind perfectionist’s thoughts, beliefs, actions) that sway the perfectionist’s compass may not be obvious to them, nor may be that their relentless strive and drive is guided externally. Also, because it seems that they never reach their goals (because the course and landmarks are changing and their guidance system is shot), they internalize this defeat, and conclude with menacing self-judgment that it is proof again and again that they are Not Quite. This may ironically be the perfectionist’s only success - they may have at least proven that they can fail correctly.
For whatever reason - ACEs , trauma, survival, the influence of a caregiver on an impressionable young psyche, attachment to the rewards or reputation of perceived success – this deliberate and exacting practice of perfectionism (but not exacting enough because of the Not Quite rule) may be the only sense of control in a perfectionist’s chaotic world. To a perfectionist, Not Quite dangerously influences all realms: work, school, relationships, communication, parenting, reputation, what they do or don’t do, how they do or don’t look, even how they f*ck up; any method or experience of being human can be twisted by this belief.
Interested in knowing more? Read Perfectionism Part 3: Anything I Can Do, I Can Do Better - Perfectionism’s Profile. You can also learn more about reframing your twisted thoughts by contacting us about our programs, coaching and training.
 Adverse Childhood Experiences: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5699-8