Do you often find yourself isolated in the relentless pursuit of perfection, believing that there's always something more you could improve? Perhaps the most pervasive toll of perfectionism is that it’s hard to be happy when you believe there is always room for improvement. In fact, it can be a pretty lonely experience affecting not only your sense of contentment but also your mental well-being.
As a psychologist who has personally battled and conquered the negative effects of perfectionism, I understand the exhaustion it brings. My wakeup call happened when I was a young working mom. One Sunday afternoon I was carried out of our house on a stretcher by EMTs as my two little girls watched in confusion. I thought I was having a stroke. Later I realized I had a panic attack.
The Loneliness of Perfectionism
To put it plainly, perfectionist behaviors lead to chronic stress, burnout, and a sense of isolation that can feel deeply lonely. Moreover, you may also feel like an imposter. It is no wonder, really, when you have it all together all the time.
In my experience working with high achievers of every variety, I've also witnessed how the unrelenting focus on work and productivity can lead to anxiety, depression, and a sense of being disconnected from life's other meaningful aspects. Perfectionists may unintentionally isolate themselves in the midst of the busyness, to-do lists, and caretaking of people – whether it is managing a work team or a family (and often both).
This isolation can lead to a self-imposed loneliness, where the fear of not measuring and keeping up stops you from experiencing the authentic connections, relationships, and all the little moments of joy that life offers. But here is another way—a holistic approach that can help you connect your head and your heart.
In other words it's about connection, not perfection.
A Holistic Path to Recovering from Perfectionism
Perfectionism is not easy to define because it is multidimensional. When you consider perfectionism from the lens of a dynamic body-heart-mind-spirit system, the invitation is in finding inner balance and unconditional self-compassion. Let’s look at the four areas to bring harmony.
At the Body level perfectionism is an energetic survival pattern to avoid exclusion from the circle of humanity and is a quest to optimize acceptance, belonging, and love.
What to do? Prioritize self-care, including regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep. These practices not only enhance your well-being but also disrupt the cycle of self-imposed self-demands.
At Heart level perfectionism ignites momentary disruptions in your heart alchemy that call for heart-based practices to foster resilience in the face of life’s inevitable challenges and disappointments.
What to do? Cultivate heart-based practices like mindfulness, meditation, and journaling. These practices can help you build emotional resilience, allowing you to navigate life's ups and downs with greater grace and self-compassion.
At the Mind level perfectionism is a conditioned algorithm and an exaggerated fear of rejection and disconnection instilled at an earlier time and gives rise to self-protective inner critical parts, which yearn for kindness and healing.
What to do? Practice self-awareness to identify and challenge these negative inner algorithms. Develop a kinder inner dialogue with the perfectionistic part by acknowledging your accomplishments and strengths, and treating yourself with the same understanding you would offer a friend. Intentionally take in the good that is also happening in your life.
At the Spirit level perfectionism is a veil obscuring your True Self. Yet, your unique spiritual vibration continually seeks to illuminate your natural gifts, strengths and soul purpose, and is just waiting for you to recognize this powerful source of subtle energy.
What to do? Tune in. Engage in activities that nourish your soul—whether it's spending time in nature, pursuing creative hobbies, tending to your energetic patterns, or helping others. By connecting with your inner wisdom, you'll uncover a wellspring of inner strength and vitality.
Embracing Imperfection, Fostering Connection
The journey to overcome perfectionism and the loneliness it brings requires patience and a huge dose of self-kindness. By embarking on this intentional journey, you'll discover the beauty of a life well-lived. Don't let the good moments pass you by!
Tara Cousineau, PhD, is a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist, coach, and entrepreneur. She is trained in mind-body-energy medicine and is a certified meditation teacher. She is the founder of KindMinds.co, a consultancy that helps high achieving professionals struggling with perfectionism, stress and burnout and to live with more ease and joy. She is author of The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World. For more information visit www.taracousineau.com, Linked In and Instagram.