Perfectionism is a myth. Yet so many of us think that we should be perfect to be acceptable and loveable. We can easily fall into being over-achievers or under-achievers, both as veils to hide our perceived insecurities and flaws.
This kind of thinking stifles our own development, and keeps us from developing real, vulnerable relationships with others where we allow ourselves to be seen. We may also block our own ability to really see others as they are.
In this episode, you’ll learn if you are a perfectionist (you may be surprised by some of the ways perfectionism rears its head!). You’ll discover how it’s affecting you and your loved ones. Additionally, you’ll be provided clear tools that will help you grow in your capacity to love yourself in your imperfections.
I’m Andrea Giles, and you’re listening to the Heal from Infidelity podcast
episode number 31, Perfectionism.
Hello, and welcome to the Heal from Infidelity podcast where courageous
women learn not only to heal from their spouse’s betrayal, but to become
the boldest, truest, most decisive, and confident versions of themselves
ever. If you know there’s more freedom than the life you’re currently
living, but don’t quite know how to get there, you are in the right place.
Stick around to learn how to create a life that will knock your own socks
off. Is it possible? It is, and I’m here to show you how. I’m your host,
Andrea Giles. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Hello, everybody. I hope everybody’s doing well. So in the last while, I’ve
been listening to my clients, which I do, and it’s so interesting because
my clients don’t know each other yet they come to me with patterns and I
hear the same thing sometimes three times in a week. I’m like, “Hmm.
Interesting. I think I need to talk about this one.” So over the past
couple weeks, I’ve been listening and I’ve heard perfectionist tendencies
come up in my clients. I’ve heard even sometimes the word perfect, “I have
to get it perfect. If I can’t get it perfect, why bother?” I’ve heard
things like this. And so I decided that it’s time to do an episode about
perfectionism. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Before I dive in, I just want to say thank you so much for helping my
podcast to grow. It’s so fun to watch my baby grow and to have people reach
out and to see all the countries where people are listening to my podcast.
It’s very, very satisfying. I love it. So thank you so much for sharing. If
you have not left a review yet, would you please hop on and leave a review?
It helps people be able to search for it and find it and have it come up in
their searches quicker, the higher the reviews are and lends credibility to
it. So if you have enjoyed this podcast, if it has helped you, if it’s
helped you to grow, to see things in a different way, I would love it if
you go to iTunes, to my podcast, and leave me a review. Thank you.
Okay. So I hear about this a lot, like I said. I hear about the need to be
perfect, this drive to be perfect, this desire to get everything all lined
up and make your life look like you’ve got no flaws, right? Now, why is
this a problem? It’s a problem because we’re not perfect and we never will
be in this life, right? And so we’re fighting against the human condition.
So what is perfectionism? Perfectionism is when we want to be above the
human condition of imperfection. We want to be viewed both internally and
externally as above reproach. It’s not that we want other people just to
see us in a certain way, we even want to see ourselves in a certain way. We
would rather lie to ourselves and look away from our flaws than to feel the
discomfort of meeting our flaws head on.
Now, what does this have to do with infidelity? It has everything to do
with infidelity. Because if we are seeing the view through a perfectionism
lens, imagine, and many of you are probably experiencing this, the absolute
destruction to your view of yourself if this person who was kind of
propping up this image of you, hurt that and betrayed that, right? If we
are looking outside ourself for the view of who we are and wanting to be
seen as perfect, it can feel like such a blow when our spouse is
unfaithful. It can feel like even more of a blow. I’m not suggesting that
anything is wrong here with feeling hurt or feeling sad or things like
that. I’m saying that if we come at it with perfectionist tendencies, it
can feel like even more of a blow and be taken so much more personally. So
we’ll get into that.
So where does perfectionism come from? Perfectionism comes from lots of
places. Cultural messages, ways that we were raised, exact words that were
said to us, or words that were implied. Even if they weren’t directly said,
messages that were implied, meanings that we gave to certain events in our
life. Oftentimes, we grow up in homes where our parents have insecurities,
amazing, right? They get to be human too. And they sometimes want to prop
up their view of themselves by how their kids look. And so they put a lot
of pressure on the kids to perform. And so then we have that dialogue in
our brain that we have to perform to. The thing with perfectionism is that
most of us don’t intend to be perfectionist and we come by honestly, often
in the way that we’re raised.
Another cultural thing is just the way things have grown with social media.
You don’t have to look far to go find pages on Facebook and Instagram and
Twitter and Pinterest, where there is a active campaign made to look
perfect. It’s like, I’ve got to have it all put together. I want to look
flawless. You do not have to look far to find accounts like that, where
they look flawless. Like, I keep my body in great shape, my children always
wear matching clothes with their hair done and smiles on their faces, and
we are all high achieving. You don’t have to look far, right? And so for
many of us who don’t necessarily feel like being that or doing that, it can
make us feel like we’re not good enough. So there’s perfectionism on both
sides there, and I’ll get into that a little bit more.
As babies, we’re actually born quite self-absorbed. Some therapists even
say that we’re born with narcissistic traits. And hopefully, we grow out of
that, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes that same self-absorption stays
with us and seems like it’s a means of safety to try to protect us and keep
us from getting hurt, but it can evolve into perfectionism.
So how do you know if you have perfectionist tendencies? I’m going to name
some various symptoms. I want you to listen and see if you hear yourself in
any of these, but I’m going to say, please do not use this as something to
judge yourself with. I tell you what, just in preparing this podcast, I did
lots of research, read lots of different things, went through old stories
of my own. I can raise my hand and say, “Yep, totally. I fall into that.” I
can see areas that I’ve come really far in and areas that I still need some
work. So please don’t use this to beat yourself up, okay? It’s just
information, knowledge to see, to know, and I’ll give you some techniques
to help you.
So much of what I have studied around this topic comes from therapist,
Jennifer Finlayson Fife, and she studied and learned from David Schnarch,
who’s a therapist. So I’ve learned from them, I’ve learned from my own
clients’ experiences, from my own experiences, and I’m going to share some
of those things with you now. So into the symptoms, the traits of
One, conditional acceptance of yourself and others, conditional. As long as
I check these boxes, I’m good. If I don’t, I’m bad. As long as my spouse or
my children check these boxes, they’re good. If they don’t, not so much.
Very conditional, constantly trying to manage what others think of you.
That’s like your preoccupation where your mind is most of the time trying
to manage what other people think. People pleasing tendencies, being
willing to not tell the truth about something to manage someone’s opinion
about you. As long as they think this about me, they don’t have anything to
say about me that might not be kind and I don’t want them to think anything
less than me then I’m great and kind, and so I’m not going to let them see
the actual truth, how I actually feel.
We want to be seen as above reproach, any kind of reproach. We want to be
seen by others as flawless, put together, nothing to complain about that
person. Resisting the reality that you’re flawed. And when you see your
flaws, using them as a weapon to believe that you’re less than. So there’s
no tolerance for stepping into seeing your flaws and just seeing them and
sitting with them. Instead, there’s this judgment and very black and white,
all or nothing. I’m either good or I’m bad, so I guess I’m bad. It’s very
intolerant of flaws, intolerance to others thinking of you as less than
Many perfectionists have a superwoman complex. They must be seen as all put
together, being all things to all people, helping all the people, fit body,
beautiful children, money, all of the things, superwoman. Many
perfectionists maintain this kind of one up and one down mentality. What
this means is in both roles, one up, one down, you’re earning your value.
It’s not just given, you’re earning it. So one up is all about feeling some
kind of superiority over the other person. You’re seeking validation by
being better than, yet also often feeling contempt for others in your high
and lofty superior state. Sometimes this one up is arrogant. It pretends to
be confident, but it actually is coming from quite an insecure place of
needing to be validated.
One down is where we play the victim role of the subservient, the server,
giver, pretending like it’s in the name of goodness, in the name of
serving, but really seeking approval, wanting to be good enough. And in
this role, there’s often contempt for self. So in the one up position,
there’s often contempt for others and judgment. And in the one down,
there’s contempt for self. Often, often, we switch back and forth between
these roles. We’ll go back and forth. We can only see our personal flaws
and limitations with disgust and shame and hiding, so we put much pressure
on ourself to get rid of them. And if we see them, we will vacillate
between self-hatred, self-judgment. Often, it can lead to depression
because if we see ourself as flawed, see our flaws and then have judgements
about that and think we shouldn’t be flawed, it may feel like we’re just
never going to be good enough and I might as well just give up, right?
Okay, so now, I want to look at some truths. Perfectionism is a form of
outsourcing your own value. It’s like this, as long as others can see how
great I am, I’m okay. If someone sees a flaw, I am not okay, it feels like
a threat. We’re always looking around us to inform our own sense of self
rather than answering for ourselves who we actually are. Sometimes we
sacrifice our own development, our own growth in the name of being a good
wife and woman. We do, we give, we serve in the name of being seen in a
certain way, but this can lead to being unfulfilled. And like I said
before, often, depression, especially if some of our efforts fall flat, are
unappreciated, or are not executed perfectly. The thought can creep in, if
I can’t do it perfectly, I may as well not do it at all. Might as well just
not do it.
Another truth though, is that the human condition will always be
underdeveloped. Forever and ever as long as we are living, we will always
be underdeveloped, and it’s okay. Accepting our flaws is loving and kind.
Accepting our flaws and resisting our flaws is demeaning to our inherent
value. We are just valuable. We just are, flaws and all. Our being is
valuable, but many people adopt this mindset that it’s the doing that is
valuable, not the being, and that’s where this perfectionism comes in. As
long as I’m doing I’m valuable, but the second I stop, I become invaluable.
So it’s not that we have flaws that’s a problem. What creates the problem,
what creates so much pain is our resistance to our flaws. It creates so
much pain. We try to override the system, we try to hustle for our worth.
Another truth is that perfectionism can damage relationships. When we
expect other people to prop up the version of us that we want them to see
for us to feel okay, we’re actually not allowing ourselves to be seen and
known. We’re not allowing for intimacy, true intimacy. We often blame the
relationship or the spouse for the problem, but in reality, there is much
self-betrayal going on here. Perfectionists are often afraid to be seen as
vulnerable or having insecurities because it allows their spouses to see
that they’re less than perfect, and they don’t want that to be seen,
because it feels like a threat. They’d rather keep that facade of
perfection and keep up a wall. This can be difficult in a marriage, right?
It can make being really close hard, and put very heavy expectations on the
person you’re married to. Like, if I need to be perfect, then they need to
be perfect. And if they’re not perfect, then what does it mean about me?
And back and forth. Even with infidelity, especially with infidelity.
You know, it’s really interesting when I meet with new clients for the
first time, because no matter what, like I have yet to meet anybody who was
just like unfazed like, “Oh, no big deal.” And I would not want that for
them. I want them to come to me in a place to work through it and really
look at all the angles and how the interpretation that they have of this
infidelity. But where I see kind of the most damage done is when we have
this outward validation system where we’re getting our validation from the
people around us, particularly from our family, our spouses, our children.
You can believe that it feels quite devastating and quite a blow if that’s
the foundation you’re standing on. Because if a husband was unfaithful, the
person on the other end of that, because of where they are in their mind,
takes it so personally and makes it all about them that I must not be
valuable or he wouldn’t have done this. They’re forgetting their own value.
They’re just assuming that they’re not worth being faithful to.
My clients that come, that have more of kind of a tolerance for their own
imperfections, who have a friendship with themselves, yeah, it’s still
hard. It’s still hard, but they have a little bit more of a foundation to
work with, to build on, and heal quicker, move forward faster. It’s
interesting to watch. We can also, from this view of perfectionism, have a
really hard time understanding the infidelity of another person because all
we can see is how it hurts us, what we make it mean about us, and what we
make it mean about them out the gate, without understanding and without
sitting in the discomfort of looking at the big picture. If we are hanging
out in a space of self-loathing, we’re totally looking for our spouse to
validate us. And when they don’t in the way that we want them to, of
course, we’re going to use it as ourselves, but we’re also going to use it
against them. It’s your fault that I feel this way. It’s your fault.
Now, I want to point out that perfectionism does not just look like the
overachiever. I think when we think of perfectionist, we think of the
person with the perfect home, perfect yard, perfect clothes, perfect
weight, so involved in everything, just really have it all together. Right?
Altogether, super high achiever. Did you know that underachievers can also
be perfectionist? Why? These people may look like they don’t get much done,
but it’s often because they’re so afraid to get it wrong that they would
rather not try. They’d rather do nothing, yet here’s the thing that’s kind
of funny about this is that they often have very high expectations of
others to help validate themselves in their own self-loathing. It’s like,
“I’m going to sit here and feel terrible and not do anything because I
don’t want to fail. I can’t risk failing. I can’t risk seeing myself in
that light, so all of you around me, you need to tell me how amazing I am,
you need to make me look good, okay? No pressure.” Right?
So how did we get here? One of the ways we got here is that we’re told in
the Bible to, “Be ye therefore perfect.” I think that’s a scripture that we
use against ourself. Did you know that in the Bible times when the Bible
was written, perfect meant to be whole, to progress, to grow, to develop,
to be aligned with yourself, to be in integrity with yourself. This is
something I learned in preparing this podcast episode. That the way that we
see perfect now, perfection now didn’t come around until after the
industrial revolution. Isn’t that interesting? Now, perfection means to be
flawless. It means to be flawless because we can take a machine and
literally mass produce perfect things. So when we think of something being
perfect now, it means flawless. But what it used to mean when that was
written was whole, very different. We are actually not machines. Isn’t that
good news? We’re not machines. We are actually meant to be flawed and
evolving beings. We’re supposed to be that. We’re not supposed to be cookie
cutter perfection. How boring is that? Right?
So what is the solution? How can we be more honest with ourselves and our
relationships? Number one is having compassion for the human condition.
Compassion, we are all in this. It’s messy, right? If you remember several
episodes ago, I did a podcast episode about the 50/50 Rule. And that 50/50
Rule is all about growing our tolerance for the 50 that doesn’t feel so
good. So many of us have this false notion that life is supposed to just be
happy and good, and that if I’m doing it right, it just feels good. I just
feel good things all the time. That’s the biggest lie. 50/50, we’re
supposed to feel negative emotions too. We get to sometimes choose what
negative emotions. Meaning, if we decide to lean in to a conversation where
we know we might get messy, we might say something wrong, we might feel
vulnerable, we might let our guard down. If we lean into that, we are
growing our own courage and compassion. We’re growing our tolerance to
making mistakes in that in service of who we want to become ourselves and
in our relationships.
Courageous compassion is what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about
developing a deep self-trust that says no matter what, I’ve got me, no
matter what, I’ve got my own back. Now, why courageous compassion? Why
courageous? Because it takes courage to show self-compassion. It’s a form
of growing up and maturing. You know, I was thinking as I was writing this
about some of my journal entries from years past, and it would just make
you cry. Gosh, I feel sad for that girl who was so hard on herself. I was
filled with so much self-loathing as a young mom and wife. I never felt
like I was doing good enough. I never did. I was filled with insecurity.
I’ve come so far from that place by practicing this courageous compassion.
It takes courage because it feels vulnerable. It takes courage to be
willing to see yourself in a different light. But I’m so grateful for that
I have developed this skill of wondering what else might be true about me,
like, “Huh, okay, so this is what I’m saying about myself when I’m
self-loathing, what else might be true? If that awful thing isn’t true,
what else could I be?” That’s using courage and compassion to look a little
deeper and be willing to sit with the discomfort of that. You’re growing a
tolerance to it. I have been able to practice having compassion for myself
and where I was seeing that I was doing the best that I could. How do you
First of all, you get out of your head and onto paper, all your thoughts
about yourself, get them out of your head. Sometimes just seeing those
thoughts on paper, you can have a thought like, “Wow! That sounds harsh.
That’s not very nice.” You can separate out what is actually true, what is
a circumstance, what is a thought. When you think that thought, how does it
feel and how do I show up in the world when I feel that way? What’s it
creating for me? The more honest you can be in this process, the more
you’ll be able to address it head on.
A question I like to ask when I look at feelings that I have, thoughts that
I have are telling the truth about, is this helping me to move forward, or
is it keeping me stuck? If it’s keeping me stuck, it’s probably not a
useful thought. We’re talking here about acceptance of what is. Sometimes I
am lazy, sloppy, jealous, snarky, grumpy, whatever, but I am also these
things. I’m also kind and good and smart and loving. It’s really creating
this container of safety for all human emotion, making it okay to feel,
making it okay, to be a person who has flaws, who has things to work on.
Again, understand and be honest with yourself that self-loathing is
indulgent and it does not move you forward.
What do I mean by indulgent? It kind of sucks in. Like we may try
something, mess it up, and want to quit. But a mature, more grown up
version of ourselves requires that we look at it, feel the discomfort in
it, learn from it and try again, knowing full well that we’ll probably mess
up again and probably very soon, right? Manage expectations of yourself and
others for reasons that you like. Are you wanting your husband to post
flowery things on Facebook about your life, about you to prop up a version
of you that you want the world to see? What do you actually want? Is that
in alignment with your values, or do you really want a marriage that is
true where you see each other in all of your flaws and choose each other?
What would you rather have? Why are you wanting X, Y, and Z, and are they
values based or validation based? Practice just being and not doing,
How can I sit here and not do anything and still be valuable? Allow
yourself to feel that. Keep trying, but grow in your capacity to be flawed.
Try for reasons that feel real and true, that line up with your values. As
you grow, you’ll make space for others around you to be flawed. It won’t be
a problem. You won’t take their flaws so personally. You’ll be able to
stand back and look more objectively at the whole picture rather than
instantly making it about you.
So back to infidelity, that last thing that I said is so important because
I’m not saying that we just allow any behavior, that we’re just like, “Oh,
no problem because I know who I am and I feel so good about myself. So you
just do what you want and it’s no problem.” Totally not what I’m saying.
What I’m saying is that when we allow ourself to be flawed and good and
whole and valuable and worthy, we see things through a different lens. We
honor our values. We honor who we are, flaws and all. And sometimes it
looks like this, “I cannot stay here because this goes against my values of
what the kind of life that I actually want and what I believe. And if
you’re not on board with my values, it’s totally fine, but it’s not going
to work.” Or, “These are my values, and if you would like to work with me
to get to a place where I feel like those values are being honored, then we
can move forward. And if not, carry on and I’ll be just fine.”
I know I make it sound easier said than done, but that’s what I’m talking
about. Not just about allowing bad behavior, it means that we are coming at
it from a more whole angle. We’re not taking it quite as personally. And
we’re able to look at it more objectively.
What this really comes down to is a deep abiding, unconditional love for
yourself no matter what, no matter what. Even when I feel terrible, even
when I mess up, even when I really mess up, I still love myself
unconditionally, no matter what. When this grows, we become unafraid of the
future, we become unafraid to handle hard situations. We might be afraid,
but we know we can take it, we know we can handle it. This is where so much
freedom comes in. I tell you what, the more I have grown in this, the
better my life gets. A really good life does not come from not making
mistakes or not being flawed or not having things that you struggle with or
baggage or whatever you might want to call it. A really good life comes
from our tolerance to accept our flaws. Isn’t that amazing? A really good
life comes from our own tolerance to our flaws and to the flaws around us.
It doesn’t mean we quit trying. It doesn’t mean, “Oh, I’m just going to
hang out here and it’s good enough.” Yeah, we keep striving, we keep
growing, we’re here to grow, but we’re not doing it for validation purposes
to prop up our ego, to make us look good. We’re doing it out of love and
respect for ourselves. We’re doing it to grow our self-respect of being the
person in the world that we want to be. Even this tolerance to our flaws
and to our imperfections can grow our self-respect because we’re telling
ourself the truth. And we can look at those things and evaluate them and
say, “Is this something that I just like will have to live with forever, or
is this something that I can work on? Is this something I can practice,
knowing full well that I’ll probably mess it up in five minutes?” Right?
So it’s just telling yourself the truth, and there’s so much respect,
self-respect that is born when we stay in that space of truth telling and
moving forward. Getting out of that indulgent cycle of I’m just not good
enough and I’ll never be good enough and other people are better than me,
getting out of that and stepping into, well, what can I do? Who do I want
to be? I want to practice being this person. I want to practice. It takes
courage and compassion.
So my friends, I hope you found this helpful. Again, I hope that you’re not
using any of it against yourself. This is all intended to just shine a
light and to show us areas that we can grow, areas where we might be
causing ourself pain, unnecessary pain. How can you let go of some of that
pain today? All right. Thank you, my friends. I’ll see you next time. Bye
Thank for listening to the Heal from Infidelity podcast. If you would like
to be kept in the know about upcoming free classes, new podcast episodes,
and other ways of working with me, go subscribe to my weekly email. You can
subscribe at andreagiles.com/lies-about-infidelity/. Again, it’s
andreagiles.com/lies-about-infidelity/. I will see you next time.