Today, I’m going to take a different approach with this article, as themes of perfectionism and self-acceptance keep coming up in my practice. Striving for perfection can have a profound effect on your health. It is also something we can learn to let go of.
As most of you know, my practice focuses on women’s health, and most of the women who I treat, are between the ages of 25 and 45. This is a population that specifically struggles with feeling good enough, especially when life becomes complicated with balancing family needs, fertility challenges, career goals or health challenges.
There is so much pressure on women to excel and be perfect, and I would like to take a step back from this and examine what this really means and how harmful these expectations can be.
First of all, striving for excellence is different from trying to be perfect. Excellence comes from an internal drive to show up as your best and most authentic self. Although, this may require hard work, it is not draining or exhausting.
Trying to be perfect, in contrast, is doing all that you can to live up to an expectation, which is either self-imposed or culturally-imposed, and it inevitably leads to discontentment, resentment, depression and exhaustion.
Striving for perfection leads to enormous stress, and as you know from many of my previous articles, a rise in stress hormones can amplify almost any health complaint from digestive upset to skin disorders, fertility challenges and hormone imbalance. Stress also leads to a decrease in energy, mood, and well-being.
It seems that as women, many of us have a deep hidden belief that we are unlovable at the core, and that we have to prove our worthiness to be loved. I’m not entirely sure why this is such a common belief, but I do feel that it is partly tied to an unrealistic aim for perfectionism. Why are we taught that being loved has to do with our achievements, our appearance, how we dress, how much money we make, where we live,…? We are constantly striving for the perfect body, partner, family, job, and are often stretched thin in an attempt to manage all of these aspects of life.
If you have not yet heard of Dr. Brene Brown, I would highly recommend her work. A great overview can be found in her TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html), or her books (“The Gift of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly”). She writes and speaks powerfully about the power of vulnerability, and about shame.
Her message that being vulnerable and real actually allows for connection with others, while trying to be perfect really pushes others away, resonated with me. We are drawn to people, who accept and love themselves, who express themselves honestly, and who are compassionate towards themselves. Someone, who is striving for perfection, is always judging themselves, and the perfect image leaves nothing to engage with.
Dr. Brown writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging’.”
Dr. Brene Brown outlines 10 guideposts to “wholehearted living.” Take a moment to read them and imagine how letting go of even one of these might lighten up your life.
Letting go of what people think
Letting go of perfectionism
Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
Letting go of the need for certainty
Letting go of comparison
Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
Letting go of being cool and “always in control”
Remember that how we feel about ourselves gets reflected in how we care for our bodies. Caring for your body by eating well, exercising moderately, sleeping enough, taking time for relaxation, and expressing joy are acts of self-love. And please, try not to fall into the trap of perfection– There is no perfect diet, perfect exercise plan or perfect self-care regimen. Simply caring for your body, mind and spirit is key in whatever form nurtures you best.
I would like to hear what you are ready to let go of now…