The Sin of Being Perfect

Releasing the need for perfection.

Posted Aug 27, 2015

Our inner critic can be merciless. Debilitating. It’s the voice that says nothing you do is right. You screwed up once again.

Most of us have some version of this inner voice. It trips us up in our daily lives, impacts our relationships, haunts us at 2 AM. Where does it come from? There is a major attitude that triggers our inner critic – the belief that we need to be perfect.

Perfection is a self-imposed standard. Perfection is different for everyone. One person’s perception of a 50% effort can be everyone else’s perception of 100%. However we define perfection, when we don’t meet it, the inner critic can call our attention to how we failed, often in a virulent and demeaning way. We lose our sense of compassion for ourselves.

The inner critic focuses on what you have not done, or what you should have done. The inner critic is blind to what you have accomplished. It destroys any sense of curiosity about the supposed lack of perfection, thus we are unable to see what we could have learned about ourselves from the event. Caught up in the cycle of “you should have” keeps us from seeing what we might do differently the next time. It also blocks the ability to forgive ourselves for any mistakes we made. It takes away the sense of play and adventure we experience with what we are engaging in, or who we are engaging with. With the inner critic in full force, even if we meet the self-created standard of perfection, the imposed bar will be raised.

Karen Horney, Ph.D., a noted psychologist, wrote about the idealized self and the despised self. To me, her description illustrates the destructive nature of the need to be perfect. One part of us sets unrealistic goals under the illusion that these goals will make us okay. She calls this part of our psyche the idealized self. When the goals are not met because we have set the bar too high, we move into self-loathing. The inner critic is operating. She calls this part of our psyche the despised self.

There is another option. When you are not constrained in your self-definition of perfection, you have the freedom to be your authentic self. This allows you to choose goals that reflect your authentic core. We are able to engage with the process of meeting our goals and are able to adapt whether we meet the goals or not. This will allow you to see more options, as having to be perfect allows just one option – meeting the stated goal. You meet it or you don’t. By releasing the need to be perfect, you become resilient. You experience more flexibility, spontaneity, and self-acceptance in your life. You are interested in how you can grow from your experience. There would be a sense of okayness in your body and a desire to go forward. There is no longer a need for self-loathing, because you have become fluid in terms of what’s now, what’s next?

One last thought - consider examining your latest goals to see if you are striving for perfection rather than experiencing and valuing the process of going for your goal.