Perfectionism and Forgiving Yourself

            We all make mistakes. Rationally, I know this. Yet my perfectionism constantly sends me messages that I am not doing enough or am not good enough. But I’m learning to be compassionate with myself.

            After making a blunder, that negative track goes through my mind and starts to tear down my self-confidence and self-esteem with what-ifs and should-haves. “What if my friend is mad at me for what I said?” “I shouldn’t have forgotten to send that email.” I often worry about the impact of my words and actions on others to the point that I feel more upset with myself than the person I have hurt or disappointed.

            What has helped me is to reframe and refocus my thoughts. Is there anything I can do to change the situation?

  • Yes: Great! Then I make the change. Things may not have gone the way I expected or happened when I expected them to, but if the task gets done anyway- that is the part to focus on.
  • No: Now, this is the hard one. But, I have learned that not only does beating myself up over a snafu not change what happened, it also makes me feel pretty crummy. What I can do is analyze the situation, learn from my mistake, and create a game plan to do things differently next time.

Sometimes, these strategies are enough, but other times I find myself ruminating on my mistakes and blaming or shaming myself. One of my favorite songs by Tenth Avenue North has the lines, “You are more than the choices that you’ve made. You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create.” I love these lyrics, because they beautifully sum up how to look at being flawed and imperfect.

Another aspect to consider is the interpersonal side of the situation. Even though it might feel uncomfortable to upset others, all I can do after the fact is accept responsibility, apologize, and try to make amends. Furthermore, while another person’s anger, sadness, or other emotions are certainly valid, I cannot control how others feel about me. If someone is unhappy with me, it is okay!

At the end of the day, I am human and I will continue to make mistakes and decisions I regret. That does not, however, mean I am unworthy or that I deserve to harshly criticize myself. As Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW, says, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”

If you need more personalized help with perfectionistic thoughts or self-compassion, call 713-466-1360 and we can get you scheduled with one of our 15 therapists within the next week.

Written by Elizabeth Erwin, B.A., Clinical Intake Specialist