Striving for perfection in an imperfect world

It often seems that we can learn from nature when exploring how to fit in and be a part of this world. Think about an apple tree, for example...no two apples look the same or taste the same, even though they grew from the same tree. One apple may have a dent on the outside, but taste amazing, another apple could be of average size and taste, and then on the same tree you may find an amazing looking apple that is soft and tasteless on the inside. How silly for us to think that apples can be perfect. We can agree that it would be a waste energy for us to focus our constant attention on the apple tree in hopes that it produces all perfect apples.

The problem with perfection is that it takes away people's ability to be present in the moment. When we constantly think and worry about what happened or what could happen then we are in an unconscious state of planning for the unknown. The unknown is a dark whole, much like dark matter in the universe, where things get sucked in and do not get released. Planning takes time and energy, both of which you do not get back. Planning causes anxiety and anxiety leads to a whole host of issues: including inability to sleep, decrease in appetite, medical issues, social isolation and eventually loss of friends and family. The ironic thing is, that the planning likely leads to the thing you were most worried about.

So why do humans strive for perfection? For most of us it is about a sense of inadequacy and how we view ourselves in comparison to others. This may be learned or due to trauma during our development of self, but either way we see something in ourselves that we do not like, do not understand or feel is not good enough. An example of this is an adolescent who identifies as gay, but is growing up in a religious home. Often the adolescent will take on an incongruent way of living in the world and feel inadequate or incomplete on the inside.

So how do we build congruency in our lives. The reality is that perfection is subjective. When you look up the definition of perfection, most sub-listings use the word perfect in their description. That leaves the definition open ended and up for debate. So here is your out... you get to define what perfect means to you. Easier said than done, I know, but here are a couple ideas to try:

  1. Make a list of positive attributes (things that you like about yourself - no matter how big or how small) - use this list to write out "I am" statements, such as "I am brave", then pick 1-2 "I am" statements per day and repeat them to yourself through out the day. If you have ever heard the term "fake it until you make it" this is the same premise. If you start to think or talk more about your positive attributes, then you start to believe them. The positive will eventually outweigh the negative.

  2. Make an "incongruence" list containing things that do not feel like they go together such as "people tell me I have nice hair, but when I look in the mirror I see a mess". Often times people do not understand what is incongruent in their lives and writing it down is a helpful step to identifying the issues. The goal is then to take one issue at a time and work to make it congruent.

  3. Checking in with friends and family, the people who know you best, to get a sense of reality when things feel irrational. In counseling I like to use this practice when a client talks about things he/she feels are true even when the evidence says otherwise. Such as when a client says "I am a failure and I cannot do anything right, yet he/she provides for a family, has a job he/she loves, and is able to be a good friend to others". I then ask the client to think of a few people he/she would be willing to question how they perceive him/her. It can be awakening to hear how other people describe you. The work comes in being able to believe those qualities for yourself.

  4. Mindfulness - being aware of the here and now through your sense of smell, touch, hearing, sight, sound and balance. This practice is best started on a schedule and when things are calm. That way you know what it is to feel mindful and it can be applied when things feel chaotic.

Often times people can do this on their own. If it is overwhelming or causing more problems it is important to have help from a trained professional. Try to imagine yourself growing on that apple tree coming from the same place as the other apples and yet being so different. Difference is what makes us unique, interesting, fun, and successful. You get to define your own perfect, paint your own picture, pick your own apple. There is no other you so take care to treat yourself well, live in the moment, and practice feeling well inside and out.

Please contact me at beginwithincounseling.com with any questions or to talk about counseling services.

Andrea Begin, LPC

Andrea Begin, LPC

Andrea has over 16 years of counseling experience in a variety of settings. Andrea has a MA in Counseling Psychology and Counseling Education from University of Colorado.

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