Perfectionism. Overwhelm. Burnout. Women and girls today struggle with all three. In a world where girls are told they can be anything and do anything, what happens when women feel the pressure to do it ALL without any mistakes? What’s wrong with wanting to be perfect? Well, a quick look at the definition shows the irrationality of this quest.
A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; the setting of unrealistic demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.” – Merriam Webster
As a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked with clients for almost two decades, I’ve heard similar struggles from women of all ages. Below are four strategies for reducing overwhelm and quieting the negative self-talk of perfectionism.
- No is a complete answer
People-pleasing is a hallmark of perfectionism. Not wanting to let people down often leads to saying yes to everything. One strategy is to add a pause. The next time someone asks you to do something, respond with, “Can I give you an answer tomorrow?” Not responding on the spot allows you the time to determine if you truly have the availability, energy, and interest in saying yes. If you want to say no but are feeling nervous, take a look at why. Are you worried about their reaction? Does it feel like you should say yes? Whose “should” is that? Another benefit of not answering right away is that you send a signal to the person that they need to use that time to come up with a plan B if you say no.
- Stop apologizing
How many times do you catch yourself saying “I’m sorry” in a day? This feeds into feeling like you’re not enough. If deadlines are getting missed or mistakes made, is it a normal part of the process or a sign you’re spread too thin? Maybe you used to LOVE being the social coordinator of your friends, helping out at work, and volunteering, but over time, responsibilities change. Whether it’s due to parenting demands, taking care of aging parents, a long commute, or just a shift in priorities, you may not have the same energy or interests you used to. Getting comfortable with saying no AND not beating yourself up about it are key parts of reducing burnout.
- Does Fear Have You Stuck?
Sometimes the feeling of overwhelm has to do with being in a job or relationship that just isn’t working. How does perfectionism tie into this? What if you were told from a young age that you were smart and would make a great doctor or lawyer? Praise and encouragement along with A’s on report card after report card can propel you through graduate school and long hours and challenging exams only to come out the other side not being happy in the career you’ve been told for so long that you’d be great at. You keep trying and trying, ignoring the voice that says, “This isn’t a fit.” Instead, you hear, “What will people say if I quit? I’ve spent so much time and money. People will think I’m a failure.” What if you could make a change with 100% certainty it would go well? Would you still do it if only a 50% chance? As the saying goes, “Be brave enough to suck at something new.”
In the world of therapy, we talk about H.A.L.T. which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If you are one of these, let alone several, it makes it really hard to make good decisions or have constructive conversations and it can impact your mood whether that shows up as irritability, low energy, or worry. Taking steps to make sure you’re eating well and often enough, connecting with people you care about, and getting quality sleep can all make a huge difference in how you feel.
Many women struggle with imposter syndrome or fear of failing. I refer to myself as a “recovering” perfectionist. Taking small steps using the above strategies can help quiet that negative voice and allow for a life filled with “I want to” instead of “I should.” As the stigma around mental health continues to diminish, the more we share our experiences, the more we help each other be less stressed-out moms, sisters, co-workers and friends.
This article is for informational purposes. It is not intended to create and does not constitute a therapist-client relationship and is not a substitute for visiting a medical professional for advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
About Megan Bearce
Megan Bearce is a licensed marriage and family therapist, coach, speaker, and author of Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When a Job Keeps You Apart. She is a sought-after speaker and writer on the topics of burnout, road warriors, business travel wellness, mental health, and perfectionism and has been interviewed as an expert by publications including the BBC, SHRM, Forbes, MarketWatch, and CBS Evening News. You can find more resources and info about her work on her website. Follow Megan at LinkedIn and Twitter.