My client Christine recently reminded me of how we use language to abuse ourselves. How we can make ourselves feel bad and even sick by the words we choose to say to ourselves. The words that we use for ourselves, would generally not be words we would use with others. We are so much harsher on ourselves than we would care to admit.
Christine described it as ‘being hard on myself’. Like most people, I have been guilty of that. How about you? Does this sound true for you? Do you use strong negative language to punish yourself for something you haven’t done, or haven’t achieved, or should’ve, could’ve, ought to have said or done? Geez I know I have. It doesn’t serve a purpose. Or does it?
I used to be a perfectionist – and oh so proud of that. I believed then that this was a great quality to have. I would work even harder to reach the fantasy of ‘perfect’. Can’t believe how crazy I was to consider that I would ever get ‘perfect’ in my work, my relationships and in my home. Interestingly, I stumble on many people who still think like this. They don’t realise how much ‘being a perfectionist’ is actually not healthy or good for you.
You see, I believe that for me ‘being hard on myself’ came from the fantasy of getting it perfect. This was my way in which I pushed myself to be better and do better. In fact, I wasn’t just hard on myself, I was an absolute abuser. I used language that I wouldn’t ever say to someone I cared about. Language that I won’t repeat here..
Christine has had health issues, family disconnections, job loss and financial hardships. She is a warrior and has a fighting spirit to get through her challenges. She has a big vision and goals that she wants to accomplish. She said that she has always been ‘hard on herself’. She did that to push herself to achieve better results in her life. I asked Christine to reframe her language to something more positive and inspiring. To use language that will guide her to strive for better without the abuse. I told her that as a ‘reformed’ perfectionist, I now use the language of ‘setting higher standards for what’s important’.
Now, some of you perfectionists may argue with me that setting higher standards is what perfectionism is all about. I used to think so too. I don’t anymore. In my experience as a perfectionist it came with consistently working towards having the perfect body, the perfect relationship, the perfect home, the perfect career and the perfect life. Until I reached my standard of ‘perfect’, I kept working on it. I would justify and rationalise why things had to be perfect before moving forward. It just brought about ridiculous expectations on myself and others. I would be ever so critical and bash myself about; not physically, but certainly mentally. It was exhausting. I would then give up because it became all too hard. I would feel disappointed and a failure. After a period of time, the vicious circle would start again.
I hear many stories of people who have been writing their book for the last 10 years or so. Then I hear stories of people who write their books in a few months. There may be a number of reasons why this is. I would guess that some of these people are losing time in getting it perfect, rather than getting it done. Procrastinators hide behind perfectionism. They procrastinate due to the fear of not getting it right or fear of failure.
What I have learnt is that it’s better to be flexible with standards. I prioritise what’s important and how much I value it and allocate a standard to it. The question I ask myself is: “how much does it matter”? Sounds simple, yet it takes practice. I set high standards for what’s high on my priority and for what’s going to get me the best result and the most joy.
Not surprising, I’m get more done than ever before. Getting it ‘done’ is better than getting it ‘perfect’.