A Perfectionist's Dilemma - We Are All Flawed and That Is Okay

Updated on January 29, 2018

The Need to Be Perfect

We are our worst and harshest critics. I think that deep down, we all have a little bit of a "perfectionist" inside us.

But why do we want and feel the need to be "perfect?" Why are we so highly critical of ourselves?

Speaking from my own experience and reflection, I think that I feel the need to be perfect because it feels good when I know I have done my best and gave my 100% - whether it's writing an article, cooking, my performance at work or giving all I can in my relationships.

When I have done my best and know I have given my 100%, it gives me some peace of mind, a certain sense of assurance or feeling of "security."

Peace of mind and assurance, that because I've given it everything I've got...

Maybe, just maybe, people will love the article I've written and will leave me nice, supportive and comforting comments that will affirm my efforts and hard work.

Maybe, just maybe, my family will appreciate the elaborate meal I've prepared for supper and we'll all have a wonderful time sharing stories at the dinner table.

Maybe, just maybe, my boss will recognize my efforts, working above and beyond what is expected of me and will reward me with a kind compliment and put more value in my suggestions and opinions.

Maybe, just maybe, my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend, will pay more attention to me, notice and compliment my new haircut, the weight I've lost or simply, for no reason at all, just hold my hand and give me a light kiss on my cheek or forehead.

I think that I cannot help but try to be a "perfectionist," not for "perfectionist's sake" but because deep down...

I want to be liked (by others).
I want to feel appreciated (by others).
I need the validation (from others).

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, just right above "physiological needs," are "safety," "love and belonging," and "esteem" needs.

I love Abraham Maslow, and though this model is a good visual representation of our most important of needs, I also believe that it is not as simple as "climbing up a ladder," that once the lower level needs are met, we can then work on the next level and the next level and so on.

I think that the need to feel love and belonging affects our ability to meet our physiological needs, impacts the extent to which we feel secure and influences our chances of achieving our esteem need; that the need to feel love and belonging, the need to feel accepted, flows through across all levels of the needs hierarchy.

A newborn (healthy or otherwise) may have all the resources to meet its physiological needs - food, warm clothing, and shelter, but thrives better with the loving touch of his/her mother and father.

Children and adults alike still delight and get more motivated performing in a concert or a play if they see their parents or partners in the audience.

When we are sick, we feel better and heal faster under the care of a compassionate health professional than under the supervision of a competent physician who lacks compassion and barely remembers our name.

Mother Teresa, the Miracle Worker, was neither a doctor or a nurse, but she has certainly healed and allowed hundreds of people live a life of dignity by her genuine and unconditional love for the poor, the sick, the homeless and the "unwanted."

And personally, though Mom has passed away, I still feel the need to call her so she can read the most recent article I've written or tell her about a wonderful compliment a client has emailed me. I still ache to see the pride and delight on her face when I tell her my "successful" moments.

Even now, when I get a belly ache or a bad dream, I still wish Mom is around so she can rub ointment on my belly or hug me when I get scared. I've always felt that it wasn't really the cream that made my belly ache go away, but the warm touch of my mother's hands.

The point is, we all need validation, approval, feel accepted, loved, wanted, needed, and it's okay. You are not alone. In a way, you also have Maslow's expert opinion on this subject, because after all, you are merely human, trying to fill a need.

Managing Disappointments, Rejections, and Expectations

So...

...you've consistently given your 100% at work;
...labored long hours, day after day to prepare delicious meals for your family;
...read, re-read and re-written your articles several times for the past 4 hours so your words are just so perfectly selected as to create the maximum impact for your audience;
...brainstormed with yourself and your friends to find him/her the perfect Christmas gift; or,
...finally found the courage to say "I love you" first.

But...
...your performance appraisal with your manager showed that you need to work on managing your time better so you can finish your work faster;
...your kids want to finish dinner quickly so they can go back and play video games and your husband just can't stop talking about how work was so stressful (no one even said anything about the carefully prepared meals you just worked on all afternoon);
...a few people gave you a "thumbs down" or worse, left a nasty message saying you don't know what you're talking about;
...he/she "did not know you were buying each other gifts for Christmas" (awkward!); or,
...he/she said "oh... thanks," after you've confessed your true feelings for him/her.

When these things happen (and they will continue to happen), your feelings range from mild disappointment to feeling rejected and being completely devastated.

It simply hurts to not get the response and reaction you needed, expected, hoped for or have visualized in your head.

When this happens, go ahead and take a moment to feel whatever you are feeling. Give yourself permission to do that. The worst thing you can do is to not validate yourself, sweep your feelings under the rug, pretend it's okay, because let's face it, you are hurting, so just be "in that room" right now. It's okay.

When you are ready, wipe away your tears, take a deep breath, muster a smile, and "get out of that room" (literally and/or figuratively).

Remember, that they are people, just like you, who are also doing their best and trying to figure stuff out. Though we can "influence" to some degree how they treat us, we cannot change who they are. It is not our place and it can only lead to more disappointments and conflicts which can make matters worse.

You can always express your feelings, because open, honest communication, that comes from a place of love (not anger, fear, vindictiveness/vengefulness) is important in any relationship. We cannot assume that people know what's on our minds and how we are feeling.

Understand as well, that just like you, other people are flawed too. They have their own weaknesses, challenges and struggles. We never really know what's going on in another person's life and what they are truly thinking or feeling. Care and love them enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. Reach out and communicate your thoughts and feelings clearly and firmly, but always make sure that it is coming from a place of love and with the intention to hear the other person out as well.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity."

- Brene Brown

Do your best and give your 100% simply for the challenge of improving yourself in every aspect, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually; work on improving your skills, how you feel about yourself, your attitude and how you see the world.

Most importantly, work on trying to and release your expectations and your need to control reactions - how people "should" respond.

We are all different. We see things differently. We respond to situations differently, deal and manage problems and life's challenges differently.

We express love and concern differently.

We all have past experiences and history that affect and influence how we are around other people.

We all have our fears. We all have our own needs.

Being a perfectionist is not bad per se, it is when we put too much focus on the outcome, and our expectations, and the "ideal scenarios" we want to happen, on how others should respond, what they should say, when they should say it and how soon they should say it, that injures our hearts and damages our souls.

Instead...

...cook a delicious meal because preparing a delightful meal is a joy by itself;
...continue to put your best foot forward at work because it is simply your nature;
...write the best article you can write, because you love to write and you know there would at least be one soul out there who will benefit from your reflections; and finally,
... say "I love you" first without any expectations, because it makes you feel good, it's honest and true and you've conquered fear (of rejection), proving that love trumps fear every time.

Being a perfectionist is a cape or armor we put on because we feel vulnerable, so we try to control the extent to which we feel "naked," "exposed" or "vulnerable;" but I think Brene Browne captured vulnerability the best when she said:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Yes, by saying "I love you" first or by opening your heart to love can open you to a world of hurt, but on the flip side, it also opens you to a world of profound joy, meaning, connection and experiences you wouldn't have otherwise experienced if you didn't take the chance.

Be perfectly vulnerable. It is the door that opens other doors.

© 2018 Maria Lina Castro

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    • marialinacastro profile image
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      Maria Lina Castro 3 weeks ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Thanks for your comment dashingscorpio.

      It is great to get a male perspective on things. I can't speak much on gender differences as I am not an expert on the subject. Having said that though, what I've written on here is based on my own personal experience and some people I know, who, I admit, are mostly girls.

      I do however, want to clarify, that I personally wasn't talking about physical imperfections or comparing myself to models. Thankfully, I don't recall a time in my life where I've done that or I would have more stuff I need to work on! :)

      The goal was to explore more about how our actions may be more driven by the desire to be accepted and getting some sort of approval, especially from people whose opinions matter to us the most. As most personal development experts would say, instead of seeking approval externally, it is us who need to accept ourselves while continuing to work on becoming a better version of ourselves.

      I personally, am still working on this issue myself. :)

      Again, thanks for your comment. It was great to hear a man's view on things.

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 3 weeks ago

      I wonder if this might be one of those "gender differences".

      Honestly I don't see a lot men beating themselves up over their imperfections. We don't compare ourselves to the male models on the cover of magazines.

      We don't believe we have to jump through hoops to be loved.

      Unless we're in a competition for some type of sport or within our career/money earning opportunities versus a friend or co-worker (we generally go fairly easy on ourselves).

      It's usually "others" who are making demands on us or relaying (their expectations) of us. :)

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