In this post, former ME/CFS sufferer and Coach Simon Pimenta explores perfectionism and strategies for dealing with perfectionism if you have ME/CFS and this trait.
Note: I am not suggesting that all people with ME/CFS have this trait. I don’t believe that to be the case. Having worked with many people with ME/CFS for 11 years, I observe that some people recognise the trait within themselves to some degree, others do not.
Are You A Perfectionist?
Actually, instead of asking ‘Are you a perfectionist?’, it might be more useful to ask ‘Do you exhibit perfectionist tendencies at times?’ as the former question labels people; it suggests that a person is always a perfectionist, which is unlikely.
Perfectionism is setting excessively high standards and going above and beyond what is required.
Perfectionists tend to:
- Be overly self-critical
- Take things too seriously
- Need to be right
- Want things to be perfect
There is the story of an artist who didn’t paint anything, because it wouldn’t be perfect. The paintbox remained unused.
Conversely, Muslim rug makers put a fault in the design on purpose, as they believe that “Only Allah is perfect.”
Perfectionism can be subtle. Feeling annoyed with yourself for something you said or did and dwelling on it may be driven by perfectionism.
I notice that when I write blog articles, some perfectionism creeps in. I have to keep an eye on it, limit the number of times I re-read the article and get it out there!
I have worked with lawyers who tell me they will read an email 10-15 times before sending it to a client.
They sit on it for a day or two, and read it again several times before finally sending the email, having not added any further value.
They recognise that this is fear based thinking.
There have been times in my life when I had a need to be right; the stress I experienced in discussions was perhaps indicative of an attachment to wanting people to see things my way.
Now I am more interested in what’s right, not who is right.
ME/CFS And Perfectionism
How does perfectionism rear it’s head for someone with ME/CFS, who might not have the energy to do much?
You are being perfectionist if:
You find it difficult to leave a task unfinished.
You give yourself a hard time when you make a mistake, overdo it or relapse.
This means that you are taking things too seriously and generating stress, which is unhelpful to your recovery and wasteful of your precious and limited energy.
Click this link to read about strategies for dealing with a relapse
It may be that you were a perfectionist prior to becoming unwell. Some people do let go of that tendency when they became unwell, as they haven’t got the energy to invest in such behaviours.
I recognise that when I had ME/CFS, I was definitely over-critical and perhaps took things too seriously.
3 Steps For Dealing With Perfectionism
Step 1 – Identify What’s Driving The Perfectionism
When you notice perfectionism consider what is driving it. Is it:
- Believing that you will gain feelings of self worth?
- Avoiding criticism/disapproval?
- Avoiding making mistakes?
Step 2 – Pause
Take a moment to clear your mind.
Step 3 – Identify The Pragmatic Approach
Recognise that trying to be perfect is a no win strategy.
No one is perfect.
Some people think they are; I suspect that they are the people who need the most help, but are the least likely to seek it out!
Consider what constitutes a good enough job?
When you have the desire to keep going with a task, when your body is telling you to rest, consider what is more important. Is it:
- Getting the task done?
- Having a rest and putting some energy in the energy bank? If you consistently do this, it is likely that you will feel more able to do more, over time.
Going back to the example given above about lawyers, usually when the person reflects on the fact that they have not made lots of errors in the work they send out, they recognise that re-reading the email 3 – 5 times maximum is enough.
This frees up time and boosts productivity.
If you recognise the perfectionist trait, decide to take active steps to let go of this trait. Your body will thank you for it.
Where could you conserve your energy and actually enhance your energy by doing so?
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After working in a demanding job as the Director of a Housing Trust, he went off sick and remained unable to work for the next 8 years.
He discovered a pioneering approach to resolving health issues and got back his health, and now trains others using these same techniques.