I have been on a journey for the past 4 years to overcome my perfectionist tendencies and learn to live a life with more grace and compassion towards myself (all my Enneagram Ones, you feel me?).
Four years ago, I went through a round of therapy and did challenging, but rewarding work on this. Since then, it’s popped up here and there. But I’ve been able to manage it overall pretty well, especially when compared to how my perfectionism was before I had therapy.
And then I became a mom.
The most beautiful experience of my life, but, through another round of therapy, I realized that my perfectionism had come back in new ways. And I was pretty defeated. I had already worked so hard on this and it came back? Is this always how it is going to be?
Through this most recent round of therapy, I’ve found that the answer is yes and no.
My perfectionism is a deeply rooted trait in me. I’ve come to embrace that it will always be a part of me. But, I can learn to be a lot healthier with it and not let it continue to cause unhealthy patterns for me.
A concept I find myself leaning into often when coping with this fear of my perfectionism always being unhealthy is the idea of myelination. Myelination allows the brain to develop new neural pathways. While my “perfectionism pathways” have been there for a long time and are well substantiated, through hard work I can create new pathways. With time, those new pathways can gain more strength and space in my brain, but it is very likely that my perfectionism pathways will always be there, too.
Yung Pueblo, philosopher and poet, wrote in his book “Lighter” a piece that I felt captured this concept so well:
“Your immediate reaction
Does not tell you who you are
It is how you decide to respond after the reaction
That gives you real insight
Into how much you have grown
Your first reaction is your past
Your intentional response is your present.”Yung Pueblo, philosopher and poet
So, yes, I may have perfectionistic thoughts readily come forth in my mind for the rest of my life, but just because the thoughts are there doesn’t mean that I have to act on them or let them sit there as my truth. I can catch them when they come up, compassionately calm my perfectionism down, and then choose the response I actually want to move forward with.
While you may not be perfectionistic like me, there is likely a trait about you that you’ve perhaps interacted with in a similar way that I have with my perfectionism. If so, take heed, that part continually coming up for you doesn’t mean it will always be the main part of your story. Acknowledge that reaction, honor that it served a function for you in your past, but remember that it doesn’t have to continue serving that function in your present.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC