Perfectionism: Mapping the Vast Interior Part II/Heading South

Gail Yosemite painting

This is a continuation of a blog about perfectionism that began with a posting March 21, 2017: “Perfectionism: Mapping the Vast Interior Part I/Facing East.” Read it before starting Part II/Heading South if you can. Glad to welcome you all as we resume our journey around the Sacred Medicine Wheel, visiting the Four Directions and addressing the dilemmas of being perfectionistic.

How do we find the balance between self-improvement and an obsession with perfection that makes it hard to enjoy the improvements? Traveling to the South around the Sacred Medicine Wheel we learn to listen and trust what our bodies and the material world reveals is important.

Heading south on the sacred medicine wheel, I sense my awareness shift to what’s in front of me, the breeze from the garden. What’s for dinner? Did the dishwasher finish? It’s a concrete, tangible, diverse and detailed world that comes into view when we head south: our physical bodies, earth, nature, animals, material security, health, food and pleasure, technology, fun.

Sitting in the South, we consider how to connect with our bodies, listen and respond with care to our needs in healthy ways. We cultivate energy and resources to make a material difference for ourselves and others.

medicine-wheel

Perfectionistic standards about how we and our lives should look from family, friends, media, school or work can throw us off, making it hard to know what we want. These loosely inherited ideals and notions along with a lack of clearly defined goals leave us vulnerable to the internal critic and the feeling that our goals–or we– should appear different or “better” than we do.

We can become obsessed with how things look, physically, and stop paying attention to our experience, an infallible guide to creating meaning in worklife. Track down what’s influencing your professional and personal image of success. Not thin or rich enough, smart enough, hip enough? Says who? It helps to take stock of our influences and decide which to keep around and which to let go of.

List the “shoulds” and comparisons to others that go on in your head, discounting your creativity, originality and natural gifts. Begin to rein this in. If your natural talents go unseen, these fine specimens remain undeveloped and unrealized– because they’re not getting your or anybody else’s attention. The real you gets ruled out of existence. The real you has to wait or hide somewhere under cover while your life goes on, but in a somewhat false sense. Ever wonder what you really want out of life?

According to Bob Edelstein, LMFT  *

the freedom to be your authentic self allows you to choose goals that reflect your authentic core… This will allow you to see more options, as having to be perfect allows just one option meeting the stated goal.”

Doing things you’re naturally interested in is pleasurable, engaging and energizing. Extrapolate. Now what’s your version of success? What’s real wealth in your opinion? What’s your picture of health and material happiness for yourself and loved ones? The challenge of perfectionistic goal-setting in the material world is that it becomes easy to lose touch with one’s authentic self and as a result lose touch with what makes you happy. Is life-work balance more important than a bigger house? Is giving up a promotion to be there for a troubled teen a better decision? Is it time to stop discounting the “Small town college” you went to and put yourself out there?

Trust what you see, hear and experience; define your version of success, in actions step by step. Let go of comparing yourself to others and what they’ve attained. Know when enough is enough. Set aside perfectionistic thoughts and tendencies that blur your version of satisfaction for your life and work life. Be real and true to scrumptious you.

*From the Psychology Today blog, August 2015, “The Sins of Being Perfect: Releasing the need for perfection.”

Gail Nicholson, MA, LPC

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