There are two sides to perfectionism – a positive side and a destructive side.
In my last post, I spoke about perfectionism being a personality trait – a part of who we are. Like many personality styles, there are two sides to perfectionism – a positive, healthy side and a not-so-positive and – dare I say – destructive side.
And while you may have come into your pregnancy with perfectionistic tendencies, they can take on a different look in pregnancy….and beyond. After all, from a perfectionist’s perspective, now there is a whole other series of things to have to be perfect about– from having a healthy pregnancy (and growing a healthy baby)…to the delivery…..to motherhood. One thing that I hear over and over again from pregnant ladies – especially those with other children as well – is that they are sinking under the guilt of inadequacy. Of never being good enough.
Pregnancy is a good time to step back and sort out whether you have healthy or destructive perfectionistic tendencies….so that you can move forward in a more emotionally healthy way.
Here’s the difference between the healthy side and the “dark” side of perfectionism:
Healthy perfectionists set high goals, but….
- They are also able to be satisfied with their performance – and with their lives.
- They may push themselves hard, but it is from a healthy place of wanting to meet their goals – not from trying to be worthy.
Unhealthy perfectionists set high goals, too, but….
- They set unattainably high goals. NOBODY could ever reach them.
- They try to meet these goals by being at their VERY best ALL the time (PS It’s exhausting to live under such crushing standards).
- They live under a crushing guilt –
- They rarely relax and take pleasure in their accomplishments.
- And, because they’re uncertain about their abilities and talents, they feel the need to prove themselves over and over again. So, they push themselves…hard….and over the edge.
Unhealthy perfectionists are being destroyed from the inside out.
Sorry for being so dramatic.
How Do I Know If I’m an Unhealthy Perfectionist?
There are some tell-tale questions you can ask yourself to know whether you fall into the category of the unhealthy perfectionist. Basically, there are three areas that cause unhealthy perfectionists pain…and each of them makes you more vulnerable to prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety:
- I Can’t Fail! You believe that mistakes, performing sub-par, or not being at your best make you inadequate – less than others. Gaining more weight than you expected in pregnancy, being more tired than your friend who is pregnant AND has a toddler, and not feeling like you have it “as together” as your pregnant neighbour can all set off the “I Can’t Fail” Syndrome.
- I Must Be Perfect! You have unreasonably high standards, expecting yourself to be perfect at everything, at all times. This is the inner critic that berates you when you think that you should be happy every moment of your pregnancy, or shouldn’t need support to care for your 18-month old when you are suffering from pregnancy fatigue. It’s that inner voice that is so subtle it’s almost indistinguishable – but it leaves you with the pain of shame that you are not what you should be as a mother to this new baby or your 2-year old, the guilt from believing that other pregnant mothers certainly don’t get impatient with their toddler, and the fear that all of this inadequacy is somehow ruining the unborn baby and affecting your toddler.
- Others are Crushing Me! You believe that others expect you to be perfect, and this puts you under huge pressure to perform perfectly, all the time – no breaks given. This is a particularly tough area during pregnancy…and beyond. Everyone has a piece of advice and shares their wisdom about what you should be doing differently – better. It all circles around to make you feel, well, less than.
There is Hope!
I like to end posts with a message of hope because I do see hope in even the darkest emotional struggles. Next time, I’ll share a 3-minute assessment that you can use to help identify whether you are a healthy or an unhealthy perfectionist. Often, women have an “aha” moment when they learn more about themselves – and there is a freeing validation about that. Following that, I’ll share what you can do to turn unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies into healthy ones so that you can feel relief from the guilt – and move forward emotionally healthy.
Until next time,