If you work for a perfectionist or are married to a perfectionist you may be more interested in improving their relationship with their inner child than they are. In other words, you may be more painfully aware of the negative consequences of the perfectionist’s dated mental model then they are likely to be! This is especially true if they still believe in the validity of their early compromises, mental models and beliefs that are in part maintained by rituals that recreate the “at home” feeling of their childhood. In essence, they reach for ever higher achievements only to depreciate them once they have been mastered. All of this is designed to keep their real goal out of awareness and to insure that it continually eludes their conscious awareness. This is because like all defenses what is being played out on the conscious level is an illusion protecting the real pain which is often inaccessible to the conscious mind. The good news is that perfectionist can become aware of their prescription for self-defeat and eventually realize that winning many battles has little meaning if the war is lost. But, to accomplish this they must be encouraged to acknowledge and value their true selves and their genuine relationships more than the illusion of success that drives them away from themselves and others.
Here are a few ideas that have potential to transform perfectionism into genuine personal mastery:
1. Evaluate accomplishments by their emotional outcome. Behavior is a function of its consequences. If striving and accomplishment leads to self-depreciating feelings begin to question why this pattern recurs. There is likely to be gratification at another level that is outside of conscious awareness. Ponder all of this before going to bed at night to encourage insight.
2. Re-direct some efforts from continuous and unnecessary striving to curiosity about the real self.
3. Do the harder thing by increasing your tolerance for ambiguity and the anxiety it creates.
4. Begin to re-evaluate parental imperatives as the best your parents could do, not the best you can do. Your task is to discover who you are and what you believe, and return the borrowed “capital” to its source.
5. Challenge your self-belittling in all of its forms as soon as you become aware of it.
6. Serenely bare the pain of being displeasing to yourself at all times.
7. Try to tolerate anxiety by sharing your discomfort with trusted others. Continue to do this until your new relationship with yourself begins to replace the old “at home” feeling from the past.
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