Self-bullying perfectionism can suck the joy out of success and ruin our lives. It’s one of the worst forms of negative self-talk. We know that harassing, abusive, inner voice that focuses only on what we didn’t do perfectly according to some old standard that was shoved down our throats when we were children. It has the most horrible, bullying tone when it picks on our emotions, spirit and flesh. It’s all-or-none when it reminds us of the 1% we didn’t do perfectly according to our parents’ standards for us. It’s full of should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.
It makes us 100% responsible for every problem; it points out how we never do enough, give enough, say enough. It’s demeaning, smug and sarcastic. It stacks up every mistake we ever made or failure we ever had. Of course it knows every hot button and self-hatred trigger we have. It can generate blame, shame and guilt in an instant.
The effects of perfectionistic self-flagellation are obvious – increased anxiety, stress and depression; a sense of failure even in the midst of success and happiness; a foreboding about the future that leads to desperation and panic; insecurity, self-doubt, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Especially debilitating is the internal argument with the side that puts us down relentlessly and the side that tries to defend us – usually weaker and defensive, especially when we’re tired or getting sick or alone and lonely.
Perfectionism guarantees inner emptiness, pain and self-loathing. No matter how much we succeed, no matter how much we’re praised, it’s never enough to heal our inner wounds. That inner voice always reminds us that we’re imposters, failures who’ll be unmasked eventually. We’re like hamsters spinning our wheels; afraid that if we slow down, disaster awaits losers like us.
Nit-picking perfectionism turned outward can help us succeed by harassment, bullying and abuse of others. But turned inward, it’s an incapacitating method of judging our self-worth.
Whether people in our childhoods were simply mean, nasty and rotten; whether they thought they had to protect us from the character flaws they saw in us; whether that was the only way they knew how to express love and caring, or how to motivate us doesn’t matter much now that we’re adults.
Once we’ve overcome the internal war over perfectionism and how to motivate ourselves, we can decide what we think about them and how we want to interact with them now, if at all. We set the standards of acceptable behavior and how people talk with each other – about what and when. We’re in charge of our adult personal spaces.
The real work is not about forgiveness; it’s about taking charge of our lives according to our own standards.
Those relentless, childhood put-downs and bullying by our parents, siblings, classmates or other people led us to split into two warring sides. One side took on the perfectionistic, self-bully voice; we continue beating ourselves down long after we’ve left those people or even after they’re dead. The other side argued and defended us against the attacks. It champions our success and tries to affirm our strength and a wonderful future that’s possible. It often asserted itself by making us mutiny against what those tormentors told us to do; whether that’s really good for us or not.
In my experience, there are many paths to overcome self-bullying perfectionism, but they all lead to a similar goal. The goal is to heal the wound of the original split, end the war and create one centered, adult part that coaches us to choose the future we want to create and to pursue it with determination, courage, perseverance and grit.
When we accomplish this, our paths open up. Our internal self-talk stops being negative and becomes encouraging and strengthening. We develop realistic goals and expectations. We motivate ourselves by desire for the future we want instead of by avoiding the pain of old wounds lacerated. We decide what’s good enough. We and can enjoy our success and happiness.