I hear from a lot of women who set up unrealistic standards of perfectionism for their homes and themselves. I’ve heard all the variations of it, my towels have to be folded a certain way, or only *I* can load the dishwasher the right way, or even a right way to vacuum so that the marks in the carpet go exactly the right way. Or even – I can’t even go to sleep unless my kitchen is spotless or all my shoes are put away.
I’m all for doing a good job and you certainly want to try your best when you are doing a task, but to declare that there is only ONE right way to do something is pretty harsh. It’s actually a form of bullying and it can be extremely hurtful and belittling to your family members. You are saying that it’s” Your way or the highway”, both to yourself and to the people who live with you. How could that not lead to resentment, unnecessary stress, and hard feelings on both sides?
The High Cost of Perfectionism to your Family
No one wants feel incompetent, or to be told – often in an unkind tone, that their work is never good enough. It isn’t even kind to yourself. You feel that unrelenting pressure to live up to your standards of perfectionism, even if it isn’t convenient for you. You must clean that kitchen to perfection every night, even if you are exhausted, because if you don’t, you’ll feel like a failure. You’d never treat your friends like that, so why would you treat yourself and your family so harshly?
It’s so much more healthy to put the people first and the “things” second. Here’s an example: My friend from work sadly said his wife was such a perfectionist that she vacuumed the house three times every day. I just pictured their three young children sitting on the couch holding their feet up so their Mommy could spend all her energy cleaning the carpet rather than doing things with them. And I’m sure it wasn’t just the carpet, it was the dishes, the laundry, the baseboards, ALL the things! Kids don’t stay little for very long and no one expects a mom with little ones to have a perfect house.
And heaven help the family member who offers to help you. You’ll likely end up by redoing the work, either right in front of them with a few scathing comments, OR you later redo it when you notice it isn’t up to your high standards. Ouch! Just think if you lived with someone even more perfect than you and she always criticized the way you cleaned things. You’d be crushed!
The Vicious Cycle of Perfectionism
This creates a vicious cycle – you have to do ALL the work because you can’t feel happy with the way anyone else does it. Then you feel put upon because you have to work so hard all the time and no one is helping. But when they do try to help, they just get endless criticism so they give up. It’s just a never-ending cycle and it creates some real tension and unnecessary hostility between you and your family.
As you may have guessed, I’ve had some negative experiences with a perfectionist in my family. I’m not going to say who it was because they’ve passed away and I don’t like to air dirty laundry. But believe me, you remember the sting of those harsh words for years to come, even after the person is long gone. They did have some good moments, but the bad memories and hurtful feelings are what I remember most. It’s like a red sock in a load of white laundry, the bad memories overwhelm the good ones.
Family relationships can be hard enough without that extra-prickly layer that perfectionism adds in. Even a few harsh words can make a huge difference in how someone feels about their home. Now that two of my sons have their own homes, I try very hard to never criticize their housekeeping or decor. In fact, I make a big effort to find nice things that I can admire and comment positively on.
So, what is YOUR perfectionism costing you? Have you ever thought about how your husband or children feel when you push them away or grouch at them when they try to help? Years from now, how do you want to be remembered?
Signs of Perfectionism
1. You never feel like you’re doing enough even when you’re working SO hard!
2. You strive for high-achievement – an A isn’t enough when you could’ve had an A+.
3. You cannot accept and celebrate your success. There are always more tasks on the to-do list.
4. You don’t allow yourself ANY mistakes and you’re even harder on other’s mistakes
5. You pretend things are okay, but secretly you worry about being judged by others.
6. You stick to what you know and avoid challenges or uncomfortable situations where you might not be the best.
7. You procrastinate and struggle with getting things done on time. If you can’t do it perfectly, why bother?
8. You believe your likeability is linked to how clean your home is (read the Shame of a Messy House)
9. You feel like you’re chasing a moving finish line.
10. You are hypercritical of yourself and others.
The Voice of Perfectionism in Your Head
What do you think is driving this almost-compulsive need for perfection? Listen closely to the voice in your head. Is it a parent, a grandmother, or an overly harsh teacher? Is it just a feeling that you aren’t good enough – because you are, I’m sure of it. We’re all basically pretty good people with a few small faults.
I think sometimes it’s kind of like anorexia. They say that people with that disease feel that their food intake is the one thing they can control in their lives. I wonder if perfectionism is the same way. There are so many things you can’t control in life, but I guess you can control the way your towels are folded or your silverware is put away. I don’t know – perfectionism is definitely not one of my particular flaws.
Let’s try a little experiment. If you struggle with perfectionism in a particular area, what would happen if you tried to do something differently? Not forever, but just for a day or so. Go ahead, go to that linen closet and mess up those towels. Go ahead and go do it now. Just mess it all up and then shut the door and walk away.
It will probably trigger a feeling of extreme uneasiness, maybe even a panic attack. But just wait it out and keep repeating to yourself – it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Resist all urges to fix it or to apologize to people about it. No one cares but you. Seriously. Just try to let it be for a couple of days and soon I think you’ll find that it really doesn’t matter.
It’s a silly thing floating around in your head is all. It’s just a linen closet for heaven’s sake! No one in this universe, cares what you do in the privacy of your own linen closet. Well – maybe your Mom does, but we won’t tell her, will we?
Now breathe and go make some fun memories with your family. Go have some ice cream, take a nature walk, or go jump on the trampoline with them. Maybe throw in a round of Monopoly or miniature golf. Those are the memories you want them to have of you twenty years from now.