Perfectionism can plague any of us. It sits in the deepest corner of our mind, whispering our biggest doubts and fears.
Perfectionism is more than just wanting to be good enough – it’s an insidious fear that we’ll never be good enough. Despite our accolades and achievements, shiny toys or expensive things, we fear we can’t and won’t measure up – that we don’t belong – that we can’t reach the same standards as others. It divides us, separates us and alienates us.
Although anyone – regardless of temperament or personality type – can struggle with perfectionism, I believe introverts experience this in a unique way.
Introverts have a lot of natural tendencies that can create fertile soil for perfectionism to grow. For example, our tendency to analyze, contemplate or replay that one awkward moment from five years ago creates a pattern of zeroing in on our weaknesses and overlooking our strengths. Our differing social needs, disdain for small talk and hesitancy to join in a group discussion can enhance our feelings of social isolation and of not meeting the societal expectations of an extrovert-approved life.
If you can relate to the feeling of wondering if you’re “good enough”, please hear me when I say this: it’s not your fault.
Most likely, you developed a perfectionistic standard for a reason. Perhaps, at some point in your life, you felt you had to be “perfect” because someone important in your life withheld their love or affection unless you met their standards – which were always changing or unreasonable.
Perhaps you developed it as a protection against feeling “less than” or wanted to prove your worth or potential. Or, maybe as an introvert in an extrovert-dominated culture, you’ve received the message that you’re not talkative enough, outgoing enough, friendly enough, sociable enough or energetic enough so many times that you’ve internalized their voices as truth.
Regardless of the reason for your drive for perfectionism, there are simple, actionable steps and mindset shifts you can learn to bridge the chasm between who you are and who you think you should be. You just need to overcome these three things:
You Focus Too Much on the “Shoulds”
From a young age, we’re taught to behave and act in certain ways – we learn what’s right and what’s wrong, how to respond to various social situations and ways to model the emotions and behaviors we see from those around us.
Part of this process is absolutely necessary to help us develop into a functioning and helpful members of society. However, this process also teaches us a lot about who we “should” be. As an introvert, it’s almost undeniable that you will be taught “acceptable” ways of behaving that completely contradict your natural tendencies and preferences.
Related: Best Books for Introverts
We can very quickly begin to create a list, whether consciously or subconsciously, of all the things we “should” be or do. We may feel that we should enjoy socializing more, have lots of friends, speak up in group settings, or be more outgoing.
We may also feel that we shouldn’t think so much, stay at home on the weekends, dislike small talk so passionately, or dread certain social events. Throughout our lives, all these “shoulds” start to add up and we can begin to feel that we simply don’t measure up.
But there’s a simple solution to the issue of the “shoulds”. The first step is in realizing that, as far as personality traits are concerned, there are NO “shoulds”!
We’re all unique individuals with differing attributes, preferences, and needs. Just because you were taught that you should accept a social invite, be more talkative or stop being so serious, doesn’t make it the truth! It’s liberating to realize that you have a choice – a choice about what will be true for you.
Ask yourself these questions to gain insight into your current belief system and see what previous truths you may be holding onto that simply don’t align with who you really are.
- Growing up, what personality traits were considered most valuable by those closest to you?
- Were you ever corrected or reprimanded for not being more talkative, social or some other common introvert misunderstanding?
- How have you been described by family members, peers or classmates?
- In what ways have you felt misunderstood or rejected by others?
- What expectations have you placed on yourself about what constitutes friendly, nice, or acceptable social behaviors?
Once you’ve done some self-reflection and sifted through your answers, the next step is to ask yourself if you want to continue holding onto these beliefs. If a certain thought, belief, or expectation isn’t helpful, let it go. Replace it with an “introvert truth” – that is, a thought or belief that reflects your strengths and considers your preferences as a perfectly acceptable way to live and be.
Finally, consider how you can start acting in accordance with your revised belief system. If a co-worker invites you to a group lunch and you really need to decompress, let them know that while you really appreciate the invite, you won’t be able to attend this time. Sometimes there’s not even a need for an explanation – own who you are and what you need.
Become your own best friend and most loyal supporter. You need no other approval!
You Don’t Recognize Your Strengths
Have you ever considered that all the ways in which introverts are negatively judged – like for being too quiet or too passive, for thinking too much and expressing too little, or for desperately desiring time to be alone – can also be viewed as strengths?
We’re constantly evaluating ourselves, who we are and what we want. And, more often than not, we’re focusing on our weaknesses. But we’re doing ourselves a great disservice by looking at ourselves from an extroverted lens.
As the saying goes, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You have to have the right perspective in order to come to a reasonable and wise conclusion about who you are and what you’re capable of achieving.
In order to start shifting the way you look at yourself, you need to reframe your perceived weaknesses as strengths. Take one of my previous coaching clients, Michelle, for example. Michelle had accepted what others had said about her – like how she was too quiet, needed to speak up more, and wouldn’t be well-suited for a leadership position – as truth.
This created lots of self-doubt and uncertainty as to what Michelle’s unique strengths and abilities were. Michelle had spent most of her life viewing herself from the wrong perspective. I started giving examples of typical introvert attributes (ones that are often criticized or dismissed) and highlighted the positive side of these traits.
For example, I noted how those who spend time in solitude are often creative, excellent problem solvers, and independent thinkers. I highlighted the fact that, in communication, listening, and being reflective are skills that many people have to work really hard at cultivating. And I noted that being able to sit in silence and to enjoy time alone are actually signs of a healthy self-image and comfortability with oneself.
Michelle was surprised and initially hesitant to accept that these traits – things that had been consistently looked upon with disapproval – were actually some of her greatest assets. This realization changed Michelle’s outlook on herself entirely and helped her create a life she truly wanted.
After strengthening her self-belief about who she was and what she was capable of, Michelle began working as an at-home business manager (something she had always wanted to do but didn’t believe was possible for her) and started earning an extra $15k a year that she wouldn’t have earned without going through this process – that’s an extra $225k she’ll earn during her working years even if she doesn’t improve any further.
After this accomplishment, Michelle sent me a message that I’ll never forget. She said “I’ve spent my whole life thinking something was wrong with me and that my best strengths came from how well I could fake being an extrovert. But once I realized that who I am is a strength in and of itself – the world opened up an endless amount of possibilities.”
There is incredible power to be gained by realizing that there is nothing wrong with you and that what you’ve been told is simply a matter of having the wrong perspective. Accepting this can transform your whole outlook on life – and, more importantly, the outlook you have about yourself and all that you can achieve.
You Feel You Can Always Do Better
As a child, I always struggled when someone said, “Just do your best!”, because to me, reaching my best was impossible because I could always do better.
I knew the sentiment was meant to encourage me, but it often left me more disappointed in myself, regardless of my performance or achievement. For many introverts who recognize that there’s always more to be done or more that can be learned or understood, we never quite reach that satisfied feeling.
Sometimes we unknowingly allow our strengths to lead into perfectionism, especially if we don’t know how to truly give ourselves credit for what we know and what we can do.
For example, introverts have an incredible ability to focus on a task or project for an extended amount of time. We use our superpowers of reflection and comprehensive awareness to consider all aspects of a situation and construct creative solutions to complex issues. Not only that, we often want to know everything about a topic or issue before we feel prepared enough to speak on it.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into the “perfectionistic vacuum” where we never get to the point that we think we know enough, so we don’t even share what we do know, so we never get validation that we do in fact know quite a bit about that topic or issue. This is perfectionism in action – we’re overachievers who’ve accomplished way more than we allow ourselves to acknowledge, but we never feel like it’s enough.
Here’s a list of common ways that perfectionism shows itself in our day to day lives, particularly when it comes to not feeling “good enough”:
- You dismiss others’ comments of congratulations or acknowledgments
- You have difficulty accepting compliments
- You rarely (if ever) seek outside approval or recognition
- You have difficulty feeling like something is ever really “done”
- You hold onto a project long after it’s completed because you might have something to add or change at some point
- You really don’t like sharing your “progress” on something; you want it to be completely finished before showing your work
- You have really high standards for yourself, often higher than what others have for themselves You have difficulty enjoying “free time” because you think you’re not being productive enough
Related: Why Done Is Better Than Perfect
So, what’s an introvert to do?
The solution is actually really straightforward: give yourself some credit!
Make a list of all the things you’ve accomplished – big and small. Start to recognize when you check something off your list or achieve a goal or even take one, small step in the direction you want to go. Trust me, your drive for achieving and improving won’t stop just because you paused to look at yourself in the mirror and to say, with all sincerity and love, “You are doing a great job.”
Of course, this can feel inauthentic or uncomfortable at first. But that’s just because you haven’t been doing it! Make congratulating yourself a normal part of life and you’ll begin to see all the wonderful qualities about you that were there all along.
Even more, you might start to realize that you have skills or talents that you’ve been dismissing or repressing because you haven’t allowed yourself to view them as strengths. Remember, whatever comes naturally to you, is a struggle for someone else.
Acknowledge who you are and all that you have to offer. No one else can do what only you were born to accomplish!
YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH – JUST AS YOU ARE!
Introverts have an array of dynamic and creative skills. We don’t have to accept the “shoulds” that have been placed on us by those who don’t even understand us.
We have strengths and abilities that distinguish us from the crowd and make us an incredible asset to any situation, project, or company. We are valuable simply because we exist – we don’t have to have a list of accomplishments or achievements to prove our worth. We have inherent worth by being a human on this beautiful planet.
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