Perfectionism and people-pleasing — tendencies that give us a false feeling of benefit.
Take a look at the tree in the picture. It is “living” in the wrong place; it is crooked and seems to be an outsider compared to other trees — the normal trees growing in normal places. Yet, it is “The Wanaka Tree” — the most photographed tree in New Zealand.
It sure is not perfect, nor does it strive to be perfect. However, it is unique. And its’ uniqueness drives visitors from all around the world.
Why do we, humans, try to achieve certain man-made standards by striving for perfectionism and living lives trying to please others around us?
A study suggests that during the past three decades, perfectionism has increased. Self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent, and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.
The common factors of why so many people struggle with perfectionism include social media comparison, the drive to earn money, the pressure to get a good education, setting lofty career goals, etc.
What Are The Roots Of Perfectionism And People-Pleasing?
The root cause of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements.
I struggled with perfectionism soooo much (I still do a little bit), and I know many people who are held back by this seemingly innocent thing.
It sounds harmless and well-intentioned, like “I just want it to be done well,” “I just want to be good,” “I want to achieve good results.” But in reality, it does us more harm than good.
How perfectionism holds us back is by assuring us that we are never good enough.
It tells us we need to arrive at this perfect place. But, each time we want to get closer, the perfect place just runs further away from us, leaving us frustrated, discouraged, and unhappy.
Perfectionism makes us think we will not be worthy enough if we don’t arrive at this perfect place.
We fear we will not make the project good enough, prepare perfectly, perform flawlessly, etc. As a result, we procrastinate more than we take bold action steps.
Consequently, by not taking enough action, we feel guilty instead of feeling confident. Perfectionism is closely related with procrastination.
Confidence comes from taking action.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t need to lower high goals and high standards we have. We just can’t place our worth, well-being, and happiness in whether we achieve it right here, right now, or not.
Perfectionism is usually birthed in childhood, for example, when you compare yourself with other classmates. You are not as good or popular as others, and you strive to be like they are because you want to feel loved and accepted. You feel like you need to prove something.
Personally, I wasn’t very social and, therefore, popular in school. One thing I was known for was I always earn good grades. I started to identify myself and my worth with good grades and academic achievements.
I was subconsciously compensating for the feeling of social rejection and misapprehension with outstanding achievements academically. In other words, I was striving to be perfect to prove my worth. I can only say that it was a dead-end road.
Perfectionism is also birthed in a family environment if parents have been demanding of good grades. For performing less than they expect, you might see the disappointed looks on their faces.
We all need to feel loved and accepted. Yet, it is disturbing that we face so many toxic situations in childhood that make us ground our self-worth upon achievements.
Do schools teach us that we are worthy, loved, and accepted just before any achievements? Or they make us strive harder for those good grades out of fear of failing?
“If I don’t do it good enough, I will not be good,” is the message most people receive in their childhood. No wonder we become sick with perfectionism.
People-pleasing is similar to perfectionism, as it is born out of the need for approval.
It also gives the imaginary feeling of being loved, accepted, approved. Yet, in reality, it always leaves us feeling less valuable. Because our approval does not come from other people. The feeling of value comes from fulfilling our purpose — doing what we love to do or are good at and doing it for the right reasons.
The danger of being a people-pleaser is that when we do something (or avoid doing something) because of fear of what others say and to please them, we lose ourselves. We lose out on time and opportunities to fulfill OUR purpose.
I have been a people pleaser for quite a while as well. Out of a deep, subconscious need to feel accepted and involved, I kept on working what I had been working for quite a time. Although, it really was time to honestly question, “what is my next step in finding my true purpose?”
Searching for what is “my thing” and what truly aligns with my purpose seemed scary because it felt like loneliness. I did not want to feel lonely as I was in my High School years. I wanted to be a part of a community where I was loved and appreciated, even at the cost of my own personal growth.
Yet, the transition from one community to another is just a short season of loneliness. You find your soulmates wherever you are fulfilling your purpose for the season you’re in.
People-pleasing behavior is also when you’re so hungry for approval that you become eager to avoid conflicts. So you say “yes,” even when you don’t want to.
It is the deep subconscious fear of rejection and “not being good enough” that makes us sacrifice what our heart and intuition say for the sake of feeling accepted. Feeling that others are pleased with us and satisfied with what we say and do.
Need not to say that people-pleasing also exhibits neediness, and that pushes people away.
People are drawn to confidence. People-pleasing can be sensed, and subconsciously people feel you are not authentic, and that pushes away. Which only adds to the feeling of unworthiness.
People-pleasing has its’ roots in childhood — in parental emotional inconsistency. As parents are dealing with their own problems, or worse, one of them being addicted, for example, to alcohol, the child learns that he/she cannot rely on the parent.
The coping mechanism is subconsciously formed — to do whatever it takes to keep the situation normal.
Hide your feelings, fake, please, only to keep the parents happy and the situation normal. The child feels that parental emotional inconsistency is his/her fault.
Here are three steps how you can overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing tendencies by developing unconditional self-worth:
Step # 1
Realize that you are not living out the objective reality — your worth has been grounded in the wrong source.
One of the most important things is the way we see ourselves — our self-image. The fact that we feel not good enough does not actually mean we are not good enough. Even if we have believed it all our lives.
This belief was built in toxic circumstances because other people were unaware of how their actions, words, and attitudes affect us.
You have probably heard this,
Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.
Let’s just use the most simple example of school and grades.
You didn’t get the grade report you wanted, and for example, brother or sister did. They got approval and recognition, while we didn’t get anything but disappointed looks from the parents.
That sent subconscious programming into our minds, “You are not good enough unless you fulfill the requirements/achieve.”
If you didn’t get into University you wanted, which saddened people around you, you received the subconscious message: “You are not good enough. You made others disappointed. Next time strive harder.”
Yet, it was not the objective reality. The attitudes of parents and teachers were impacted by the programming they received. If they never healed from the false belief “to be good enough, you need to perform well,” they passed it on further.
Until you are here now, three, four generations later, believing the false reality that you are not good enough.
The truth is that your achievements do not determine your value. You have unconditional value only because of being born into this world — being a human.
Ask yourself — what stories from childhood have you received that you believe as the objective truths? Start questioning those because they might never have been birthed out of the right place.
Take a quiet moment, journal, and really ask yourself why you believe you are not good enough and need to prove something?
Step # 2
Accept yourself as you are with flaws, embrace insecurities, let go of what others think.
I have been a chronic perfectionist, and I was struggling with feeling depressed about failures a lot. I could go for weeks dwelling on a failure and analyzing all the situations in my mind where I could have done something differently.
Yet, it is such a false facade — there are tons of different ways to turn out things. Everyone has flaws, and everyone fails. We live in an imperfect world, and we are imperfect beings. That is just what it is.
Let’s embrace this truth and love ourselves and our lives even with flaws and failures.
Doesn’t matter that you have not yet arrived at the goal you dream about. That does not make you less worthy.
It doesn’t matter if you had an embarrassing failure in front of other people — they have already forgotten about it, and you should forget too.
You have unconditional value. Imagine a 100 dollar sign — whether used a lot or never used, dirty or clean, been in the hands of famous actors or in the hands of homeless man, the value does not change! It still has the same worth!
“There is no way to genuinely, powerfully, and truly love yourself while crafting a mask of perfection.” — Vironika Tugaleva
Let go of what others think. People view things from their own perspective most of the time and act out of their interests.
There are always going to be people that will misunderstand you, judge you. Worrying about what they think is a sure way to anxiety and unhappiness.
Accept the imperfection, flaws, mistakes, possible failures, and roadblocks that everyone faces who intends to achieve great goals and make an impact in the world.
Step # 3
Ground your worth in the right source.
If we don’t place our worth in achievements, where do we place it?
As I mentioned, I was a chronic perfectionist and a routine people-pleaser. What has helped me decrease these tendencies has been shifting the source of my worth from external things (achievements, successes, status, approval, recognition, etc.) to unconditional self-worth.
When I started to love myself and discover my life purpose, I also started to see the pointlessness of perfectionism and people-pleasing.
Perfectionism and people-pleasing do not bring us closer to OUR goals and purpose; instead, these tendencies repulse us from our goals and purpose.
We have a worth inside of us already from the moment we are born. Actually, even since the moment, we are conceived. And circumstances, the family you are born into, or the lack of family, environment, upbringing — it all does not diminish our value even by a slight percent.
Our worth is determined by our Creator, just like a sculptor is the one defining the value of his sculpture.
Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, it is apparent that thinking we are a result of a random coincidence is a thought that depreciates our value. It does not serve neither us nor to the glory of the God who has created all the beauty on this earth, including us humans.
I am a Christian; therefore, I believe that we were bought at an invaluable price. Because God sent His only son to die for us at the cross so we could live a life of freedom, abundance, confidence, being aware of our worth.
Where do you ground your self-worth?
What is that intuition inside of you whispering you are more, and you were made for more?
When you embrace your flaws, learn to accept and love yourself, you can ground your self-worth in your’s uniqueness.
Of course, nothing will change if you don’t act. Still, the starting point of action should be “I am good, valuable and unique just as I am even before any achievements” instead of “when I will achieve that, I will be good enough.”
See, when you see yourself as worthy, you act out of whole different reality. You don’t want to spend time, energy, and lost time pleasing others.
You want to grow and live out your unique life. And you want to impact others with it. You can actually do that by living out the best version of yourself you can live.
One of the best ways to change this is with positive, tailor-made affirmations. Take a moment to write down the 3–5 most common limiting beliefs about yourself, e.g., “I am not good enough,” “I don’t matter unless I do the job well,” and then turn them into opposites.
Such as “I am always enough,” “I matter,” “I am created for a purpose, and my life has a meaning,” “I am always worthy regardless of my achievements or the lack of them”, etc.
Use them every day out loud for at least two months, and see the vital transformation in yourself and your life!
Growing up and during the first part of my 20s, I took perfectionism as a completely normal part of my everyday life and was not even aware of deep subconscious people-pleasing tendency.
Only now, looking back, I realize the ways these tendencies have been holding me back.
The anxiety of needing to prove something, the stress of not being good enough, replay of different scenarios in my mind of what I could have done differently, etc., had taken a lot of my valuable energy.
Discovering that my worth is not grained in achievements, but rather it is an a priori — independent of experience. We have a worth as human beings, and we matter even before any achievements or experiences.
The next step for the transformation was rewiring my brain, so I overwrite the past false beliefs with the new reality that I am worthy, and I am good enough. Unconditionally.
Yet, we cannot actually get rid of perfectionism completely. We can just replace it more and more with anchoring our self-worth in things that don’t change. A big part of developing unconditional self-worth is accepting ourselves as we are — with our flaws, imperfections, weirdness, and mistakes we make. To love ourselves unconditionally.
So don’t strive for perfectionism as the basis for your self-worth — strive for learning to love yourself just as you are.