In recent months, we have coached a number of teenage girls in schools and women in business about how to grow their self-confidence. One common theme that resonated from these sessions despite age is the desperate need to be perfect. And it starts young.
What is perfectionism?
Recent research by Girlguiding UK found that a quarter of 7-10 year old girls felt the need to be perfect. However, the real dip in self-esteem seems to appear around the age of 12. Yes, puberty and hormones can have an impact on how we view ourselves, but the social media era we now live in is also a major contributor to creating a negative self-perception with comparison to others. This might include taking the perfect selfie, having the perfect figure, having the perfect social life.
Perfectionism isn’t about being perfect, it’s about feeling perfect.
Perfectionism stems from a dissatisfaction of who we are. Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals for themselves and tend to dismiss positive facts about their performance. Achievement is linked to self-worth and so perfectionists fear making even the smallest mistakes as they feel that this will affect how people perceive them. They link their value to approval from others. As such perfectionists tend to stress more and achieve less than regular high achievers.
Most people engage in perfectionist tendencies at some point in their lives. Have you ever heard yourself saying things like…
‘People will think that’s a stupid question’
“I’ve eaten a chocolate bar. I have no self-control’
‘I can’t be a mum and a manager at work because I won’t do either job well’
‘Why is everyone better/more successful/happier than me’.
‘I should be better at this by now’
Our inner critical voice
Everyone has an inner critical voice. It’s the negative voice in our heads that questions our own abilities. It can cause various levels of stress, depending on how often it visits us.
I remember several years ago when I worked for TIME Magazine in Hong Kong, I was sat at a fairly intimate dinner in Bangkok with Thai company CEOs, politicians and actors. I remember thinking that it was such a surreal experience and wondered how I, aged 32, could be seated around the table too. When I voiced this to the TIME Editor, a lovely man called Michael Elliott, he said firmly, ‘because you deserve to be here.’ I have always felt myself to be a confident person, but at that moment, I allowed myself to feel inferior to the other people present. Why? Because I questioned my abilities instead of feeling proud of my achievements.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be and it affects women more than it affects men. It is believed that this is because women produce less testosterone – the confidence hormone. The more accomplished and successful a woman is, the more prevalent the negative self-talk can manifest. It can drive us to work hard to achieve more but it can also be quite debilitating to our happiness.
At school, it might be that we don’t ask for help if we need it or as an adult we don’t go for a promotion as we don’t feel we have enough knowledge. We can all suffer imposter syndrome at times but for some it can become a crippling anxiety that stems from the constant need to appear perfect.
It’s important to remember that these thoughts are our own. These thoughts are tied to our beliefs about ourselves. Our own irrational beliefs that can affect our self-esteem and ultimately crush our confidence. It is great to strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves: conscientious, hardworking and organised. But it is not healthy to be preoccupied with past errors, fearful of making new mistakes or allow self-doubt to lead to procrastination.
If you are struggling with the need to be perfect, there are strategies you can practice so you can be a high achiever, without the negative impact and stress that perfectionism brings. This will ultimately boost your confidence and happiness levels.
We are offering a workshop on Developing Confidence at Work on Saturday July 6th at Castle Point Library in Bournemouth where we will cover ways to overcome the top confidence killers and strategies to manage our negative inner voice by developing strong emotional intelligence. For more details, please go to our Universal Mindfulness booking page.