Journeying Toward Wholeness

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PERFECT Misery #2: Perfectionism and Procrastination

October 6th, 2013 · perfectionism, perfectionism and procrastination, procrastination

To continue the themes from my initial satirical post on finding perfect misery through perfectionism, here’s an option that the true misery connoisseur should not pass up:   the “perfectionism and procrastination” combo.

perfectionism and procrastination

This little number has it all: the perfect combination of eternally deferred gratification and endlessly shooting oneself in the foot.

The Subtle Dance of Perfectionism and Procrastination

As Dr. Tim Pychyl of Carleton University stresses, perfectionism and procrastination can be fundamentally related if the perfectionism that  the individual suffers from is very other-directed, and related to anxious concern to meet the expectations of others.  If we were to put this in Jungian terms, we would see this as the type of  perfectionism that is wedded to meeting highly collective expectations, to a persona, or outward presentation that is very sensitive to gaining the approval of others, and to a sense of self that is highly dependent on gaining others’ positive regard.

Dr, Pychyl also cites other research that would indicate that such “socially-prescribed perfectionism” is related to procrastination, depression, reduced self-esteem, anxiety, and dealing with shame.

In depth psychological terms, what is going on here?

Unrelated to Instinct, Body

perfectionism and procrastination

Jungian analyst Marion Woodman sheds considerable light:

The technological age is propelling us into a space quite unrelated to our instincts.  We have forgotten how to listen to our bodies: we pop pills for everything that goes wrong with us….  We can turn ourselves over to medicine without ever questioning what the body is trying to tell us.  To our peril, we assume that it has no wisdom of its own….  

As a culture, we are not in touch with our instinctual roots, and parents tend to treat their children as if they too were machines instead of human beings with feelings and fears.  If the child is treated that way, consciously or unconsciously, it in turn treats itself that way…

Woodman illustrates the effect of this on the individual with a quotation from a 20 year old client:

“When can I get out of this box?  I drag my body around as if it’s some gross foreign object.  I’m so scared of cancer and war and school and what other people think [italics mine]….  What am I doing?  I keep setting these standards for myself and I just can’t do it.  I can’t do anything.  NOTHING!  NOTHING! Ugly, filthy, fat slob!”

~Addiction to Perfection, © 1982 Marion Woodman

The viciousness of such lack of self-acceptance is staggering.  Yet here we see clearly how totally we can lose ourselves in slavish devotion to machine-like perfection.

Perfectionism, Procrastination, Inflation

Woodman makes the point that this perfectionism is grounded in a god-like inflation, which is fundamentally rejecting of our individual, vulnerable, fleshly humanity.  In the name of meeting the ruthless onslaught of the expectations of our society and of others, we seek to turn ourselves into god or goddess, standing aloof above the human condition.  She sees this portrayed mythologically in the contrast between the goddess of Athena, the paragon of perfection, and her archrival Medusa “whose snaky locks twist and writhe in constant agitation, reaching… wanting more and more…”:

The “terror of knowing what this world is about” is the crushing weight of the meeting the expectations of others and of the world as carried by the perfectionist.

To be freed from this burden, and released into the acceptance of our own mortal, instinctual lives — this is at the heart of the journey of individual psychotherapy.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by alex.shultz ; Brett Jordan
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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4 Steps to PERFECT Misery Through Perfectionism: # 1

September 4th, 2013 · perfectionism

Perfectionism, a many-headed hydra, poisons the creativity, spontaneity and vitality of a huge, diverse range of persons.

perfectionism At the extreme end of this spectrum are people who might be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or similar afflictions.  But it is no less of an issue for a great many other people.  It can rob the most gifted and the most humble alike.  Generally, perfectionism has its roots in a complex. This post is a bit satirical.  It’s on how to be PERFECTLY miserable through perfectionism.  Or, if you don’t want to be… here’s some things to avoid like the plague!

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Rule of Perfectionist Misery #1:  “ABC — Always Be Comparing”

A keystone element of perfectionism is that it’s essential to keep measuring myself by the yardstick of others, if I’m to find any true worth. So, I can never just be intrinsically happy with what I’ve done or accomplished or am: the only time I can feel good about anything is when I’ve done as well as  anybody else has ever done.

Keep Compulsively Looking Over Your Shoulder…

…because that’s the best way to ensure that all your approval is external, and so to completely hand all judgment on your worth over to others.  As a way to live, this is hellish: as a form of self-inflicted torture, it’s exquisite.  The truly sad thing is that many are convinced that the only way to have any value in their own eyes is to get it from others. The true perfectionist lives in constant fear of disapproval. The key to real misery is to never ask myself how I feel about myself — how I really feel about me. If I just spend my whole life abjectly trying to achieve the hopeless and win the approval of the Inner Judge of my perfectionism complex– which may be rooted in conditionally approving figures from my past, generalized social values, or even a certain version of God — then I can have an endless supply of insecurity, self-hate and misery.  And who wouldn’t want that?

perfectionism

Never Look at Your Uniqueness

Another excellent way to hurt myself through perfectionism is to shun anything suggesting that my life might be different from the lives of others.  To insist that I must be measured precisely by the yardstick applied to everybody else, because there’s no real difference between people.   Seen this way, the fact that I don’t write poetry like Shakespeare means that I should never write poetry, because “I’m no good at it”; the fact that I don’t play basketball like Michael Jordan means that I should never pick up a ball. Related to this is making the choice to never listen to, or trust my own inner voice.

 Beyond the Tyranny of Perfectionism

It’s an excruciatingly painful thing to feel that I can never be enough for myself.

perfectionism

The journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy is very often a healing of our capacity for compassion for ourselves. A healing of our capacity to genuinely value ourselves, and to respect the unique road that is our lives. If you suffer under the burden of perfectionism, I invite you to explore individual psychotherapy as a possible way to freedom.

PHOTOS: © Oreena | Dreamstime.com Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by Kevin Lawver  ;
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Therapy, Stress Reduction & Perfectionism

November 17th, 2011 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, perfectionism, stress, stress reduction

stress reduction

There is a clear link between stress reduction and perfectionism, when these two things are viewed from the perspective of Jungian therapy.

Roots of Perfectionistic Stress

Often perfectionism and much associated stress are rooted in complexes, those “knots” or “eddies” of feeling toned energy in our minds, that often have their roots in traumatic occurrences.

 Never Enough

Often, the negative side of the father, mother or family complexes can lead to a continual sense that whatever we do or produce is not enough.  Another factor in the continual striving to make what we do better can be the shadow, which is the sum total of all those aspects of ourselves that we don’t wish to acknowledge.  Our anxiety about these unacknowledged aspects of ourselves can drive us to strive ever more relentlessly to try to cover our weakness and imperfection.

Unrealistic expectations for ourselves are rooted in a lack of willingness to accept our own fundamental nature, with its particular strengths and weaknesses. This is a kind of pride.

The Sisyphus Agenda

In Greek myth, because of his pride, Sisyphus is eternally condemned to push a heavy rock up to the top of a mountain.  He never can finish the task, and the rock continually rolls back downhill, and must be raised again. The eternal exhaustion and frustration of Sisyphus are an apt image for the struggle and stress of perfectionism.

Often, our own perfectionism can have this feeling of an endlessly wearing, endlessly frustrating ordeal.  I know I have rolled the rock of perfectionism up the endlessly defeating hill more than a time or two in the past!

Accepting Ourselves and the World

Recently, a Facebook friend, Paulette Turcotte, posted “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen on her wall.  The song is a remarkable commentary on perfectionism, and on our need to accept the shadowy and broken dimensions of life.

Cohen’s lyrics are profoundly expressive:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything…

That’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in

We don’t get perfection in this life, either inside of ourselves, or outside.  If we can accept this, and have some compassion for ourselves, then perhaps we can make some peace with the demands that we make on ourselves, and equally importantly, set appropriate boundaries for the demands that others make on us.

PHOTO:  © All rights reserved by New Visions2010
VIDEO:  “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen © 2011 Sony Music Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

 

© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga

 

 

 

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Addictions, Perfectionism and Jungian Psychotherapy

March 19th, 2011 · addiction, perfectionism, Psychology and Suburban Life

There can be a strong connection between perfectionism and addiction, as Jungian psychotherapy readily asserts.  We live in the midst of intense pressures that many experience as a continual demand to overcome, and to excel.  For many, this leads to a gnawing, unending driven-ness, in which their efforts are never good enough, complete enough, or secure enough, especially in their work.  They pour more and more of themselves out in the effort to acheive an impossible standard that is continually elusive.  In the process they feel more and more empty and hollow inside.  These people are in a continually painful state.  They cannot ever feel satisfied or secure, valuable — or even adequate.

 Not Looking at the Shadow

In the terms of Jungian psychotherapy, this is a shadow issue.  For such individuals, it is intolerable to face or accept their unacknowledged weakness, vulnerability and humanity.  They strive to get rid of “the shadow”, the suffering, exhausted and often despairing parts of themselves that are so difficult to face up to.  Through inhuman effort, they strive to eliminate their unacceptable parts.  They try harder and harder.  But the cost to the individual can be so great that it brings immense pain.  Often, it is only through the “self-medication” of addictions — alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, Internet, you name it — that the awful pain and emptiness can be kept away.

Woodman on Addictions and Being Perfect

Prominent Jungian analyst Marion Woodman writes about those individuals who are perfectionistic in their attitudes, in a way that combines with addiction:

Behind the masks of these successful lives, there lurks disillusionment and terror.  One common factor appears repeatedly.  Consciously the individuals are being driven to do better and better within the rigid framework they have created for themselves;  unconsciously they cannot control their behaviour.  There are countless individual and collective reasons for the outbreak of chaos as soon as the daily routine is completed.  Will power can only last so long.  If that will power has been maintained at the cost of everything else in the personality, then nothingness gapes raw.  When in the evening it’s time to come back to oneself, the mask and the inner being do not communicate….  Compulsions narrow life down until there is no living — existence, perhaps, but no living.

Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride

 I believe there are millions of people who are caught in this trap in our present time.  Such individuals are not going to get out of their prison by greater effort of will.  Many such individuals would benefit greatly from entering into depth psychotherapy, so that they can get in contact with the living part of themselves.

Can You Be with Yourself, and Feel It’s Good?

Can you give yourself a break?  Can you put on the brakes, and accept that enough is enough?  Can the inner critic in you be silenced, or are its attacks relentless?  Do you medicate in some way, to keep the pain and loneliness at bay? 

There is hope, and there are possibilities.  If you find yourself confronting feelings of hollowness, or despair, because of perfectionism, there are ways of opening up to the reality of the self, and to accepting the real, vital and unique person within you.  Don’t deny yourself!

May your journey to wholeness connect you to your real, imperfect, but wonderfully alive self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

1-905-337-3946

PHOTO CREDIT: © All rights reserved by John Suler’s PhotoPsychology

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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