As We Reach Mid-Life we Must Strive To Live in Harmony with Ourself -Including Our Weaknesses
"The desire to be superhuman only becomes a problem when
we begin to believe that perfection is actually possible
and even necessary – for self-esteem, peace of mind
and acceptance by others."
Ann W. Smith, M.S
Mid-life and perfectionism…for years now, we have
been rebellious-aggressive in hiding, fighting and
repressing our weaknesses and mistakes! We are a shame
of them...We are under the impression our weaknesses are
written in black and white in each and every decision and
action we make...we put on a mask called
aiming for perfect achievement!
At first glance, we attempt to adopt the idea
that perfectionism is a highly- disciplined-related value.
We are under the impression that through perfectionism
we work our way towards improving our self-accomplishment…
we discover, very soon discover that perfectionism can be
an obstacle in the development of our self-esteem, even
a nightmare...Why? In a sense it's an addictive
behavioral conduct. You have an extreme need for external
order to cover internal chaos.
We learn from our everyday errors in order to
constantly improve our performance, our character traits
and our communication...Christians, journeying into
better imitating Christ, knows very well that we
journey towards perfection but will never fully achieve it
in this world. Where’s the catch?
For many of us, mid-lifers, having to acknowledge
our disappointments, our feelings of bitterness,
of resentment and of betrayal (because we felt driven by
some irrational beliefs and attitudes that whatever we do
is never good enough)is a hectic challenge! Doing our
best isn't sufficient nor acceptable. We always feel the
need for improvement and we are never satisfied! There
is something wrong!
Here's an analogy: Imagine an athlete trying to jump over
a bar much too high for his ability. He turns to his
coach and says: See, there is the proof that I can’t
do anything right! If you're not a perfectionist
your instinctive reaction is to lower the bar to your
highest capacity level, right? The answer is plain
and simple! Right? Wrong! For a perfectionist, lowering
the bar means telling him you are not good enough, you
are less than perfect!
We are never satisfied, we’re never in peace and as a
result we always have this feeling of self-depreciation.
Why do we impose ourselves this level of perfection -
higher than anyone else’s? Why is it unacceptable to make
a mistake? Why do we feel like we are a loser because
we’re not perfect? Is success the only value in life?
My favourite artist, Nana Mouskouri, (Sorry for those
who don't know her or don't appreciate her talent!)
mentioned many times in various interviews how becoming
a successful celebrity as never been her objective. As
a matter of fact, she considered celebrity to be
something dangerous – because a celebrity or a star
is responsible for setting a good example to people
who look up to them; (particularly towards youths);
you influence people! (This is a good lesson for our
young celebrities, by the way!) She also mentions the
absurd fact of artists working so hard in becoming
number 1... you achieve it, than you go down the list
again - disappointed.
It is much more rewarding and stimulating to
concentrate on improving your own artistic journey
(singing performances, recordings, communication
with your audience etc…). It’s the journey
(doing your best) that is important, not the goal.
The Greek diva, Maria Callas, used to encourage
Nana in saying: It doesn't matter what you do, it's how
you do it, and why you do it that is important!
This is, in my opinion, the key to instigate renewal
into your mid-life concern as a perfectionist. You need
to learn to ask yourself the following questions:
What are the ideologies that drives me into such
rigid goals and behaviour?
How do I feed those ideologies?
How does these ideologies impact my everyday life?
Here are some examples of irrational beliefs, from the book: Overcoming Perfectionism - the Key to a Balanced Recovery, by Ann Smith:
• Everything in life must be done to your
level of perfection, which is often higher than
• It’s unacceptable to make a mistake.
• You must always reach the ideal no matter what.
• If those in authority say this is the way it is
supposed to be, then that is the way it is supposed
• It is what you achieve rather than who you are that
is the most important.
• There is no sense in trying to do something unless I
can do it perfectly. (I don’t attempt things I can’t
• The ideal is what is real; unless I reach the ideal I
am a failure.
• There are so many roadblocks and pitfalls to keep
me from succeeding. It is better just to give up
and forget my goal.
• Unless I am Number One, there is no sense in
trying, everyone knows what Number two is. To win is
the only acceptable goal.
• If you screw-up in your efforts to achieve a goal,
just give up. It must be too hard to achieve.
• Don’t ever let anyone know what goal you’re working
on. That way they won’t consider you a failure if
you don’t reach it.
• If you can’t do it right the first time, why try to
do it at all?
• There is only one way to reach a goal: the right way.
• It takes too much effort and energy to reach a goal.
I save myself the aggravation and discouragement by
not setting goals for myself.
• I’ll never be able to change and grow the way I want
to, so why try?
• I am a human being prone to error, frailty
and imperfections; therefore, I won’t be able
to accomplish things in a perfect or ideal way.
I’ll just give up on achieving any of my goals
What is your instinctive reaction after reading a list
like this? What are the feelings that automatically
rise within you? You want to know mine?
With such a life program my instinctive reaction
and feeling is depression and discouragement. I might as
well dig a hole six feet deep and eight feet long and
bury myself in it!
Picture the stress we impose on ourselves! You want
a list of such negative consequences this may impact on
your life? I am sure you will guess some of them
already; with a little meditation and introspection
you could picture the future outcome:
Low self esteem
Lack of motivation
Lack of belief in self.
Definition of Perfectionism
Let us now journey further in deepening our understanding
of this low self-esteem related illness – because as of now,
I am sure you now have a better perception as to how
this compulsion impacts our mental and physical health.
According to mental health specialists there are two
types of perfectionists: We identify them to be:
The overt perfectionist (the visible)
The covert perfectionist
(metaphorically illustrated as the closet)
a) The overt perfectionist
We recognize the overt perfectionist to be the individual:
With self disciplined
Neat (meticulous physical appearance on self and
in his living and working environment)
Orderly and thorough
Obsessed by details
Obsessively organized: There is a place for everything
and everything must be at its place. (Even the garbage
and the recycle bin is tidy!)
With schedules for his daily activities
b) The covert perfectionist
Their perfectionism is more apparent in their thinking
than in their behaviour. They will play it safe,
therefore will try to avoid taking any risks.(for fear
of failure) Everything is done with extreme caution and
with thorough - until they become exhausted.
Covert perfectionists have such fear of failure that
they don’t challenge themselves. They set themselves
high - next to impossible standards of living - and
get discouraged. It’s the do it right or don’t do it at
Perfectionism is a response to stress - a response
positively reinforced by others. It isn’t innate. In most
cases our behavioural attitude is developed as an emotional
protection outcome – the individual in many cases - having
lived in a dysfunctional environment. (Ex.: unhealthy
relationships, substance or game abuse, environment with
little love stimulation, trust or encouragement.) Doing
something good can help him seek his parent’s love and
attention and eases some of his tension. In an environment
of mistrust, the child learns the message: I must learn to
defend myself, out of fear of being hurt, therefore
perfectionism becomes a means of control of the
If you come from a dysfunctional family, you soon learn
to deny your feelings, your opinions, and your pain.
You repress them. Carl Yung identifies this as the shadow.
An American poet Robert Bly uses the metaphor of a
garbage bag to illustrate this.
He maintains that each time we repress an emotion, a quality,
a character trait or a talent, it is as if we were throwing
these parts of ourselves into a garbage bag… During the first
thirty years of life, we are busy filling the bag with rich
elements of our being. Over time, the bag becomes heavier and
heavier to carry. Consequently, we must spend the rest of our
lives rummaging through it to recover and try to develop
aspects of our person that were stuffed away there.
In his book How to Befriend Your Shadow - Welcoming
Your Unloved Shadow, John Mombourquette, PhD states that
to identify yourself exclusively to your persona (the
ego-ideal)you deny a part of yourself - whom you really are.
Soon or later you will need to make a choice: either you pay
attention to the repressed feelings, events etc and let them
rise us and speak to you or you will be confronted in a
serious identity crisis. A part of who you are, is
camouflaged in this hidden part of self. Knowing who you
really are is the secret to bringing peace and renewal and
as we will see later on, one of the place to look for to
discover your real life mission. For perfectionists, this
is a real issue.
The perfectionist is unable to stay in touch with himself
and with his feelings. They try so hard to hide their
weaknesses for fear of being caught out. Always on the alert,
they are afraid of committing any mistake in their work or in
their relationship interactions. They are perpetually in a
state of stress. Their intransigence towards both themselves
and others, and their moral, spiritual and psychological
rigidity therefore surprise no one… This psychological type
might be compared to the person presenting the following
traits: poor self-esteem, rigid thinking, narrow-
mindedness, dogmatism, anxiety, pronounced ethnocentrism,
religious fundamentalism, conformism, prejudices, lack of
creativity… at first glance, a pretty desperate picture!
Picture this low-self-esteem issue in a matrimonial
relationship being a constant finder. This person is
obsessed over the flaws and imperfection of his/her partner
rather than finding value in him or her. You attempt to level
your partner to your own level perceived of functioning.
But J. Monbourquette gives us hope when he says that
nothing happens for nothing as:
depression sends the depressed person a clear
signal that change is in order and that they must
stop identifying with their ego-ideal. This phenomenon
is even more evident in mid-life, when the shadow’s
demand for recognition becomes more insistent. People
will then recognize that the time has come to make room
for the shadow that we have been trying in vain
A Reconciliation process to help you overcome perfectionism
I summarize the reconciliation process with your true
self as the process of learning to treat yourself
with love,compassion and unconditional respect. You are
a gift of God and as a result you must learn to
great yourself as such. How do you welcome the gift
of someone you truly love and respect...with nonchalance
or with indifference…? If you care, you great the gift
with gratitude and joy as this gift is part of the person
you truly love. Why treating yourself otherwise by
imposing idealistic expectations that are completely out
of this world? If God does not expect that from you,
why should you?
Your lack of belief in yourself makes you fear the
failure as an outcome you lose faith in the belief that
you can improve in life. Those rational behaviours need to
be tamed. Write yourself a list of little post notes on
your mirror, on your fridge, in your hands…
Self talk is hard to control…Some of those thoughts
are, for the most of us, impulsive and instinctive…
we’ve repeated them to ourselves for so long, it
almost becomes a second nature. We need to delete
this computer program and install a new one! To do so,
here is a list of thoughts that we can write down
and visually expose in our everyday living and
working environment for us to meditate and practice.
Just like a new program, you need to practice…you need
to be working at it! Just like learning a
second language…whether it’s Greek, French or Spanish…
you need the motivation; you must educate yourself about
the language but most of all you need to practice...
No pain, no gain!
I am not perfect….and It’s OK.
I will do my best …nothing less but nothing more and
I will be satisfied.
People love me for who I am not for my performance.
I will not fear to make mistakes because, when I do,
I can learn from them.
Nothing happens for nothing…there is always a reason…
why should I drive myself sick because of this?
I am not sure if my behaviour pleased my boss, my
colleague or my family, I will not be afraid to talk to
them about it has talking helps to clear things out.
I will try not to take criticism personally; I will keep
my cool; I will question when in doubt.
So what if I haven’t finished today; I will complete
it tomorrow. I will take some free time with my family
I can achieve a task successfully without necessarily
have it perfectly done.
I will work my way into being realistic not idealistic.
I will be easy with myself…pushing myself to this
extreme will only increase my level of stress and
decrease my performance.
I will accept myself for who I am; let go the ideas of
how you should be I will reward my best efforts
praising myself for doing my best… that is real
humility not pounding my head on the wall because of
an insignificant weakness or error.
What I consider an error might not necessarily
have the same interpretation by others. Do I need to
practice some relativism here?
I will decide to take life with a little bit more sense
of humour; I think I am taking this perfectionism a
little bit too seriously!
I must let go these moralistic judgments and
practice compassion and empathy instead!
I will visualize reality through the eyes of a human not
• Accept that you are a human being not a superhuman;
(with limits and the right to make mistakes)
• forgive yourself when you do make mistakes;
(You will learn more from the mistakes… much more than
you would from your success.)
• Develop a good sense of humour.
Remember…Bionic Woman and Superman only existed in
films, not in reality! You are smiling… we have to learn
to visualize life as it is, a journey of personal growth…
Why imposing this hectic stress on yourself… Why not learn
to appreciate the gift of life…
The title of this encounter is STRIVING TO BECOME
PERFECT OR TO BECOME COMPLETE? Would you not prefer to
feel in peace and in harmony with yourself, with others
and with the universe? Wouldn’t that not be a great sense
of fulfillment – as to know that you are
loved unconditionally for whom you are and not for what
you do and that you don’t need to prove yourself or to
earn that love through the straining effort of perfection…
a goal you will never achieve in this world!
Strategies recommended by Dr. James J. Messina Ph.D
For detailed information of strategies click this link
A) A social support: system
• Select people that are not perfectionists,
that are trustworthy, that are honest and
that have a sincere interest in helping you grow.
• Encourage them not to be moralistic or rigid in
their attempts to help you in your journey.
• Have people who will role model forgiving and
forgetting when mistakes occur.
• Have people to give you positive reinforcement for
any positive changes.
A) Journal with steps to overcome Perfectionism
The identified website also recommends the following guide steps to self-help yourself in your journey through perfectionism:
i) A self-evaluation questionnaire that will guide you
in your research trying to identify how
perfectionism impacts your everyday life:
• Characteristics of your perfectionism
• Your irrational beliefs and how it contributes
to failure scripts; how it interferes with my efforts
• Considering alternatives to reduce the negative
impact of perfectionism in my life
• Identify negative consequences of perfectionism in
my life; how it affects my past, my present and my
• How can my social support help me in the choice and
the development of new rational behaviours?
• Chose a specific problematic behaviour you would like
to work on. List the characteristic negative
behaviour traits of the behaviour. What is the
likelihood of achieving them 100% of the time.
• Once you recognize that you cannot achieve
100%, continue to change the problematic
I strongly recommend this book written by a perfectionist herself. She is well positioned to understand the concerns and has some strategies for helping overcoming perfectionism. It helped me, and I am sure it will help you.
Can you begin to understand the anxiety associated in a
person suffering of perfectionism - whether of type overt
The stress you impose on yourself can be unbearable
and self-destructive. Perfectionism is a compulsive
behaviour that has been learned – not genetically received –
and as a result, like any other behaviour, can be re-
programmed with acknowledgement, motivation and
determination and, yes, if necessary…with
There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging the need
Check this link for information.
Do I need therapy?
Whether shape of anxiety: generalized anxiety
disorder, phobias, depression, or panic…the toughest part
is to accept and to dare making the first step
As we journey through our mid-life concerns, we might
feel overwhelmed, discouraged and isolated. You might
even feel on edge because you realize that being perfect
is not the ideal solution in instigating renewal into
You realize that you have repressed feelings, gifts
within you…You might not feel the courage to journey
inwards to confront those inner-repressed feelings… You
might not even have a clue as to how you should approach
your shadow and its inner ghosts…! This is a journey
in itself! I would recommend this book called How to
Befriend Your Shadow – Welcoming your Unloved Side by
John Mombourquette, PH.D. This book is also available
in French under the title: Apprivoiser son ombre – le
côté mal aimé de soi also from John Mombourquette, PH.D.
We have been through so much and the journey is rough
and long…! That, I know! Believe me, I know! So much can
be going on at the same time during this phase...That is
why I intent to take a break away from developing
mid-life concerns for a while…
We will be looking at the mid-life journey in a
new perspective that will give us some wings in helping
us instigate renewal into our mid-life concerns.
Until we meet the next time, my heart goes out to all
De l'estime de soi à l'estime de soi -
De la psychologie à la spiritualité,
Jean Mombourquette Ph.D, Novalis/Bayard,
4475 rue Frontenac, Montréal Qc H2H 2S2
How to Befriend Your Shadow –
Welcoming Your Unloved Side, John Mombourquette, Ph.D,
Novalis, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada © 2001
Overcoming Perfectionism -
The Key To A Balanced Recovery, Ann W. Smith,
M.S, 3201 S.W. 15th Street Deerfield Beach, Florida
33442-8190 Copyright 1990
Nana Mouskouri Editions XO,
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