Perfectionism – How It Poisons Your Time

PerfectionismPerfectionism is a major challenge for many smart, high-achieving people – and perhaps most especially for successful women.

Are you one of them?  Does perfectionism slow you down, skew your  perspective, and poison your time?

Today I’d like to share an article from my Finding Time E-zine that focuses directly on the part of each of us that I call the perfectionist or the perfect child.  It’s a sub-self that usually has roots deep in our childhood experiences – AND it’s one that can be very damaging, if we allow it to be in charge of our lives!

So read on … and drop me a line, because I’d love to hear what you think!

The perfectionist develops from constant criticism or fear. The perfect child, as I like to call her, is totally preoccupied with being good by doing what’s right. She tries to please at all costs since, at her core, she depends on approval.

This sub-self is reactive, often too nice, and tries to second-guess others’ needs and desires. She wears a smile I refer to as ‘the silent scream.’

In relationships, the perfect child appeases, often becoming frustrated and punishing as a result. A chameleon, she trades her autonomy for apparent safety and acceptance.

Perfectionism: The Roots

This way of relating develops within the familial constellation. Perfection becomes a value highly rewarded. The child learns to obey and follow the rules. Toeing the line may bring lavish rewards or prevent punishment. In rigidly performing to win approval, the perfect child forfeits the potential to become proactive, grounded, genuine, and empowered.

From this narrow beginning, perfectionism as an adult leads to what I call ‘perfection paralysis.’ This immobilization eats up large amounts of time. From difficulty making decisions to problems with realistic follow-through, productivity is inhibited.

Perfectionism-An Exercise

Since perfectionism is shaped by the verbal and nonverbal messages we received growing up, let’s identify this issue with an exercise.

Take yourself back in time to when you were a kid in your family, and invite yourself to explore these questions.

Start with the spoken messages:

* What were the VERBAL messages you received about being perfect? List them.

* Who gave them to you?

* How did you respond to them?

* What have you taken into your adult life?

Next, recall messages conveyed through actions and body language:

* What were the NONVERBAL messages you received about perfectionism?

* Describe these actions.

* Who manifested them?

* How have you taken these into your adult life?

What do you learn from this exercise about the initiation and development of your perfect child?

By writing down ancient messages you expose and undercut their outdated authority!

I hope you found this helpful, and if you are interested in more articles like this, just sign up for our Finding Time Success Kit by clicking the video image at the top of the sidebar.  When you sign up, you’ll receive our Finding Time Boundary Template, our weekly Time Tips, AND our monthly, award-winning Finding Time E-zine.  All free and all geared to support your time success!


  1. So useful for any parental message that slows me down! There’s nothing like tuning into those inner voices and bringing in the voice of reason and the voice of compassion. Thanks for all your support!

  2. Hi Alison – So glad you found this helpful! And yes – bringing in the voices of reason and of compassion is a powerful antidote to all of those old messages.

  3. For background on what I’m pasting below, please go to:

    Alternate between the two things listed below in terms of notes here.
    The idea is to work with ACT to support my actions, goals, and values and to have my actions, goals, and values support my dedication to studying and using ACT in that regard.

    Odd Numbers: Small Actions that if not done could be one of the “somethings” I’m talking about in the paragraph written below this one.
    Even Numbers: Thoughts that point to something (like tasks) I have not done that shows that whatever I have done to be an OK person is insufficient, and that whatever I have done is therefore meaningless.
    1. Writing is like driving in the fog with only your headlights to help you, and yet being able to make the whole trip in that way. Perhaps this also applies to Life
    2. I see my wife as bossing me around.
    3. I did what she tells me to do – in spades. Getting dirty clothes down the chute.
    4. I eat some chocolate
    5. I eat it with my chronograph going to spread it over time. 1.5 minutes.
    6. I have a crazy number of things I could be and that I feel I should be working on.
    7. Shaved while watching TV.
    8. I don’t know when I might get my water bill paid.
    9. Actually got that paid.

  4. Hi Hehadahat – Thanks for sending us your resource and how you use it. I’m glad that you find it helpful.

  5. I call myself a recovering perfectionist. The reminder that this has roots in my childhood – that could definitely be empowering! Thanks Paula 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Terri! I couldn’t agree more about this. There is so much power there for us to tap into, once we start exploring the roots of behaviors like perfectionism. Here’s to your time success!

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