How being a Perfectionist can damage your life


I attended a course last weekend which started me thinking about how much we all damage ourselves and our quality of life by indulging in Perfectionism.   We often think of Perfectionists as having some form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) where all can labels in the cupboards have to face forward and the cans and bottles have to be ranked in size order and by colour and content.

Most of us have some element of the Perfectionist within us – liking a tidy home or desk or having a regular place to put the kitchen scissors.  This type of behaviour helps us have more efficient and pleasant lives and avoids wasting hours of effort trying to find a roll of Cellotape.

However, our Perfectionism can become a problem when we start to apply it to ourselves and how we feel the world should treat us.  For instance, when the mechanism of the subconscious (which builds our map of the world and the everyday rules for living), starts to create rules which build an unrealistic expectation about the world around us and the way it should (must) treat us.

If we aren’t careful, we can begin to construct unrealistic rules for ourselves and then try to live by them, expecting the world to treat us well in return.  Examples of these beliefs could be  “I should never turn down the chance of doing something” or  “It must be 100% right.  Not even a tiny error is acceptable” or “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he really values my contribution”.

The result of creating these types of rule is that you put a massive amount of pressure on yourself and those around you to deliver something which is, in reality, unachievable.

“I should never turn down the chance of doing something” means that instead of having a varied and interesting life you are manically running/driving from one event to another.  Getting up early to get somewhere; leaving that event early to get somewhere else; frantically changing clothes for the next activity;  driving furiously to get somewhere else; always looking at the clock, cursing buses, trains and planes for being late; fretting and agitated in traffic jams; dragging friends and family around behind you in a frantic hurry to get somewhere and do something else rather than the thing you are actually doing!

Many people also apply this same “never turn anything down” rule to their work lives by never turning down a job or a project.  Clients tell me “it’s because they know I’m the only one who can  do it,”  “It’s my area of expertise”, “no one else can meet that kind of deadline”.  What they are really telling me is that their employer is exploiting their mistaken belief.  The Manager handing out the work probably thinks that my client is a mug for taking on more and more work; that they don’t really care what happens to one of their team when they eventually break down.  That as long as the job gets done and the Manager looks good, they’ll keep on piling on the work.  If it all goes wrong, they can blame the overworked and Perfectionist who has moved heaven and earth to make sure that they deliver a 100% perfect job.

The self-delusion that one is valued at work and that a company cares still runs deep in the veins of many employees, despite the evidence in front of them every day.  They will tolerate bullying, abuse and overwork because they fear the effort of finding a new job and lack the confidence to rise to the challenge of being given tasks without the right training, timescale or resources.  The chances are that if your boss never has to say “do it or I’ll find someone else who will” when loading another massive burden on your already overburdened back, then it’s YOU who’s the one taking on the work others have already said is impossible to do in the time/for the money/without more resource etc!

Another corrosive belief is that “it must be 100% right, otherwise the rest of what I’ve done is useless and worthless and I am a useless and worthless person who doesn’t deserve thanks or praise”.   No amount of praise can be meaningful to his kind of Perfectionist.  It rolls off them as their subconscious mind rejects what it sees as hollow words from people who  “just don’t know how much better the result could have been if only I could have done a better job”.  This creates in the Perfectionist a deep well of frustration and dissatisfaction with everything in their lives.  They feel bad all the time.  They might turn to drink, drugs, sex or food for comfort in order to achieve that elusive feeling of control over their lives. They might begin to blame others for their lack of perceived achievement, or break up relationships or just work harder and harder until they eventually break down.

The payback which comes from all this manic behaviour is often the firm belief that “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he values my contribution so much”.  Perfectionists believe this of their families too “because I work until 2am every night cleaning the kitchen the family must love me more and show me their appreciation”.

But because everyone views the Perfectionist as neurotic and unreasonable, they don’t value that person more.  In fact, they probably value them less than they would if they just worked 9-5 in the office and spent their time enjoying relaxation with the family playing games and doing trivial things.

As I’m always telling my clients, it’s OK to want to do things to the best of your abilities, but only within the context of the time, energy and other commitments that you have.

If you find yourself under constant pressure, ask yourself why.  What are the beliefs which are driving you to be under that pressure?  What makes the rules you’ve created for yourself true?  What less pressing rules could you create?  Are the rules you are currently living your life to actually out of date – were they right for when you were younger but are they appropriate to life as it is now?

Try writing down the rules which trouble you most and think about them.  How much do they ruin your life?  What would happen if you didn’t obey them?  What would you lose  AND, more importantly, what would you gain?

Why not take a look at the Perfectionist in your own life, and see how your own work and home life could be improved?

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Are you suffering from Burnout? Try this quiz…


There seems to be a worrying increase in the number of clients who visit me with all the symptoms of what used to be called “executive stress,” but is now more accurately described as  burnout.

To find out how well you are coping with the pressures of life, try answering the questions at the foot of this blog, giving yourself a score ranging from 0 for “Not At All” up to 5 for “All The Time”.

If your score is 0-30 then you are one of the lucky ones who enjoy their work and are able to cope with the pressures of life.  However, before you get too smug, just look at any of the questions which scored 4 or 5 and think about how you could improve things for yourself.

If you scored 31-55 then you need to start looking after yourself.  Think about how you might change what’s happening.  You are very rarely without the power to effect change, you just need to find the right levers to pull.  If you really do feel helpless, then it’s time to seriously consider a change of job, career or circumstances.

If you scored 55+ then you are definitely at risk.  Now is the time to do something about it.  Take back some of the time the company is stealing from you.  Don’t get in quite so early.  Take a lunch break, even if it’s only half an hour.  Leave a bit earlier every day.  Make it a rule to only work a set number of hours at the weekend – and then only if you really have to.  Weekends should be for you, not your employer.  If you don’t make changes, then you are running the risk of burnout.

I always explain the process of burnout to my clients in terms of our personal energy being like petrol and diesel oil.

Our everyday energy is like petrol; it is lighter, more easily consumed but is easier to regenerate with a good night’s sleep.  It’s what nature provides to keep us fit and healthy, both physically and emotionally.

By contrast, the heavier energy is thick and oily, like diesel.  It is the energy which we need to dip into at times of prolonged stress and difficulty.  It burns more slowly and we have deep reserves but it is replaced only very slowly.  So working longer hours than are sensible, worrying and fretting continuously, feeling frustrated and trapped leads eventually to this heavy energy becoming exhausted, creating a feeling of being unable to cope with anything at all.  At this point the brain goes into a self-defence mode which creates a state of exhausted torpor.  I experienced this years ago and for a week couldn’t make the decision between wanting a cheese or a ham sandwich for lunch.  I was physically too tired to even think about it.  I just wanted to sit and either cry or sleep.  After a week or so my heavy energy began to reassert itself and my brain began to come back on-line, but for weeks afterwards it was very difficult to do more than just go through the motions of daily life while my body continued to replenish my energy store and restore my normal vitality.

If you wonder if you are close to burnout, then perhaps this questionnaire will help you take an objective view of life….

Do you find yourself feeling increasingly tearful or sorry for yourself?
Do you have repetitive negative thoughts  running through your head, especially relating to your job?
Are you increasingly impatient with the people you work with?
Do even trivial problems become huge ones in your mind?
Do you feel that you are doing other people’s work for them and that you can’t take on any more?
Are you feeling trapped by the need to earn money but not being able to find another job?
Do you feel bullied by senior staff or that you are given unachievable targets/tasks?
Do you dream of getting a new job or a new career with less hassle and stress?
Do you work evenings and weekends to the detriment of your family & friends, and yourself?
Do you feel unfilled by your work?
Are you  frustrated your job and the management structure around it?
Are you angry at having to take short cuts or having too little time to do a thorough job?
Do you find that you are too busy dealing with today to plan properly for tomorrow?
Do you find that you sleep poorly and/or have stress dreams (eg. trying to find your way to a meeting through a maze of corridors, wearing only a bathrobe to work, being anxious to get somewhere but being frustrated at every turn etc)?
 Do you feel totally exhausted at the end of each day?

Dealing with Anger issues


I’ve recently been dealing with a number of clients who have anger management issues and as a result have spent a lot of time trying to identify the most effective ways of defusing their anger.

Some people, of course, are just hardwired to have a short fuse, they are often very manipulative and turn violent if they don’t get their own way.  These are best left to proper psychiatric care.

For a lot of people though, anger is a natural emotional  response to events or issues which have shaken their world, creating issues which remain unresolved for years after the event and which gradually fester into a habitual sense of impatience and intolerance with the world around them.

Anger presents itself in sudden flare ups and inappropriate aggression towards to everyone from partners and children to shop staff and call centre operators.  Sufferers have an extremely low tolerance threshold of anything which requires them to deal with an issue, however trivial..  Those who are tolerant by nature suddenly become intolerant.  Those who have always had enormous patience suddenly start throwing things around in frustration or  threatening others with violence.  Frequently this violence is only verbal but sometimes it can go further.

By the time they reach my consulting room sufferers are usually at a cross-roads in their relationship – their partner has told them to get treatment or the relationship will be at an end. Sometimes, their partner has already found someone else, having been driven away by the frustration and fear induced by walking on eggshells every time Mr Angry is around.  At other times they might have been forced to seek treatment as a result of a restraining order or other court instruction.

When they sit down for their first consultation, sufferers are normally in a pretty poor state, feeling helpless and depressed, confused and fearful for their relationship, their family, the impact which their problems has had on their friends and colleagues at work –  their entire future in fact.  Some readily acknowledge their problem; other remain in denial that they have anything other than a low tolerance level for certain types of “provocation” or situation.

My job as a psychotherapist is to first establish the extent and intensity of the anger they experience and whether or not is hardwired or emotionally driven.   I then  identify the triggers which create the outbursts and the internal language which  it generates in the client, and the people who are most likely to be the targets.

From there I need to identify the type of fuel which is powering their anger.  Often it is quite apparent – the sudden death of a parent or very close friend or the loss of a child.  Redundancy is another common cause – it  can have a disastrous impact on someone’s sense of self-worth and identity.  Men in particular seem to have very fragile egos – they are often identified by their jobs – they are their jobs.  When those jobs are taken away, they become totally lost.  They seem like ghosts, with no idea of who they are or what they should be doing.  They become angry and frustrated at their ex-employers, their managers, the company and most importantly, at themselves for their seeming impotence, confusion and lack of direction and purpose.  These feelings then combine with all the unspent energy which would usually get used up during a busy working day to create a highly volatile cocktail of anger.

In addition, being let down by a trusted business partner, being ripped off by a crooked salesman resulting in the loss of income, house and the subsequent esteem of friends and family can make a normal loving father into a seething mass of anger – ready to erupt at the slightest provocation. This time the anger is fuelled not by loss of identity but at having the very roots of his masculinity challenged – he’s been duped, made to look a fool, lost respect amongst his family and peer.  His primitive instinct is to strike back, release the pent up rage in an orgy of physical violence against whoever caused him the hurt.  But he can’t do that; society doesn’t allow it.  And so he has to lock it up inside him where he tried to bury it, only for it to burst out in the  form of violent rage and anger.

Having got to this point of understand, both for myself and the client, I will usually use hypnosis to help the client release all this anger against an individual or situation in a safe way, by helping them to create scenarios and visualisations which allow them to burn off their anger, often in just a single session.  They can, in imagination, express their thoughts and feelings, rampage around, scream and yell, do whatever they feel they need to do to unlock their feelings, express them in their imagination and then emerge feeling cleansed and revitalised.

Having achieved this, they are they taught different ways of regaining control of themselves in difficult situations.  How to avoid indulging in knee-jerk responses to perceived provocation and learning how to take control of a situation before it gets out of hand.

And these sessions don’t need to go on for a long time.  I recently dealt with a case which was resolved in five one-and-a-half hour sessions.  The final session was held with his partner to help her understand how he had undergone such a transformation in  behaviour in such a short time, and to be reassured that without the fuel which drove his anger,  the  change she had observed was to all intents and purposes, permanent.

If you suffer from anger issues and would like to talk more please feel free to contact me via the blog or my website at www.keithjeffordhypnotherapy.co.uk