Perfectionism – The Killer of Joy



Somewhere along the line, we learned to doubt our perceptions discount our feelings, and overlook our needs. Telling people what we thought or felt often resulted in our being ignored, laughed at or punished. We looked to others to tell us what to think, what to feel, how to behave. In this way, other people supplied us with information about who we were and who we should be. They defined us and our view of the world, and we may have accepted that as reality.

It became more important to be compliant than to be authentic, and we adopted rigid beliefs about what “should be”. We believed that if we could just “get it right”, things would be okay. We looked to others for the rules that defined us and for assurance that we were “getting it right.” Our self esteem hinged on gaining others’ approval. When we “got it wrong” our sense of security and self-worth evaporated.

We saw ourselves as flawed. For many of us that lead to shame, fear, secrecy, dishonesty, manipulation, control, depression and isolation. Some of us rebelled against rules and authority and became sullen, defensive or arrogant. As a result of holding these mistaken beliefs about ourselves, we often passed them along to others. When they did not conform, we may have judged them harshly, cultivating blame and resentment, thus perpetuating the cycle of codependency.

Trying to “get it right”: cost us dearly. Hiding our true selves in order to fit in kept us isolated and unable to ask for help. Our relationships became increasingly disappointing. Constantly denying our true thoughts and feelings was stressful and exhausting.


We may be afraid to hear about our mistakes or shortcomings, and in turn, become defensive or critical, possibly avoiding or lying about a situation.  We become terrified of being discounted or abandoned.  We control others out of fear of their disappointment of or anger with us. The shame we fear most is the same type of shame we experienced in our childhood.

We may have experienced overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, apathy or panic. We may feel there’s no solution or end to the pain; we feel isolated, rejected stupid or foolish.  We call this a shame spiral.  We may berate or push ourselves harder to meet someone else’s expectations, engage in unhealthy sexual behavior, compulsively eat or starve, or try to escape from a situation by avoiding others.  All of these behaviors cause us to feel more pain and confusion.

At these times, it’s important to reach to our Higher Power for guidance and strength. Many of us find it helpful to share these fears with our sponsor, friends or therapist. When we can again allow ourselves to feel these original feelings and the resulting progressive fears, their intensity diminishes and we are no longer controlled by the past.

As we continue our recovery, many of us can surrender more easily to our Higher Power and experience this powers heartfelt presence within us. Surrendering and letting go doesn’t mean that life’s circumstances will happen the way we want! It means we’re better able to accept life as it is and handle problems with newfound strength from our Higher Power. This enables us to experience a growing personal empowerment and a humble and truer self-esteem.


I know who I am today – I genuinely like myself


Do I try and do my recovery perfectly?

I am an expression of my Higher Power

Am I looking for the perfect job? The perfect relationship?

Do I feel disappointed a lot of the time – with myself, with life, with others?

How does requiring perfection of people, places and things affect me? And others?

I can laugh at my perfectionism with compassion and love.

I will “give things a go” – and let my Higher Power handle the outcome.

I love and accept all of me

I am human - I will make mistakes.

How have I restricted my life by setting impossible standards for myself and others?

I do not have all the answers (I do not even want them any more!)

Can there really be any such thing as a “mistake” in this magnificent journey of life?


In my groups meeting room there is a glass encased collection of beautiful and unusual dolls. As an ACA'er, I was like one of those dolls. I tried to be perfect and bent myself into any shape just to be picked. I dressed up , sat on a shelf and waited for someone to start my life. If only I were pretty enough and patient enough, someone would pick me. My life would be the happy ever after of fairy tales.

In recovery I live my life my way; I choose myself. I don’t wait for a job, a friend or a partner to start my life. I am a person with unique gifts, talents and characteristics for which I am grateful;. I have all I need. I am not a doll. I am real.

In this moment I accept imperfection. The Steps remind me to practice ACA principles in all my affairs. They don’t tell me to be perfect. Once I was my own worst enemy. Trying to be perfect was a self-defeating policy. The committee in my head did not hold meetings in my favor. I lived my life filled with shame based fear.

Thanks to the Steps I’m aware of my shortcomings. I am not perfect. Today I am perfectly fine being an imperfect human being.

I used to think that it was a sign of my recovery that I allowed myself to just “do my best”. Now I realize that doing my best was still trying hard. Trying hard always breeds resentment. I can get stuck in my old belief that if I don’t do my absolute best and put my all into something then I am NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Now recovery means allowing myself to just have a go, to be half heart-ed and even, god forbid! to make mistakes, For me there can be joy in not doing something very well.

In this moment I can enjoy mistakes – mine and others, they are spontaneous acts of joy and love from my Higher Power to remind me I do not have to control everything. What a relief!