Natalie Portman won an academy award for her portrayal of a ballet dancer who based her worth on perfect performances. These lofty standards came by comparing herself to the other ballerinas; if she fell below those standards, she would be judged a failure.
How many of us feel the same way? We compare ourselves to the standards set by others and the fear of failure is a breeding ground for anxiety and other negative emotions.
Comparing ourselves with others is not the same thing as envy. Envy is when we want what others have. When we compare ourselves to others, however, we can be left to feel that we’ve not measured up—and maybe, something is wrong with us.
This is what drives a perfectionist—we meet lofty standards by constantly comparing our performance with others.
Portman’s character in “The Black Swan” is also a brutal interpretation of the anger that many of us feel when things don’t come out as well as we feel they should. Sometimes that anger is directed at others; often, it’s directed at ourselves. In doing this, we fail to stop and evaluate our own unique talents and gifts.
We stop seeing ourselves as someone special.
Self-compassion is an exploding new area of psychological research. It is a reflection of how kindly we view ourselves. But self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence. I’m a big proponent of willpower and discipline, so in my world, self-indulgence is something that should be limited to chocolate and gelato.
Not everyone who compares themselves to others is a perfectionist. A perfectionist feels that if they are the best, they’re doing it right; in return, they’ll be admired and appreciated. Chances are good that they don’t understand self-compassion because they’re disapproving and judgmental about their own flaws and inadequacies.
They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.
If you constantly compare yourself to others, you probably are always looking for ways to fix yourself. You tend to:
- Hold to lofty standards.
- Have no guarantee you’ll ever be good enough.
- Feel that less than best is not an option.
- Believe that it’s up to you to fix whatever mess you encounter because no one else is willing, or able, to tackle the problem.
- Think that to be loved, you must be the best.
- Feel a continual need to point out errors, both in yourself and in others.
- Dwell on your shortcomings.
- Be sensitive to criticism.
- Strive to live a life of integrity.
- Desire to show others the right way to do things.
- Live by the motto: right is right and wrong is wrong.
- Feel anger toward yourself if you’ve made a mistake and the project isn’t done right.
As a former FBI counterintelligence and undercover agent, I consulted with the FBI’sBehavioral Science Unit on many of my cases. My goal in most of my investigations on foreign spies was to understand their personalities and the thinking behind their actions and choices in life.
So many people live their life as a performance—they do what they think is expected of them so they can achieve success, the approval of others, feelings of safety, and love, or avoid criticism. We hesitate to be authentic and real because we’re afraid that we won’t be good enough if we are just ourselves, so we don’t give ourselves permission to make mistakes.
Be yourself, and don’t compare. Here are some practices that help perfectionists overcome their weaknesses:
- Become aware of your tendency to push yourself beyond your limits.
- Let others help you shoulder the responsibilities.
- Express your appreciation for their help.
- Be open and honest about your vulnerabilities, which is key to developing greater integrity.
- Make eye contact with people who frustrate you so they don’t become abstractions.
- Realize you’re not going to get rid of the parts of yourself you don’t like.
- Become more familiar with these unwanted parts rather than trying to change them.
- Stop self-improvement techniques and learn to just BE with yourself.
- Stop straining to conform to an idealized notion of what a good person is like.
- Stop resisting your anger—chances are, it will pass through you.
- Do think twice about expressing your anger—just notice it.
“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” Ann Wilson Schaef
Have you compared yourself to someone else in the last three hours? Is there a common theme to your judgments? What tips can you give others on how to be yourself?
LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others