It was a simple instruction—just make a few lines with a black pen in a small 1.5" square. This was day one of my first art class since high school. I was 32, surrounded by art majors, and petrified. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my eyes started to well up with...oh, I don't know...maybe there was something in my eyes. That's right. Both of them.
Anyway, I could not put my pen to paper without knowing the end result. In other words, I wanted assurance that when my pen hit the paper, these lines were going to look good. No, not good. Perfect. As ridiculous as it seems now...this is a clear example of the grip perfectionism had on my life.
You, too, are more than likely a perfectionist, or a recovering perfectionist*. What’s that about? I could tell you it’s about your childhood, or upbringing, or society. Sure, those reasons might be why a lot of women struggle with perfectionism. However, your INFJness makes you hardwired to fall somewhere on the perfectionist scale.
Why do INFJs struggle with perfectionism?
The foundation of our personality type sets us up for perfectionist tendencies. Here are two reasons why.
1. We don’t settle.
We expect a lot. From ourselves, from others, and from the world. We don’t like the status quo because "good enough" is generally not in our vocabulary. We struggle being happy with ourselves. When we see an unwillingness to change in someone else, our compassion can reach a limit. This especially holds true if they have the resources and ability to change. We don’t settle for something inferior and often expect the same from others.
2. We’re idealists.
Being future-minded, we tend to think there’s a better option down the road. We're always working toward the ideal and always see room for improvement. This provides drive and motivation, but also a sense of never arriving.
Can any good come from being a perfectionist?
On the surface, it might look like it. Most INFJs do well in school, making very good grades. If an “A+” represents perfect, then that’s our aim. Having “perfect” as our goal can motivate us and make us very self-disciplined. Our J (judging) generally makes us more likely to follow laws than the P (perceiving) types. Not that Ps are law-breakers, but they tend to be more flexible. Additionally, our quest for self-improvement makes us determined and problem-solvers. A relentless pursuit of perfectionism, though, creates stress and locks us in a state of fear.
What’s perfectionism really about?
The goal of perfectionism is approval and a sense of self-worth. It helps us avoid criticism and rejection. If our work is perfect, our home is perfect, and WE are perfect, we have a greater chance for acceptance. Perfection guarantees we will not fail. So in reality, perfectionism exposes a deep desire for love and acceptance.
How can you become a little less perfect?
- Practice walking away from things. Don’t fix that thing someone else did that isn’t up to your standards.
- Be ok with the mess, at least for a time.
- You know that thing you keep putting off? Start before you’re ready (i.e. before everything is in order, before you have a plan, and before you have all the resources you’ll need).
- Practice making messy art. Do this: get a large piece of paper and a pen or marker. Now, close your eyes and start moving your pen or marker across and around the paper. Don’t lift the pen and don’t open your eyes. Keep going for at least two minutes. Set a timer if you need to. Keep going until you feel yourself give in to the flowing motion of your hand and pen across the paper. The point of this exercise is to make something that you don’t have control over. It’s messy and the process is more important than what you actually make.
What attitudes, perceptions, or actions do you take to overcome perfectionism? We're all in this together, so leave your comment below.
Continue with part 3 of this series here »