Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect

9 Sep

Letterbalm Woman with Fingers to TempleDear LetterBalm: My wife is a perfectionist. She has always been hardest on herself when she feels she doesn’t measure up to her own high standards. I’ve managed to soften some of these tendencies during our marriage. But we have a seven-year-old daughter, and I’m seeing that my wife’s perfectionism is having a bad effect on our child. She’s becoming an anxious, self-critical little girl, preoccupied with pleasing her mom. What can I say to stop this heartbreaking cycle?

–Alarmed Dad

Recent research shows that a hypercritical parent, usually the mother, is a big factor in producing a perfectionist. Is one or both of your wife’s parents overly critical? Ms. L.B. believes your wife would benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to help her understand how her negative feelings about herself are harming her daughter, where those feelings originated and how to break these patterns. You must intervene or your beloved daughter will have serious problems later on. Please talk to your wife privately in a calm moment when your daughter is not around (and continue to praise your child and offer her non-stop encouragement and unconditional love). Try this:

Jan, can we talk about something? You are such a hard-working mom, but I want you to take a few minutes out and just listen. It goes without saying that I love you and Patty very much – the two of you are my world. Which is why this is so hard to say. Honey, you and I know how your perfectionism caused you so much pain and grief – it took us a lot of rocky times to get to a point where you are more comfortable with yourself. But I see that Patty is picking up some of the behaviors from you. You want her to be successful, perfectly understandable. And she’s a great kid. But she’s becoming stressed, over-anxious and worried about pleasing you. I know you wouldn’t hurt her for the world, but you are doing it inadvertently, setting the same kinds of high standards your mom did for you. Honey, I’m asking you for Patty’s sake and for all of us: Please, please see a therapist. I’ve heard that cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person understand old patterns and break them for good. I’ll have your back on this because I love you and our daughter.

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