As actors, you are vulnerable to something lurking out there I like to call the Perfectionism Monster. This monster frightens you into thinking that if you live “perfectly” you can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and rejection. And it is through such avoidance that the Perfectionism Monster makes you believe you will ultimately fit in and find success.
When actors come to Hollywood and see an abundance of beautiful faces and bodies, they often embark on the downward spiral of comparing themselves to others and feeling not good enough just as they are. During these vulnerable moments the Perfectionism Monster creeps in and whispers self-critical statements like: “I hate my body,” and “I’m not beautiful, smart or talented enough.” Such destructive statements lead to feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and unworthiness.
Not surprisingly, research shows that perfectionism actually hampers success. In fact, it leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and blocks people from pursuing their goals because they’re afraid to make a mistake, disappoint others or fail.
Understanding the difference between perfectionism and striving to be your best is crucial in order to put the Perfectionism Monster to rest forever.Perfectionism is defined as: “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.” Striving to be your best, on the other hand, focuses on healthy achievement and growth while taking into consideration who you are. The pursuit of perfectionism is dangerous and self-destructive. Perfect doesn’t exist, it is an impossible goal. The idea of wanting to be perceived as perfect is also impossible, you cannot control the perceptions of others. The elusive notion that perfect exists, robs you of time, energy, finances and, more importantly, does not allow you to value and accept the unique gifts you have to offer as an actor and a person.
Here is a plan of how people can get rid of the insatiable Perfectionism Monster before it leaves you feeling deflated, empty and depressed:
Begin with a healthy dose of balanced perspective. Hospice workers recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets of people at the end of their lives, they were:
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I let myself be happier.
- I wish I had the courage to express my true self.
- I wish I lived a life true to my dreams instead of what was expected of me.
Nowhere on this list are sentiments like: “I wish I could’ve lost ten pounds, was prettier, had longer legs, whiter teeth or a clearer complexion.” In other words, none of their regrets were superficial. Instead they all focused on their internal life. In the end, they wished they focused more on paying attention to what they needed to be happy and less on what others expected of them. Success gravitates towards people who learn how to be more of themselves and less of what they think they should be for others. Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Zach Galifianakis , to name a few, have enjoyed great success by developing their talent, working hard and looking like themselves, not Ken and Barbie dolls. In fact, it is their imperfections that make them interesting, relatable and attractive actors. In this tough demanding profession, they have learned to keep it all in perspective. Life will be easier and more satisfying if you learn to let go of who you think you should be and start embracing who you are.
Here are some guidelines to help free you from the perfectionism monster:
- If you are striving to be perfect, it is most likely that you are trying to distance yourself from feelings of shame. Don’t let shame bully you around. Know the difference between shame and guilt. Shame = I am bad and Guilt= I did something bad. Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behavior. Guilt can have a positive effect when you apologize and take responsibility for something that you did, or when it motivates you to change a negative behavior. Shame is destructive if left unhealed; it leaves you feeling worthless and disconnected. Shame produces violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders and bullying. It leads you to feel flawed, inadequate and damaged.
- Become aware of perfectionism self-talk and replace it with healthy-striving self-talk:Perfectionism self-talk: I will never be a success! I am not thin enough. I hate how I look. Who will want to cast me with this ugly face, I’m not beautiful enough? I am just not worthy of love or acceptance.Healthy-striving self-talk: I want to be the best actor I can be no matter what the scale says. I am worthy of love and acceptance no matter what I look like. I will find courage, compassion and connection, and figure all of this out. I can do it.
- Learn to practice self-compassion. Christopher K. Germer, author of “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions,” states: “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
- Own your whole story including your imperfections and love yourself through the process. Mr. Rogers used to say, “It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.” Everyone has a story that includes both good and bad aspects. Don’t be fooled into thinking others have had a, “perfect life,” compared to yours.
- Be brave enough to let go of what other people think and focus on what you think of yourself. Stop trying to be all things to all people, it’s impossible and not your responsibility. Be responsible for your own happiness and let everyone else figure out how to take care of themselves.
- Set boundaries and stop saying “yes” when you really mean “no”. Remember, no is a complete sentence!
- Believe that you are entitled to be loved and respected just as you are right now. Stop waiting till you get the Oscar, significant other, TV series or million dollars. Don’t put conditions on self-acceptance, start practicing it right now.
Strive towards living wholeheartedly from a place of worthiness. Wake up in the morning with the goal of being more of yourself and less of what others think you should be. Go to bed each night and embrace the fact that along with feeling afraid, vulnerable and imperfect, you are also one courageous human being worthy of love and belonging. The journey is not easy, but to arrive at the gift of accepting your whole self, just as you are, makes it well worth the struggle.
“She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” – Terri St. Cloud
For more tools on fighting the perfectionism monster and healing shame, clickhere.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.