'I'm a writer and I struggle with perfectionism. Please help!'

By
Haya Malik
|

Dear Haya,

I am currently struggling a lot with what I believe is a severe problem of perfectionism. It has been a problem since long and because of that I used to struggle in school as I was unable to complete the tasks but my writing related projects suffered the most. I love writing, it gives me meaning and purpose in life — perhaps also the only activity where I feel I can be myself, where I can be brave, where I don’t have to please anyone and it makes me feel complete.

But in the last three years, I’ve been working on a bigger writing project and struggling a lot. I feel that my ability to complete the project — a novel which was to bring me joy — is suddenly rendered meaningless and gives me anxiety. I try to write, and delete it. I completed 30,000 words and tossed them away. And the worst part is that no matter what anyone tells me, especially the people whose opinion and advice I take seriously in this work, I’m unable to believe that my work is worthy, even when they tell me to keep at it, that it gets better and easier. I think closely linked to this is the fact that I am unable to take compliments — I strongly believe that I am unworthy, my work is unworthy, and these people are only being nice to not hurt me.

I know this might even sound arrogant, which also makes me feel shame and the cycle is endless. But I am exhausted, I procrastinate by doing research and by reading everything (I feel that I’ve read everything, I won’t make a fool of myself or make a mistake) and perhaps then I will be able to complete this manuscript. But no matter what I do — I am unable to initiate the task of writing and I give up.

It is further hindered by the idea that if I do not perform well, and if it is not up to the mark, if it is dumb, then what is the point of creating or completing it at all. And yet this is a dream. I have been struggling so much that I have stopped meeting people or sharing about it, I just say I’m working its slow, but there is nothing to show for these three years except failure. My mental health diagnoses of depression and anxiety were there prior to the starting of the project and therapy and medication have helped me face this issue. But I don’t know how to start and keep the momentum to complete this. Please help me complete my dream, I don’t want to fail.

— A struggling perfectionist

Im a writer and I struggle with perfectionism. Please help!

Dear reader,

I can see that you are struggling with challenges that are deep rooted in perfectionism.

It's clear that your passion for writing is profound and serves as a source of meaning and fulfillment in your life. However, the weight of perfectionism seems to have transformed what was once a joyful endeavor into a daunting task fraught with self-doubt and anxiety.

Perfectionism can be incredibly paralysing. It's as if there's an unattainable standard looming over you, leaving you feeling inadequate and unable to fully embrace your creative process. The fear of not meeting this standard, coupled with the belief that your work is inherently unworthy, creates a vicious cycle of procrastination and self-sabotage.

To work through perfectionism, we need to see it for what it is.

Perfectionism is often developed due to some core childhood needs not being met where we consistently felt we aren’t loved, accepted or understood the way we are creating wounds of abandonment, rejection or neglect believing that to be accepted and loved we need to “be” of a certain way which translates into adulthood of creating an identity of performance where we feel we have to “earn” our acceptance to be worthy. It is a result of chronic neglect of the self.

Now let’s take a close look at your query.

When you spoke of your writing, I sensed a feeling of thriving. I see that it gives you meaning, purpose, drives your courage and authenticity. You love the way it makes you feel.

However, I hear that from the last three years you have been struggling — the act that brought you joy is now brining you anxiety. What’s changed? What has caused that shift?

To understand our struggles, we need to see what is going on within. Our journeys all begin and end with THE SELF. Our outside world is a mere projection and insight into our inner world.

To understand the self, self-awareness plays a critical part. Self-awareness is a training ground for the development of qualities that will impact the relationship you have with yourself and with other people.

Self-awareness enables you to see that within you there is a vast universe, one filled with a variety of emotions, viewpoints, patterns and so much more. It spotlights on what experiences and beliefs have shaped your current reality. It helps you embrace the complexity that gives you your identity.

It sounds like your focus has shifted towards how your writing is going to look versus how it makes you feel. The time when you purely focused on how writing was making you feel, you were thriving and enjoying what you were producing. You seem to be stuck in a cycle of anxiety, because you have allowed your fears to take over.

No matter what anyone tells you something about yourself, it will not matter until you don’t feel that way either. Failure is a mindset. Failure is also perspective.

Our self-worth (the way we feel about ourselves) will show up in all areas of our lives. Our relationships with ourselves and others, our work etc. Your work will not feel worthy to you until you don’t feel worthy about yourself.

I see your current experiences and challenges as a gift to you. Why do I say that?

Our outer experiences are actually mirrors of what we are not paying attention to within ourselves.

Until the relationship with the self is not looked at, nothing will change. Your core beliefs, underlying unresolved traumas and unmet needs are currently driving your life.

To complete your dream, live the life you can’t stop thinking about, to thrive, you need to get out of the passenger seat of your life, and into the driving seat.

What could that look like?

That could look like starting the journey to go within, getting curious about yourself challenging your negative belief systems and self-critical thoughts that fuel your perfectionism, understanding yourself on a deeper level, working with a therapist to explore the origins of these beliefs and working towards releasing old limiting beliefs and creating new ones. This could also look like recognizing the inherit value in your work even if it doesn’t meet your impossibly high standards.

Here are some helpful prompts to enable you to get curious about yourself:

  • What childhood experiences have led me to believe that my worth is equated in my productivity?
  • What emotional needs of mine are not met?
  • What comes up for me when someone compliments me? how does It make me feel? Notice what comes up within.
  • What is performance to me?
  • What is failure to me?
  • What is the language of my thoughts?
  • What core beliefs are holding me back from living life to my full potential?

There are some practical strategies that can aid you in breaking the cycle of procrastination and perfectionism. For instance, setting realistic goals, breaking down your writing into manageable tasks and establishing a routine can provide structure and momentum.

Moreover, embracing imperfection and allowing yourself to write without the pressure of perfection can unleash your creativity and make the process more enjoyable.

However, practical strategies without the inner work will not bring about long-lasting change.

The journey is about recognising that your worth as a writer isn't contingent on external validation or perfection, It never was. The journey is about realising that you are and always were whole and complete as you are, realising that your past experiences don’t define you, realising you have the capacity to create new beliefs for yourself and the only person holding you back from the life you badly crave is your self. The journey is about seeing the depth of yourself as an imperfect human being, embracing your mistakes, experiences and choices as an opportunity to create.

Last but not least, it is essential to cultivate self-compassion through out this journey. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you maneuver through this stage of life.

Acknowledge that writing, like any creative pursuit, involves trial and error, growth and revision. Be kind to yourself when you face setbacks or challenges, and celebrate your progress, no matter how small.

Remember that your dream is valid and your voice as a writer deserves to be heard. You're not alone in this journey, and there's hope for you to overcome the obstacles standing in your way. You got this!

Good luck and best wishes.

Haya 

Im a writer and I struggle with perfectionism. Please help!

Haya Malik is a psychotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, corporate well-being strategist and trainer with expertise in creating organisational cultures focused on well-being and raising awareness around mental health.


Send her your questions to [email protected]


Note: The advice and opinions above are those of the author and specific to the query. We strongly recommend our readers consult relevant experts or professionals for personalised advice and solutions. The author and Geo.tv do not assume any responsibility for the consequences of actions taken based on the information provided herein. All published pieces are subject to editing to enhance grammar and clarity.