Do you have a picture in your mind of the perfect Christmas?
Is it the look on the face of someone you love when they unwrap the thoughtful gift, which was exactly what they wanted?
Is it of a beautiful home, elegantly combining traditional decorations with a modern touch?
Is it of a perfectly cooked dinner, served on a festive table?
Is it of the family laughing and playing games, happy to be together?
Is it of long walks in crisp, fresh air?
Is it of a robin standing on branch over pure white snow?
These fantasies are wonderful … but the reality might not be!
For a perfectionist, the difference can be painful. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to a wonderful and very happy Christmas. We all want to enjoy the holiday season, but if you’re a perfectionist, the pressure to get it just right, to make sure everyone and everything is thought of is intense.
This is toxic perfectionism, and it comes with a cost. It’s the image of a perfect Christmas that matters. There is no pleasure in the process or fun in the mess ups. What matters is getting the perfect gift, not the pleasure of thinking about the person you love while you shop.
The inevitable always happens. It’s not perfect. The gift might not hit the spot. Or the recipient might be so focused on what they have for you they don’t really acknowledge your efforts. Before you know it, you’re feeling deflated, a bit of a failure and fed up. Mental and physical exhaustion, anger, depression or anxiety can follow.
I know. Every year it would start on Stir-up Sunday. I’d want the perfect day, mixing the Christmas cake and pudding (that no one in my family liked or wanted) and making a wish. I always imagined doing this with my daughter, brushing flour off our aprons as we happily chatted and baked all day. But it doesn’t take all day and she always had other things to get on with. To cap it all, I always like to tidy up as I go along, which meant the once or twice we did this, I parked myself at the kitchen sink. Reality came nowhere near fantasy
I also used to set myself the task of getting my family perfect little gifts for every day of advent. In the picture in my mind, they would gather every morning excitedly unwrapping the day’s gift. But they didn’t. They were always rushing to get out to school or work, and finding the time to come up with ideas within the budget just piled on the pressure.
I’d want the house spotless for Christmas morning, so the cleaning had to be done on Christmas Eve. But I also had a fantasy of us coming together to eat a simple, warming meal before having a glass of mulled wine in front of our open fire. The two didn’t go together and a stress-packed night of bickering was inevitable.
On Christmas Day I wanted to prepare a dinner, with ALL the trimmings. The timing had to be spot on so everything was ready at the same moment. But the truth is, most members of my family don’t like much of the Christmas dinner. It begs the question, who was I doing it for?
All this perfectionism just increased conflict in the family, and I was left feeling mentally and physically exhausted. In part it was driven by pictures and articles in magazines like Good Housekeeping, and by the fantasies created by individuals and businesses on social media. These platforms set out what Christmas ‘should’ be. They had an impact, but the roots of my perfectionism ran much deeper. I always hoped that if I could just get everything spot on, I would finally be okay. I was on a life-long mission of striving for perfectionist to get away from the shame of not being good enough.
I do things differently now. I have released the pressure valve and opt for a perfectly imperfect Christmas. It’s not been easy. I’ve worked hard to get to know, understand and care for the part of me driven by perfectionism, the part which has often been aggressively self-critical. I have softened and accepted my vulnerabilities. Today, it’s the journey that matters, not some fantasy of an unobtainable outcome. Good enough is good enough.
Tackling perfectionism at its root takes time but there are day-to-day strategies we can all work with now. Click here to book a call with me to find out more.