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Why Being A Perfectionist Makes Grief Even Tougher

Sandy Linda is an elegant and worldly leader in grief guidance and a life coach. After experiencing multiple losses, she began a journey using her experiences to find calm in the chaos to support those mourning multiple losses.

 
Executive Contributor Sandy Linda

Perfectionism can quickly turn toxic. Coupled with the totally unimaginable experience of losing three members of my family in just months, these tendencies within me fueled negative thoughts and made my journey through grief almost unnavigable. 


women holding a photo frame of lost loved one and crying.

My life wasn’t perfect. No one's life is. But after losing my parents and my sister, it became imperfect; and because I have perfectionist tendencies, it then just felt wrong. The awareness of the imperfection became overwhelming. This was coupled with my notion of how I should be “perfectly” grieving. I would constantly question myself as to why I wasn’t “over” my grief by a certain point (as this is what society expected); whether I was grieving right; whether I was expressing my emotions properly and whether I was being strong enough. My perfectionism became toxic. 

 

Journalist and author, Maria Shriver wrote: “Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect. It makes you feel inadequate.” I found myself constantly striving to meet an impossible standard. My inner critic took over and it became so unhealthy. 

 

What does perfectionism look and feel like when we are grieving? 


We get so scared of messing up that we can't do anything at all. We become frozen and unable to take any action because we are so afraid of failing and getting it wrong. It can cause us to hold back our emotions and not express them until much later. When in the fog of grief, we simply do not do the things that we might do normally, but then the perfectionist tendencies hit us hard and we chastise ourselves. 

 

I remember a situation in which a family member got bad tempered with me because I hadn’t thanked him publicly for some work on my website. His partner also chose to berate me. I was struggling hugely at this point. He didn’t recognise this and instead, took it as a personal affront. I remember him declaring blankly: "The damage is done!" I then both grieved the painful rejection from a family member and friend who did not know how to be kind to me during my darkest days; but, as a perfectionist, I also played the incident over and over in my head. I then withdrew from social interactions as I was so scared of messing up again. 

 

The expectations of others


Being with others – even those who love and care for us can be really difficult when perfectionism results in a constant stream of statements in our heads of what we should and shouldn’t be thinking, saying or doing. We are always feeling like we're letting everyone down. 

 

In the rare moments that I did seek the company of others, I was staggered by the cold wall of incomprehension I sometimes faced. One of my family members told me that I simply needed to get over my grief, and fast. As a perfectionist, I then questioned if I was grieving wrong. Had I grieved for too long? I sunk myself into work as that offered a more tangible way of judging myself. I did not enjoy working, but it was the only way to avoid the constant questioning in my head. This only offered temporary respite. After work, when I was alone, I cried and yelled, wondering if life was worth living. 

 

Why is perfectionism so damaging when we are in grief?


There is no perfect path of grief. The constant questioning and seeking something completely unobtainable (because it doesn’t exist) means that we cannot move forward. We are disempowered by the streams of irrational and negative thoughts. In order to move along, we need to:


  1. Practice self-compassion: When we're feeling frustrated with ourselves, try speaking to ourselves as we would to a friend in the same situation. Use kind and supportive language, whether we talk to ourselves in the mirror or write affirmations on a sticky note.

  2. Replace "Should" with "Could": Instead of dwelling on what we think we should have done differently, focus on what we could do moving forward. This shift in perspective can reduce self-criticism and promote flexibility.

  3. Recognise our perfectionistic self: Recognise our perfectionist traits and then accept them as part of ourselves. We need to celebrate the challenging parts of our personalities alongside recognising our strengths. 

 

Negative thoughts are natural in any situation but in grief, they come thick and fast. Recognising that we have reached a point at which our perfectionist tendencies are fuelling our inner critic is difficult. It means taking control of our thoughts and perhaps even quieting a trait that has sometimes been an advantage in our life. 

 

Learning that we can grieve imperfectly is essential and it means we can commit to healing at our own pace pushing aside both the unrealistic expectations of society and sometimes our own toxic perfectionist tendencies. Grief is a journey – a long one – and we need allies not critics as we walk it. 


Exciting news! My book, "Overcoming Grief-Championing Through Multiple Losses," is now available on all major online bookshelves. Dive into the heartfelt journey of resilience, hope, and healing.


 

Sandy Linda, Life Coach with Grief Expertise

Sandy Linda is an elegant and worldly leader in grief guidance and a life coach. After experiencing multiple losses, she began a journey using her experiences to find calm in the chaos to support those mourning multiple losses. Sandy helps her clients move from heartbreaking losses to a place where they can work towards healing and become fearless adventure leaders.

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