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For years, I was a people-pleaser, perfectionist, and never felt good enough. I focused on making others happy, avoiding failure and criticism, and constantly tried to prove my worth. I was also riddled with anxiety. Perhaps you can relate. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between anxiety, people-pleasing, and perfectionism. And I’ll offer some tips for managing anxiety when you’re a people-pleaser and perfectionist.
People-pleasers and perfectionists often struggle with anxiety
People-pleasers and perfectionists often struggle with anxiety. We frequently worry. Our worry is excessive and out of control; we can’t shut it off. Our bodies also get stressed: Insomnia, muscle tension, rapid heart rate, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, sweating, and headaches are all common physical symptoms of anxiety.
Why do people-pleasers and perfectionists feel anxious? We’re anxious because we think we’re inadequate, defective, and unlovable – and we’re afraid others already know this or will find out. We’re afraid we’ll be criticized, embarrassed, rejected, or abandoned. So, we play it safe. We stick to what we’re good at. We work hard (sometimes to excess). We try to be agreeable. We stuff our feelings, needs, and opinions (especially if we think they’re disagreeable or inconvenient).
Criticism and rejection are painful experiences for anyone, but we feel them especially deeply. This is usually because we’ve already been criticized or rejected and we’re afraid we will be again. Or you may have been told that you’d be rejected or abandoned if you were difficult, disagreeable, opinionated, needy, imperfect, etc. Essentially, we’ve been conditioned to be hypersensitive to the possibility of being criticized, rejected, or abandoned. We’re perpetually anxious and afraid of criticism and rejection, which leads to our people-pleasing and perfectionistic behaviors.
People-pleasing and perfectionism are attempts to manage anxiety
We try to manage our anxiety by:
- Being passive
- Shutting down our feelings
- Avoiding conflicts
- Ignoring our needs
- Saying yes to things we don’t want to do
- Seeking validation from others
- Enabling and making excuses for other people’s poor choices
- Working excessively
- Redoing work until it’s perfect
- Playing it safe, not taking chances
- Not pursuing our interests and goals
- Staying in unfulfilling relationships
These are all ways we try to feel safe from criticism, rejection, and abandonment. And conversely, we feel anxious when we express our ideas or needs, set boundaries, rest, practice self-care, let others experience the negative consequences of their actions, or try something new.
Just like everyone else, we want to be loved, accepted, and feel like we belong. But, unfortunately, we learned that we aren’t good enough as we are, so we’re constantly working to prove our worth and keep others happy.
Are you ready to change your people-pleasing and perfectionist behaviors?
Managing anxiety when you’re a people-pleaser and perfectionist
There are many effective approaches to manage and decrease anxiety. Below are a few strategies that you may find helpful. Most people use a combination of approaches.
- Journaling is a way to process your thoughts and feelings and provides a “holding place” for your worries and uncomfortable feelings.
- Breathing exercises are calming because when you slow down your breathing, you take more oxygen into your body and slow your heart rate. When you’re anxious your breathing is often shallow and quick. Focusing on counting slow, deep breaths also serves as a basic mindfulness exercise that takes your mind off your fear and worry and puts it onto your breathing.
- Spending time in nature also has calming benefits and can reduce blood pressure and stress hormones, anxiety, and depression. Read more from Harvard Health.
- Physical exercise helps your body rid itself of stress hormones, can reduce muscle tension, and be a positive form of distraction.
- Meditation can help you slow down, stay present-focused, and quiet your overactive mind. There are thousands of free apps and YouTube videos that you can use to get started. Calm and Insight Timer are two popular apps.
- Accepting your anxiety. It’s normal to want to push your anxiety away but denying it and trying to pretend you’re not anxious doesn’t work. Although your anxiety isn’t helpful, it’s trying to protect you. Try accepting it by saying, “I’m feeling anxious right now. I know that this feeling will pass and that I can cope with it.”
- Challenging catastrophic thoughts, irrational fears. You can also reduce anxiety by learning to change the negative thoughts that contribute to your worries and fears. The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism is a great resource for learning cognitive behavioral skills such as these.
- Therapy provides support and additional tools for managing anxiety.
- A physician may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, if appropriate.
Managing anxiety when you’re a people-pleaser and perfectionist, isn’t easy. You may find yourself reverting to people-pleasing and perfectionist behaviors because they’re old habits and temporarily relieve your anxiety. But don’t lose hope! With a combination of lifestyle changes, self-help strategies, and professional help, most people can get relief from their anxiety.
- 10 Ways Perfectionism Undermines Your Health, Happiness, and Success
- Resolve to Improve Your Mental Health
- How Journaling Can Improve Mental Health
©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.
Ditch Your Rigid, Perfectionist & Self-Critical Thinking
Do you hold yourself—and perhaps others—to extremely high standards? Do you have a nagging inner-critic that tells you you’re inadequate no matter how much you achieve? Do you procrastinate certain tasks because you’re afraid you won’t carry them out perfectly? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, chances are you’re a perfectionist. And while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, perfectionism can take over your life if you let it. So, how can you find balance?
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