How to Forgive Yourself (and others) For Not Being Perfect

Perfectionism is a tricky little beast, isn’t it? For some, it’s a form of motivation – pushing one towards their goals, accomplishing feats, and helping them to succeed. But, let’s be real. There’s a fine line to walk with perfectionism, and the majority of us (I presume) fall on the wrong side – the side that causes us to obsess over small details, beat ourselves up when we think we fall short, and expect way too much of others.

So, in an ego-centric world with immeasurable standards and unrealistic expectations, how do we overcome the need to be perfect? How do we forgive ourselves when we fall short of perfectionism? And, how do we accept that others aren’t perfect either?

I don’t know. But, I’m going to give it my best shot.

What is perfectionism?

Of course, as a perfectionist (girl raising hand) I must begin with first defining perfectionism. According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster, perfectionism is defined as, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” Unacceptable. Don’t tell me you haven’t told yourself something was unacceptable. Either something you or another has done. The word replays in your mind over and over until your stream of consciousness has spiraled so far down that you’re beating yourself up for the mistake you have made. Or, and what is sometimes worse, you’re beating another up for the mistake they have made. And, thus, you have stepped over that fine line into unhealthy perfectionism.

What are the different types of perfectionism?

From the little research I’ve done, there are three types of perfectionism. In an article by Amy Capetta for Yahoo Health, she lists the three types of perfectionism as such:

self-perfectionists: those who set high standards for themselves;

socially prescribed perfectionists: those who think others want them to be perfect

other-oriented perfectionists: those who have super-high and possibly unattainable standards for other people.

Which category do you fall in? I believe I am a mixture of all of them with a different perfectionist beast poking its head out at different times given the circumstance.


 to forgive is divine (2)

Now that we know what perfectionism is, and we’ve loosely categorized the types of perfectionism, let’s focus on the important stuff – Forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves for falling short and practicing a form of self-love that allows us to forgive others when they fall short. I’m currently reading a short, little book entitled, “To Forgive is Divine.” Yes, it’s a book written by a priest (Father Robert DeGrandis), and if that’s not your cup of tea, cool, but still hear me out…

We know that we are not perfect. We know that perfectionism is unattainable. So, when the perfectionist falls short of perfection, what does he or she do? He or she beats him or herself up until they hurt and fear trying again.

From my personal experience, what I’ve found to be most helpful in overcoming perfection is, as hard as it may be, trying things without fear. Pushing myself to stretch past my comfort zone (my comfort zone being what I already know I’m good at). And, when I do that and undoubtedly make a mistake, what I do next is forgive. I forgive myself for the mistake I’ve made, learn from it, and carpe diem the heck out of the next thing I do. Or at least try to. But, I walk into that next experience preemptively forgiving myself, because I already know that what I’m about to do or say isn’t going to be perfect. And, guess what? That’s OK. That type of forgiveness – forgiving yourself for not being perfect before and after you complete something – is a form of self-love that brings me to my next point.

Forgiving others for not being perfect.

This is a tough one. The perfectionist wants so badly to correct and control the thoughts and actions of others – specifically, those they love – that when that person fails (because they’re, guess what? Not perfect) they find it hard to forgive that person.

How could so-and-so say that hurtful thing? Do that hurtful thing? Why weren’t they thinking of me? Why does he act that way? Why doesn’t she treat me like I think I should be treated?

These questions create a downward spiral of perpetual self-hurt (yes, you are hurting yourself by thinking these things) that it may become impossible to forgive the imperfect person you love so much. Yikes. That sucks.

But, I digressed. Back to the book.

Father Robert DeGandis reminds us that unforgiveness is a type of hate. He says:

We feel bad, the other person feels bad, and even though both are saying it is the other’s fault and both are justifying themselves, there is no peace or tranquility… The walls of bitterness, unforgiveness and resentment are built around our hearts, and just as love flows from the heart, so can darkness, negativity and hatred flow from the heart…

Just let the love flow, man.

I kid.

But seriously, being unable to forgive chains you to your perfectionism. It creates a wedge between you and the person you love and it halts you from being able to achieve all of the greatness that’s just waiting to burst from inside you.

Like, I said. I don’t have all of the answers. I’m not perfect (there’s my plug). But, what I do know, is that perfectionism is a beast that, when fed with unforgiveness, will rear its ugly head and cause you pain. So, forgive yourself for not being perfect, forgive others for not being perfect, and be on your merry way. Do the best you can, and if you take away anything from this post, just be happy with who you are, where you are, and the path you’re on (unless you’re on a really bad path. Then I suggest getting help).

Also, I’m posting this picture again, because who doesn’t want to be this blissfully happy?

to forgive is divine (2)

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I overcame an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression with the help of this wonderfully amazing thing called running. And that's why I'm here - to share my story and to help those who are going through what I've already gone through. On this blog you'll find running tips, mental health tips, and lots of joy. Join me as we piece life together one run at a time.

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