Whethering The Storm

Their is always going to be somebody who will hapily point out your going about things the rong way, weather you like it or not.

Ha! Made you wince!

Don’t worry, I know I used the wrong words up there. As a perfectionist, I just wanted to see if I could even go through with it.

I recently read a wonderful post by author Josephine Moon in which she writes about being a recovering perfectionist. At this stage, as a ‘suffering’ perfectionist, I can only aspire to the status of ‘recovering’.

I’ve learned two things this week:

Being a perfectionist means a tsunami of praise can still be swamped by one small criticism


Perfectionists are their own worst enemies

In the first case I had to sing a song as ‘cantor’ – I sing the verses, everyone joins in on the chorus. I thought it went okay (see, perfectionist). I received many, many compliments afterwards. And one remark that inferred I had sung the song incorrectly. So guess which comment stuck in my head for the rest of the day? It didn’t seem to matter that the majority of people had thought it beautiful. It only takes one negative reaction to send a perfectionist on a downward spiral of self-criticism. “What did I do wrong?” “How was it wrong?” “I should have…” “If only I’d…” Like the princess who could feel the pea through a pile of mattresses, perfectionists feel the pain of ‘not getting it right’ through all the praise and congratulations.


In the second case, nobody said anything negative except my own inner perfectionist. I’ve recently moved into emergency teaching in the disability sector. I have neither qualifications nor experience in special education but I know they are desperate for relief teachers and I am keen to learn and make a difference. I was called in to work yesterday and it did not go well. Things became so out of control, an additional aide was sent into the room and even the principal came and took one child away for a while to try and calm the situation. I felt useless. On reflection I realised that it was actually my own perfectionism that had caused the problem.

Working with children with disabilities takes special skills and processes. Things must be done a certain way, particular words must be used when speaking, defined actions must be used when directing the children to do things and activities must be tailored specifically for that class. It can be overwhelming and in wanting to get it right, I froze and instead did nothing.

©Fran Priestley (www.freeimages.com)

©Fran Priestley (www.freeimages.com)

I received no criticism from anyone involved at the school, but that was not necessary. My own perfectionist was quite capable of berating me herself. “I was terrible today.” “They’ll never ask me back.” “I should have done…” “Why didn’t I…”

Being a perfectionist can make you feel like a tiny boat in a storm of criticism both external and internal. It’s all you can do to keep afloat and try and head for a safe harbour.


©Patricia Dekker (www.freeimages.com)

So, if I am to move from ‘suffering’ perfectionist to ‘recovering’ perfectionist, what do I need to learn from these two situations?

1. Turn up the positive and lower the negative. Hear the praise and quiet the criticism. It’s okay to hear and learn from constructive comments that will allow you to do things better but don’t let it drown out all the things you got right.

2. Sometimes things will not go well. Sometimes you will get it wrong. Learn from it and move on. Change the situation then let it go. Don’t let the fear of getting it wrong hold you back from getting it right.

It’s a long journey and a far from easy one but as long as I keep moving forward I believe I’ll get there.

©Petr Kovar (www.freeimages.com)

©Petr Kovar (www.freeimages.com)



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24 thoughts on “Whethering The Storm

  1. Oh, do I recognize that inner voice speaking to you..mine is harder on me than anyone else ever could be. And it really is neverending…inasmuch as we give everything we have to a task, we never let ourselves forget any small transgression we might make. I too am trying to live in a more positive place, but these little self-patrols are a hard act to beat…..but I keep trying!


  2. I’m singing on the same page.
    In my case, I wonder how much of it derives from a childhood where positive comments were rare, but negative ones were frequent and many. As an adult I’m now hyper sensitive to ‘failure’ whether perceived or real.
    I doubt I will ever get to a stage where I won’t be overwhelmed by the fear of making a mistake, or where I can let criticism – overt or not – roll off me.
    Good luck – if you find some helpful tricks, I’d love to hear them 🙂


  3. I can tend to be a perfectionist in certain things of life, especially when there are others to judge me involve. Great advice to move forward!


  4. Great post, and yes, I did notice the missing ‘p’ in happily!

    This is an ongoing theme for me, as well. I find some comfort in knowing that on a cellular level, it is the imperfections in cell division and growth that makes for individuality and not carbon copies. That is, “imperfection” is necessary! Not just something that we need to allow and make room for. It is absolutely fundamental.

    She said as she scanned the comment once, twice, decided to leave the sentence that ends with a preposition and damn the torpedoes! and finally hit the “post comment” button.


    • And you had me scanning my post to make sure there wasn’t an unintentional ‘hapily’ in addition to the intentional one! The fear of imperfection never really leaves.

      I like your view of imperfection as a necessity, though. It’s very true.


  5. Oh I do so hear you! It’s hard even to believe the tsunami of praise without the one criticism, let alone with it. But it does become easier as you get older, I think. You get better at realising that a lot of your mistakes pass unnoticed, that critics often have their own baggage, and that if you tell your kids the good stuff often enough, some of eventually gets through to you as well. I’ve also become aware that the time I’ve got left is shorter than the time I’ve had, so I’d better spend it positively before it’s too late!


  6. Mastering the internal voice that is your worst critic is a skill everyone should gain. Be you an elite athlete or a tyro teacher’s aide allowing that negative voice to drown out the other and rule your actions can only lead to unhappiness and unfulfilled potential.

    Of course you must learn from your mistakes but there is a big difference between learning and beating yourself up unnecessarily. From my dealings with elite athlete’s they let the Negative voice have input into their training but the Positive voice is their only companion at a comp.


    • Thank you. That’s an important distinction, I think. And helpful. I think in the case of yesterday, I did beat myself up initially but then decided if I was going to continue, there were things I could do to make it work better. So today I came up with some flexible, interesting activities based on themes that I can pull out as needed. Now, I’m just hoping they ask me back so I can implement them! (Yeah, so maybe the perfectionist hasn’t quite got over it.)


  7. Thank you for that lovely post and for praising mine too 😀 I’m so glad you found inspiration there and look forward to welcoming you to fold of recovering perfectionists…. it seems to me you already are 🙂


  8. What a great post. Remember the longer you’re in a school, the easier it gets. Once the children know you, everything becomes easier. When I first started in Special Education I found I froze, too, on occasion. The traditions of the school were important, and once I learnt that and fitted in, everything changed for the better. I was not trained for Special Education, but Secondary Art…. I ended up loving it!


    • Thank you! That’s so encouraging. I have actually had a couple of days work this term (yay! they asked me back!) and they have gone very well. I have found that having an Education Support worker who treats you as if you are competent from the moment you walk in the door makes a world of difference to your confidence and thus your teaching.


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