The Pressure to Be Perfect (Part 1): Naming the Problem

In both my daily life and private practice, I encounter a surprising number of women who seem to hold themselves to impossible standards.  Many of these women report feeling pressured to “have it all” or, if that’s not possible (spoiler alert: it isn’t), to at least look like they do.  Some are determined to mold themselves into the quintessential supermom. (Cue the archetypal image of the professional, well groomed middle aged woman talking on the phone while balancing a leather briefcase on one hip and a baby on the other.)  These supermom types tend to pride themselves on being consummate multitaskers – outwardly, they appear to adeptly juggle the demands of work, kids, and family obligations all without missing a beat.  Internally, these women often suffer from feelings of anxiety, despondency and guilt over feeling like they are falling short of expectations.  

Pressure Leads To Panic

For example, I recently spoke to a middle-aged mother who described feeling panicked when her husband offered to give her dinner guests an impromptu tour of her new, beautiful home.  She had hoped her guests would remain in the dining room where she had on display her Pinterest-worthy feast and had felt intensely dismayed when her husband gave her guests free reign to enter rooms of the house that were not “camera-ready.”  Despite the fact that her guests were aware that the family had only recently moved in, this mom feared that a stray glimpse of clutter or unpacked boxes might undercut her guests’ opinion of her.  

This woman’s grown children, who were present at the dinner, were dismayed by their mother’s intense reaction.  But, upon hearing her relay this story, her reaction did not strike me as unusual.  In fact, her reaction seemed to me almost commonsensical in light of the unspoken pressures many women face. 

The Modern Societal Demands

It almost goes without saying that the weight of modern demands borne by women in our fast-paced society can feel crushing at times. My next posts will talk about the insidious cultural messaging that feeds our perfectionism, the different types of perfectionism, and the surprising ways in which perfectionism impacts our self-esteem. In the meantime, just know that if this post resonates you are not alone. 

When you find yourself being your harshest critic, try to catch yourself and remind yourself to show compassion to yourself just as you would try to show compassion to a friend or loved one.  If this feels impossible, then therapy can provide a space to gain a better understanding of what is making it so difficult to cut yourself some slack and be kinder to yourself. 

Let’s Talk

My services focus on the challenges women face in the demanding culture. If you resonate with the pressure to be perfect I’d love to work with you to help lighten the burden.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama put it best when he reminded us, “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.” I believe this sentiment should apply even to ourselves. We can carry that mantra with us into the New Year.  


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