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Adele Stickland Shares Her Insights On The Cost of Perfectionism
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Adele Stickland Shares Her Insights On The Cost of Perfectionism

‘Good girl’ syndrome is the feeling that you must be seen as perfect, hard-working and never rocking the boat – this almost victim mentality is present in the majority of women. ‘Good girl’ syndrome means working so hard that nobody else can do the job better than you – you are in control, you do everything and you will get rewarded for appearing like a martyr.  You may not even be aware that this is what you are doing, as you try to impress others with your ability to cope with everything. In this article, we will discuss how to become aware of the ‘good girl’ trait and dislodge this mentality by making you much more aware of how you talk to yourself.

Perfectionism has a cost on your health; there are very real consequences of micromanaging your family, work and even your friendship groups. Are you able to let it ‘all hang out’ or do you need a good night out to help you to do that? Would letting go make you feel uncomfortable or worse send you into a tailspin of panic?  Perfectionism can make you physically sick and can detract from your enjoyment of the day and your life. This syndrome can be embedded so deeply into the female characteristics that is is hard to observe and step back from.

If you recognise yourself as a perfectionist then you are in good company. Most women wear the ‘perfectionism’ label as a badge of honour. However, stepping too far into perfectionism can have long term effects – look out for the danger signs that can lead to a crash.

What does ‘good girl’ syndrome or perfectionism look like? True perfectionists can have impossibly high standards, which can lead to obsessive self-critique, fear of failure and procrastination.  Once the successful ‘together’ image goes too far, then perfectionism can simply stop you from getting anything done. Do you have to do everything yourself simply because you are the only one that knows how it should be done?


True perfectionism is hard to define and much more difficult to isolate in yourself, as it can be very deep and can be regarded and dismissed as simply a personality trait; a trait that you live with and feel that you can’t change.  The clues are to listen to the phrases that you say to yourself – for instance, if you use the word ‘should’ frequently, or perhaps you feel that you are the only one who can take on specific tasks, you may be taking on too much.

Perfectionism syndrome can begin to emerge in people as a child; because it tends to become relatively stable over time, it develops into part of who you are – a personality trait or a characteristic, an idiosyncrasy you feel is endearing and unable to change. ‘Good girl’ perfectionist tendencies can feel as if they are a core part of your identity and not something that you are willing or able to modify.

You may not even recognise that you have a driving perfectionist tendency – it may feel normal to rush around like the proverbial fly, to feel that everyone depends on you and to behave in such a way to get everything accomplished. Caring for yourself and putting yourself first feels like you are being selfish.  These are all warning signs that ‘good girl perfectionism’ has gone too far, and the consequences are exhaustion and burn out.

Keys to change:

Perfectionism vs getting things done

A key goal is to change the feeling that ‘striving for perfection’ can be turned down, meaning that instead, you can aim to ‘strive for excellence’ or even ‘good enough’. That can be very liberating and can reduce stress and improve your health. It is important to balance your self-critical ways of perfectionism with self-compassion – perfectionists typically see being kind to themselves as an excuse and a weakness – but you are not alone, as many other women struggle with the same issues.

Recognise ‘perfect’ inner dialogue is exhausting

Exploring your own inner dialogue can help to keep you safe in your own mental state. It is important to recognise your own ‘perfect girl’ syndrome – the perfect girl is very caring, looks after others and does a good job of keeping you safe. She never stands out or says what she is really thinking because others may not agree and that would put you and her at centre stage, which can feel very uncomfortable.

Your ‘perfect girl’ inner critic has a constant dialogue with you; she is working hard to keep you within your limited comfort zone, feeling secure. When you created her in your younger years, however, you didn’t have much life experience. She tends to look for the mode of behaviour that will give you acceptance and gain love from those around you. Your inner critic might be harsh and beat you up when you ‘fail’ to live up to your idealised, perfection goal. Stepping on those dreaded scales is a black and white reminder of your lost perfection. Inner critics are created to keep you safe and small when you are young. Instead, branch out and grow.


Call out and name your inner dementor

Perhaps you are so used to hearing and living with your inner critic that you don’t even notice her anymore. Inner chatter adds up to doubt and lack of confidence and your self-critic can have a lot to say. Listen for your inner critic and be aware of how you speak to yourself. You would have to have nerves of steel to put up with a barrage of criticism such as:

“You shouldn’t have eaten that, you fat cow – you are a failure”

“What is wrong with you? Why can’t you get this right?”

“You have no time, you are too busy looking after XYZ”

Airing these thoughts and hearing them out in the open will extinguish their grip. Name your thoughts and your emotions – deliberately and consciously speak your inner critics comments out loud; talk yourself through it to start the process of freeing your subconscious programming. Speaking out loud, journaling or talking to a coach will take something that is on autopilot with simmering anxiety and gives you an insight into what is actually going on in the background. By listening to your thoughts, you will make them come through into your conscious mind. That simple awareness formula will help to make the breakthrough and understand why you have remained stuck in a particular diet cycle or an even deeper, more destructive cycle of behaviour. This pause creates an opportunity to opt for a new course of action. It is as simple as making a momentary pause, which creates awareness and a new path for you. Knowing that you have the choice and therefore the control is empowering and will affect a change that will alter the course of your life. Start small – simply listen to your thoughts and speak them out.

If you are a perfectionist to the core, and always have been, it may be difficult to change your behaviour all at once. Start by turning down the thermostat one notch at a time – it may well be possible to retain your high standards while learning more healthy ways of dealing with failures and setbacks.

Instead of being perfect, ‘tend and befriend’

Tend and befriend is a much healthier way of dealing with perfectionism. The general response to stress is fight or flight, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system – the stress response. Women, in particular, are able to develop a more suitable strategy of ‘tend and befriend’, which means you can enlist help from a female friend. This is a parasympathetic response, which includes rest and digest; it is the opposite biobehavioural response. Building a social network and asking for help from others is more natural to women and it is natural for women to ‘tend’ – meaning they look after households, work, have social lives and befriend others; to tend to these situations is a natural and much-needed response. The key to this behaviour is the female hormone called oxytocin, which is otherwise known as the love hormone and is responsible for human behaviour associated with relationships and bonding.

A US study by Professor Shelley Taylor1 discovered that women seek out other women to talk to when the going gets tough. Not only does this release stress but it also engages understanding and help. If and when you encounter problems, talk it through with others and explore your own perfectionist tendencies. Discuss your commonality amongst your friends and it will help you to not only self-diagnose your perfectionist issues but also to release them.


Shine the light of awareness

‘Shine the light of awareness’ simply means be aware and notice how you talk to yourself. Whilst it isn’t always easy to see your own personality traits or modes, asking somebody else to point them out to you can be an enlightening step. Once you are aware of your traits, you can make the change. It takes only the observation of behaviour, or perhaps the skillfully asked question, to help you to see how you interact.  You have the gift to change and you can move mountains – you simply need self-belief that you can do it and to have a friend fighting for you in your corner.

In conclusion, being aware of your way of speaking to yourself is your first step, while asking a trusted friend or a coach to help you will bring you closer to understanding the traits you developed as a child to navigate your world. Awareness is the key to changing the course of your life.

About the author:

Adele Stickland is the founder of Get Gorgeous, an online platform dedicated to inspiring and empowering women to great health and more vitality. Over 20 years, she has educated hundreds of women on the role of nutrition, movement and a healthy mindset. Gorgeous!, (Panoma press £14.99) is the new book by Adele that recently launched provides women with expert guidance to change their perception of food. Adele is also passionate that for sustainable weight loss to occur, the right mindset needs to be in place from the offset.

1 – Behavioural response to stress in females: Shelley E. Taylor Psychological Review 2000 Vol 107 No 3 411-429


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