Is Perfectionism Affecting Your Finances?May 23, 2023
Hi, BTG community- Coach Rachel here!
I speak about perfectionism and how it shows up in finances with my clients all the time, so wanted to break down for all of you what perfectionism is, how it can show up in your finances, and what you can do about it.
You can’t budget perfectly. You just–can’t.
You’re going to forget to track your expenses one week (or month).
You’re going to have unexpected expenses come up.
You’re going to make mistakes.
That's ok. It’s just going to happen, especially (especially!!) if you are newer to the budgeting game.
A few years before I got my finances in order, I wrote in my journal “One of my goals last year was to budget and that failed.” That was 2018. I didn’t try again until 2020.
I tried budgeting exactly one time, viewed it as a failure, and didn’t try again for YEARS. I was so avoidant of feeling the shame of failure again, that it stopped me from caring for my financial health for a long time.
My perfectionism was showing.
WHAT IS PERFECTIONISM
Perfectionism is often thought of as the need to be or appear perfect. I personally believe it’s deeper and a bit more complex than that.
Brene Brown is a vulnerability and shame researcher. Her definition of perfectionism really hits me to my core: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”
Perfectionism at its core is a shield: a defense mechanism we can develop to protect us from potential pain; the pain of failure, the pain of shame, the pain of not being enough. When I tried and failed at budgeting once, my perfectionism kicked in. I felt ashamed for “failing” at budgeting (not living up to my own high expectations) and to avoid that shame in the future, decided to not try again.
Failure becomes a threat, and perfectionism comes up to keep us safe. Safe from shame, safe from rejection, safe from criticism. The double-edged sword here is that we think perfectionism is protecting us, but really, it kills creativity, stifles vulnerability, and keeps us living small.
Perfectionism can look and feel like:
- Being stuck, unable to take action in any direction
- Rigid, all-or-nothing thinking
- Not taking risks or moving toward challenges to minimize or avoid failure
- High expectations of ourselves and others
PERFECTIONISM & BUDGETING
Ok, so how does perfectionism show up in budgeting & personal finance?
Well, money is emotional. If you feel shame around your finances, if you feel like a failure, if you feel like you’re bad with money AND you deal with perfectionism, well, that’s just a perfect storm, isn’t it? It’s fertile soil for perfectionist tendencies to come up.
The inner dialogue could sound like:
- Why budget if I won’t do it perfectly? I can’t fail at something I don't try.
- I tried and failed once. That means I’m bad at budgeting, bad with money, and it’s useless to try again.
- Dealing with money is overwhelming and scary. When I look at my accounts I feel shame. If I don’t look, I can’t fail, and I can avoid those feelings.
- I don’t have the right tools to do this. I just won’t start.
- I can’t admit to others that I’m not perfect when it comes to money.
This could look like:
- Avoiding tracking your expenses
- Giving up on budgeting completely after you make one mistake
- Being really critical and harsh with yourself for going over budget or not sticking to your budget exactly.
- Not talking about money or setting financial boundaries with other people for fear of rejection.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
Something I learned along the way as I worked with my perfectionism is that trying to “fix it” only made it worse. There is nothing to fix. My perfectionism is part of me. It is not wrong, no part of me or you is wrong: it just is.
The thing about defenses we develop throughout our life is that at one point, they served us really well and now….well, they just don’t serve us as well or in the same way. That doesn’t mean we need to totally eliminate what is no longer working. I would argue instead that we need to accept our shadow self, accept the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or think others won’t like. Every part of you deserves love, grace, and acceptance, that’s the goddamn truth.
The other truth is that you can allow perfectionist tendencies to come up, but you don’t have to let them take a front seat. You can rewire your brain and create new patterns; it just takes time.
Here are 4 things you can do to build a different relationship with perfectionism over time:
- Personify your perfectionist voice and create a dialogue with it. See if you can identify, who is this voice? Is it mine? Mom’s? My first-grade teacher? You could give your perfectionism a name, or a funny voice. And then start a conversation: hey, what’s going on right now? Why are you coming up right now?
- Building on #1, when the perfectionist voice comes up, ask yourself: what am I feeling? What is my perfectionism trying to protect me from? Start to understand when and why your perfectionism gets triggered.
- Accept your perfectionism. Let it be seen and thank it for working hard to protect you, even if you don’t need that protection right now.
- Keep showing up. Even if it won’t be perfect. Even if it’s hard. Just showing up can be hard enough for perfectionists, and I’m here to tell you: showing up is all you need to do. It is good enough to just show up. Embrace the mantra “done is better than perfect.”
Budgeting has been a huge part of healing perfectionism for me personally because the truth of budgeting is you can’t do it perfectly. When I accepted that truth and started to sit with my perfectionism when it came up, my budget became a safe space to show up as my incredibly imperfect self, embrace more flexibility, and sit with hard feelings.
How does perfectionism show up for you when dealing with finances? I’d love to hear from you over on Instagram!
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