Perfectionism and Self doubt

This post was also published on Whole Hearted Medicine, an organisation run by doctors and offering self care retreats specifically for doctors.

Call it ‘Imposter Syndrome’, call it self doubt. It doesn’t really matter what name you give it, most of us feel it to some extent at some point in our lives. 

Medicine is full of high achieving individuals often with perfectionistic traits. Why wouldn’t it be? People’s lives fall into our hands every day. This sort of precious cargo demands as close to perfection as possible.

As a patient, I completely get it. I want a ‘perfect’ doctor. Who doesn’t??
As a patient, I also benefit from this collective of immense knowledge and dedication.
As a doctor, I demand ‘perfection’ from myself. 
Yet, as a human being, I understand that no one is perfect.

How can I reconcile these facts?

This tends to be where self doubt creeps in. 

We set the bar at perfection and berate ourselves if we ever fall even a millimetre short. 
We see our colleagues with more compassionate eyes than we see ourselves.
We put ourselves or our family members in our patients shoes and understand the need for attention to detail, for the constant striving for perfection.

Imposter Syndrome or pervasive self doubt is the natural consequence of this constant self flagellation.

Now I’m not saying that we should all stop striving for as close to perfection as humanly possible. 
Our profession and our patients, deserves it from us. 
What I am saying is that our striving must be balanced with compassion. 

Just as the scales of justice balance the concept of support and opposition- that even the truth has many interpretations of it. We too must balance the concept of perfection with self compassion.

It sounds so simple doesn’t it?

At the risk of sounding trite, it actually is.

Mindfulness teaches us that we can be an observer to our thoughts.
That we can watch that stream of berating thoughts and self doubt as they come to us just as we might watch a train pulling into a station. That we can choose to step back and not engage, to not ‘hop on’ the train as it takes us on a journey to Imposter Syndrome Station.

Self compassion comes when we gain this ability to disengage with our thoughts. 

Mindful self awareness is a state of mind in which the default mode of the brain is set to compassion. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for others. This comes from practice. Whether it be a daily meditation practice, regular prayer or even informal mindfulness cultivation. The key is consistency. 

When we begin to see the goal of perfection not as some unattainable star, always seemingly out of our reach but rather the balance to our own practice of self compassion- we can see that striving for perfection isn’t in fact a linear path along a spectrum but rather a constant state of being.

​Sustainable, but only when in balance with our practice of self compassion.

by Emily Amos

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