How to Age Gracefully When You Are Highly Self-Critical (Find Out if You’re a Perfectionist)


Are you more self-critical than you would like to be? If you answered yes, this article discusses how to age gracefully while managing self-critical habits. We will consider the case for being your authentic self, gliding gracefully through the coming years. You will find a simple perfectionist quiz at the end.

“Aging gracefully is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”

— David Bowie

According to the late Mr. Bowie, the process of graceful aging brings one to become their authentic self. Have you been your authentic self? Since we are all in this together, I’ll volunteer that I have been too concerned about the assessments of others and have resisted allowing myself permission to be authentic.

Looking back, I recognize that those self-critical behaviors have interrupted many opportunities to be authentic. Thankfully, compassion and inner boundaries have helped lessen offensive self-critical thoughts.

In the context of authenticity, what can we use in our 60s to get on with the business of living?

Let’s propose that authentic living is the ticket for aging gracefully. If we are comfortable in our skin, allow ourselves permission to be flawed, and live with inner grace, we are authentic. When we are critical, it sets up an internal dilemma that is stress-provoking.

Those of us who are highly self-critical are likely perfectionists. Having high standards isn’t necessarily a problem unless maintaining and achieving the standard creates stress and discomfort.

Researcher D.D. Burns defines perfectionists brilliantly:

“Those whose standards are high beyond reach or reason, people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their self-worth entirely on the terms of productivity and accomplishments. For these people, the effort for excellence is self-defeating.”

Now that is a lot of stress!!

Women over 60 have more than enough concerns today, more than ever before. With the constant barrage of terrible news and heightened risk for our age group, life is stressful. If that isn’t enough reason to reevaluate your internal messages, there is more.

Life expectancy for women is 81.2 years, and it is 76.4 years for men. Time is of the essence, and regardless of annoying physical symptoms, the stuff we cannot control, and health challenges, life is too short to be stuck.

Most of the women I speak to are still learning to mindfully navigate their physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual perspectives. We are indeed a needy bunch. In all our brilliance, we need a lot of attention.

Questions and Fears

How do we make the best of our physical appearance and health?

What can we do to make the most of our relationships while we still can?

How do we navigate the internal chatter that sometimes feels like an endless clang of unhelpful comments?

What spiritual keys can we adopt to make the most of our days?

These questions take time to consider. Women over 60 deserve the time to ponder and plan our authentic journey.

As a therapist and wellness coach, I am privileged to witness the fears, hopes, and dreams of the women I speak with. A common need in the over 60 crowd is to remain independent and not rely on family members.

Secondly, many women speak as though taking intentional care of themselves and offering themselves positive regard is inappropriate. Thirdly, some women admit they fear losing their youth means they lose their quality of life. The large percentage of women I see have some form of perfectionism.

Think of it in the uncertain category of how perfectionism and self-critical behaviors impact our need for independence moving forward. Unfortunately for all of us, our health and the health of our loved ones is uncertain. The best we can do is be aware of better health choices and commit to an intentional plan moving forward.

In other words, aging gracefully means we yield towards accepting what we cannot change and turn our backs on getting hung up on what is uncertain and out of our control.

Being intentional about your physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual pillars of health is not selfish. It is essential. If you agree that life is short, you are probably already on board with being proactive in vital areas.

Are you making your life a priority? Do projections of what others might think of you preempt your assessment? Are you ready to shift to honest living where the only opinion of you that matters is yours? Let’s call that shift to honor you optimal quality of life.

Can We Talk?

We have been through nearly two horrific years with uncertainty still knocking on our door and no end in sight. What shoe will drop next? Our external circumstances are stressful enough and that, along with the added typical aging concerns, creates a perfect storm. Is it any wonder that mental health care is at an all-time high? Stress is a significant problem for the over-60 crowd more than ever.

How do we learn to navigate all the recommended steps to mitigate potential health snags while keeping soft and compassionate perspectives?

Self-critical individuals are more likely to struggle with anxiety. Women over 60 have a higher likelihood of depression as well. Individuals with Type D personality traits have perfectionistic tendencies and are more likely to become depressed. Stress, loss, and sometimes a lifetime of avoiding processing your emotions contribute to feeling less than graceful.

So, what is a girl to do?

#1: Acknowledge Your Perfectionistic Thinking

Recently, we visited a terminally ill family member in a neighboring state. It was incredibly stressful to see our loved ones need to navigate this unexpected turn on their dreams for travel during retirement. Our cousin would soon be unable to use his muscles and need to be in a wheelchair. Lou Gehrig’s disease is horrible, and we all wanted so badly to do something to help.

The recovering perfectionist within me began to think of what I might have done years ago to help this family member. All these efforts would have been excellent; however, my need to be “perfectly helpful” would have stressed my capacity to be present in other areas.

I would have neglected myself by overworking. Being authentic with myself acknowledges that phone calls, cards, and bringing awareness to others about ALS are the most I can do to help. I recognize the trap of perfectionism.

Perfectionism is insidious. The good news is that you get to decide how you will overcome it.

Acknowledging your need to be perfect is the first step. Having high standards for yourself isn’t the problem. It’s the demands placed on yourself and the self-defeating behaviors.

#2: Be Mindful of How You Are Thinking

Mindfulness teaches us to pause and take note of what matters to us. I remind my clients that the only person who can best care for them is themselves. If we do not do it, who will? Being mindful helped me to identify the perfectionistic pattern and then compare my thinking to what is accurate.

Needing to perform flawlessly is a stressful business. The problem is that we reach a stress threshold where our physical and emotional systems speak out for respite. Holding a demanding standard often ignores our physical and emotional cues, and we plug on despite the warnings. When we are mindful, we interrupt the self-defeating patterns that operate while we aren’t paying attention.

#3: Do the Self-Talk

After I identified my perfectionistic pattern, I did the self-talk to keep me focused. I yielded to what is an accurate statement. “I am helping. I do not need to do more.” Saying I cared by texting, calling, or sending a card was helpful. My retired superwoman cape remained in its place so I could be authentic and genuine to myself.

#4: Call Out Second Guessing and Refuse to Get Trapped

I resisted the temptation to succumb to regrets or feel guilty that I hadn’t visited more often. Second-guessing is a sister to self-critical thinking. My husband would visit without me often because I was busy keeping and maintaining other high standards.

Calling out the temptation to second guess one’s choices empowers us to be genuine. Mindfulness teaches us how to pause so we can restructure our thoughts and perceptions. Second-guessing is a trap. I refuse to let it get the best of me. Will you refuse to second guess yourself?

#5: Practice Self-Compassion

Lastly and most importantly, I reminded myself that I am doing the best I can. My performance does not define my value. This method works because it applies cognitive and behavioral modalities. What we think is linked to our beliefs.

Perfectionistic beliefs, thought to originate in childhood, are rooted in feeling you can never quite measure. Perfectionists cope by proving their worthiness through performance. Being critical confirms the rooted belief.

Self-compassion is the antidote. I wish I could say this is an easy process. It takes work to unravel the habits. However, self-compassion is what I believe every child should learn and attain going into each transition of adulthood.

Restructure the critical thought with kind, confirming words. Extend the same kindness you would to a child or your closest friend. Wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. In time, it gets easier.

Here are a few suggestions to lessen your perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors: gratitude journaling, meditation practice, self-compassion, and intentional stress management practices.

Take this quiz to see how you rate concerning common perfectionistic traits. Your score can illuminate behaviors and thought patterns. You are likely very aware of them already.

True or False?

  1. When I receive any criticism, I am happy and receptive to the comments.
  2. I often check and recheck my work to be sure it is done correctly.
  3. I am uncomfortable with making mistakes.
  4. I welcome unsolicited feedback.
  5. I think failure is a learning experience.
  6. My assessment of my appearance is usually kind and accepting.
  7. I have a very high standard and am somewhat hard on others also.
  8. I have no trouble with procrastinating.
  9. I have difficulty completing a task within a reasonable amount of time.
  10. I have a very high standard for my work, but I am most proud of my performance.
  11. I am usually dissatisfied with my performance.
  12. When I look at myself in the mirror, I focus on what I think needs to improve.

If you answered true to any 4+ of questions 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, you are likely highly conscientious.

On the other hand, you might have perfectionistic traits if you answered true to 4+ of questions 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 12.

If you find your score toggles with both, you are likely mildly perfectionistic and highly conscientious.

Knowing you have perfectionistic traits and committing to age gracefully is the beginning of change. Check out more resources here https://morinholistictherapy.com/blog/

What are some ways you have learned to be softer and more compassionate with yourself? Are you satisfied with your level of intention towards staying ahead of potential health snags such as stress management, eating well, exercising, minimizing vices that you know are harmful to you? Are you a self-talker or self-criticizer?



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