Harry Potter and the Boggart Perfectionism

Harry Potter fans recall boggarts as creatures who live in dark household spaces like cupboards and closets and who, when you encounter one, take on the appearance of whatever it is you are most afraid of. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there’s a great scene where Professor Lupin and his students provoke a classroom boggart into repeatedly changing appearance:

  • To terrorized student Neville Longbottom, it appears as Severus Snape in full glower.
  • To arachnophobic Ron Weasley, it appears as a gigantic spider.
  • And to ultra-perfectionist Hermione Granger, it appears as Professor McGonagall telling her she “failed everything.”

Perfectionism works the same way! It will not just manifest itself as your worst professional fear, but if you do manage to dispel that fear, it will gladly morph into any other fear you might have.

Snape Boggart, pre- and post-Riddikulus!

Boggart Snape: Pre- and Post-Riddikulus!

Some forms your perfectionism boggart might take include:

  • “My work is unoriginal.”
  • “My insights are mundane.”
  • “I can’t do characters.”
  • “My book won’t sell.”
  • “I’ve got to get an A!”
  • “I’ve got to get this done NOW!”
  • “If I don’t succeed, I’ll be a loser.”

But underneath, it’s just plain old perfectionism, a kind of professional trauma that manifests itself in harsh self-judgements, an over-focus on product (versus process), an over-reliance on external validation (versus intrinsic rewards), shortsightedness, pathologizing of the normal work process, dichotomizations, invidious comparisons, etc.

You may recall that the solution for a boggart is to impose your own image on it via the Riddikulus charm. Neville replaced Scary Snape with a vision of Snape looking ridiculous in his grandmother’s clothing, Weasley took the legs off the spider, and Hermione re-visualized the boggart as Professor McGonagall giving her an award.

Harry Potter himself had a special problem: for him, the boggart assumed the appearance of a terrifying, soul-sucking dementor. Lupin therefore decided Harry should use it to practice not Riddikulus, but the more difficult Patronus charm, so that he could use that charm when attacked by actual dementors.

Two Spells to Vanquish Your Perfectionism

You, too, can use Riddikulus and Patronus! Every time you feel yourself becoming critical or despondent about your work, try this two-pronged approach:

1) Use Your Riddikulus Charm. Say to yourself, “Wait a minute! I’m not really falling short; it’s just the boggart perfectionism making me think so!” This should help defuse the perfectionism.

Harry Potter's Patronus: a noble stag

Harry Potter’s Patronus

Then, to finish the job:

2) Invoke Your Patronus, a.k.a., Compassionate Objectivity, as defined in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific:

“Compassionate objectivity is a a mindset where you combine: (a) Compassion, meaning you view yourself and your work with abundant empathy and understanding, with (b) Objectivity, meaning you see things accurately, with all their nuance and complexity.”In place of perfectionism’s reductive, rigid and punishing world view, compassionate objectivity offers nuance, flexibility, empathy, compassion, and true love and respect. The compassionately objective person sees through perfectionism’s illusions and understands the realities about herself and her work. She knows to: set achievable goals, and be compassionate about any failures or mistakes; be realistic and grounded, as opposed to grandiose; emphasize process almost entirely over product; rely on internal rewards; work within the realities of creativity and career building; and not to identify with her work.

“She also eschews invidious comparisons, dichotomization, rigidity, unhelpful labels, hyperbole, negativity, shortsightedness, fetishes, unconsciousness and blind spots.”

Just like Harry had to practice his Patronus, you’ll need to practice compassionate objectivity. Eventually, however, you’ll be able to maintain a compassionately objective mindset and to use compassionate objectivity to drive off any perfectionist boggarts and dementors you encounter.

Images and lots of information from The Harry Potter Wiki.

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