Watch Out For The Perils Of Being A Perfectionist
Were you the kid that thought anything less than an A+ was failing? Or do you get squeamish if the stripes on your sheets aren’t straight? If the answer is yes to these or any similar questions you may be a perfectionist.
“Wait, what’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Shouldn’t everyone strive to be their best?”
The answer to that question is more complicated than you might think.
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Let’s first clarify something – doing your best and striving for excellence isn’t the same as being a perfectionist.
Perfectionists have an unhealthy desire to be and appear, well, perfect.
Of course, because “perfect” can have a variety of definitions, the perfection a perfectionist is trying to attain is according to their own perspective.
For instance, one woman might consider the perfect body as being an exaggerated hourglass whereas another might consider an athletic shape to be perfect. Either woman could be a perfectionist seeking to attain their own version of perfect, they’re just different.
Perfectionism as a state can be further broken down into different types.
- Self-oriented. Focused on being perfect as an individual based on personal standards and expectations.
- Other-oriented. Expectation placed on others to be perfect based on your own standards.
- Socially prescribed. Focused on being perfect based on the expectations and standards of others.
Perfectionism in any of its forms is an unhealthy psychological state that most often leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Signs You Might Be Just A Little Bit Of A Perfectionist
“Okay, I have certain expectations… Am I a perfectionist?”
There are some common signs that can help you make that determination. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you avoid tasks or procrastinate because you believe it won’t be done “just right”?
- When you look at things or people do you first notice the flaws?
- Do you fear failure to the point of avoiding things at which you may fail?
- Are you so goal oriented that you will do nearly anything to reach those goals?
- Do you feel consistently dissatisfied with your appearance or performance at certain tasks?
- Are you considered a hypercritical person?
- Do you struggle with depression that’s only eased when your standards are met?
- Are you easily disappointed with yourself and/or others?
If the answers to these questions are largely “yes” you’re probably a perfectionist.
Being A Perfectionist Can Be Dangerous
Many people, including perfectionists, think of perfectionism in positive terms. Common sentiments include,
- Being A perfectionist on your team means things will be done right.
- Being a perfectionist means I don’t settle.
- As a perfectionist I am, my work product is, my appearance is, my efforts are, always better than others.
- I will always keep working until (insert objective here) is perfect and no one can question it.
Some reading this are nodding their heads thinking, “Yep! And proud of it!”
What those people aren’t recognizing, however, is the unhealthy and dangerous side of a perfectionist mindset.
Perfectionism typically comes from a place of insecurity. At the heart of it, those who are perfectionists believe being “perfect” or doing things “perfectly” is the only way they have value.
Being a perfectionist comes with a number of negative, sometimes dangerous, repercussions as well. Among them are:
- Depression and anxiety over perceived “imperfections.”
- Extreme behavior in order to attain perfection (cosmetic surgeries, obsessive actions).
- Tendency to give up easily or quit because things aren’t going “perfectly.”
- Persistent dissatisfaction with life.
- Missed opportunities due to fear of failure.
- Self-loathing because of perceived failure to be perfect.
Ultimately, perfection is not only subjective, but it’s also unattainable. This can leave the perfectionist living with feelings of shame about who they are and feeling unworthy of love, contentment, and happiness.
Social Media’s Part In Raging Perfectionism
A special mention needs to be given to the part social media plays in a perfectionist’s view of themselves.
Because social media platforms seem almost designed to encourage and showcase a false picture of the people who use them, they often fuel a person’s pursuit of perfection.
- Filtered selfies.
- Two sentence highlights of someone’s success.
- Unbalanced pictures of happiness.
- Carefully constructed presentations of someone’s “perfect” life, family, job.
Seeing these exaggerated presentations of other people’s lives plastered across social media, as well as being able to create your own façade that you then have to maintain, is a significant contributor to the problem of perfectionism in today’s world.
Ways To Balance Your Desire For Perfection
Getting beyond your need to be, feel, or expect perfection is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s also hard – especially if perfectionism has been a part of your psychology for a long time.
It can be done, however.
Some ways you can begin to turn the dial are,
1. Redefine what “perfect” is to you.
You control what’s acceptable to you, so try redefining perfect. Start to look at imperfections as adding interest and creating uniqueness.
2. Understand the opportunity failure can bring.
No one who’s successful became so without failure. Be willing to take things on, accept that it’s okay to fail just as so many successful people have, and look it as an opportunity for growth.
3. Accept what you can’t (or shouldn’t) change.
Your nose is large – so what? Keeping your house perfectly organized all the time is killing you – so stop. There are a million other things that don’t need to be changed in order for you to experience happiness. Once you adjust your idea of perfect and accept what can’t be changed (or at least not easily changed), you can focus on happiness.
4. Relax your expectations.
This isn’t to say you should accept second rate work or stop trying to be your best – just that an A- is not worth a meltdown.
5. Find enjoyment.
Rather worrying about everything that isn’t perfect, make a pointed effort to enjoy the things that are just right. A friend that comes to visit comes to see you and doesn’t care about your dirty dishes. The table you built with your bare hands is cool because you did it. Your beauty comes from the inside more than the outside – your nose is just fine.
Remember, there’s a big difference between being a high achiever, striving to do your best, or expecting others to do theirs and being a perfectionist.
Perfectionists live with a certain level of consistent disappointment and unhappiness. No one wants that. So, find your perfectly imperfect self and let go of the rest.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.