Most people consider perfectionism to be a desirable trait. As a perfectionist you are sought after for being attentive to detail, analytical, always trying to do the absolute best, never quitting, never stopping, and making sure everything is of tip-top quality. No stone is left un-turned. No negatives are allowed. Everything must be absolutely amazing!
I think you can tell what’s coming but I’m about to tell you that perfectionism is one of the most terrible maladies to suffer from. Yes, SUFFER from. Anyone who only sees the first paragraph as the entire story… get ready, I’m about to tell you about how a perfectionism can invade your mind and disrupt all that is good.
There are many possible ways the mindset of perfectionism begins in child hood.
It could have been through bullying and having your self-esteem slowly chipped away, like the trunk of a tree being slowly sawed down until that tall, impressive entity tumbles.
Perhaps it was through critical parents, always pushing their children to do better in school, never acknowledging their accomplishments, being upset when they “just have fun”.
As this transfers over into adult life, it is exacerbated by individuals who may be unrelenting in criticism, such as bosses, significant others, and poisonous acquaintances.
Everything couples together telling the individual that they are not good enough as they are and must keep their defences up. Any criticism cuts to their core of previous jaunts at their fragile lives, which they have tried so hard to change based on the opinions of others.
The Internal Mind Begins to Chatter
After hearing so many messages tearing down the self-worth, a large voice of doing more and nothing ever begin sufficient begins to develop internally. Nobody needs to tell the perfectionist they aren’t up to snuff anymore, he or she is always carrying that critical voice inside them. It acts up when they have to leave work early if they don’t feel well, can’t bring themselves to accomplish personal goals with other priorities coming up… It is an unrelenting onslaught that feels like a constant wave crashing down, again and again, with no let up in sight.
Reports are not written well enough. Any cheat on a diet is considered blasphemy. Spending habits are out of order.
Even well meant activities are spun to a negative view. A night out with friends meant for someone to just let loose and enjoy themselves will get spun as not being healthy, staying out too late, not waking up early enough to get things done…
There is no winning.
Society isn’t Helping – The Messages of Needing to be Perfect
Unfortunately the world isn’t helping either: Billboards are plastered everywhere of models airbrushed of all marks to create silky smooth skin that is flawless. Education systems are based on grading and pit students against each other constantly, undermining learning for the love of learning, and replacing it with the goal of achieving a 4.0 GPA and getting a better scholarship. At the workplace, there is the constant desire from superiors for work to be done faster and more autonomously.
If this is part of the world, how can a perfectionist escape from their thoughts?
Perfectionism being Transferred to Relationships
The perfectionist then takes their views outside of themselves. Now not only do they need to run like perfect machines, but so do their relationships and the people that exist within them. Any fault is aggrandized and considered a huge burden. Nobody is allowed to have flaws. The criticism that the individual received can be projected outward onto others in their lives sometimes by sadistic choice (I finally get to criticize someone! I don’t have to listen anymore!), or because it’s all that’s familiar to the perfectionist.
This drives others away, leaving the perfectionist further isolated and with their own critical voice again, more than ever before.
All the critical voice will have to say is that “You could have handled that better. What did you criticize them so much? Do it better next time. Don’t get so hurt. Don’t be so weak. Don’t hurt others”.
There is no self-compassion, and no rest.
Paradoxically, there is something that needs to be remembered to begin to win the fight against perfectionism:
There is no Such Thing as Perfection
One man’s view of perfection is not the same as another woman’s. Perfection is an unrealistic goal that only exists within the mind, another way to keep grasping and clinging on for more to build up the ego of doing or being better.
There is no end, because it cannot be clearly defined. Searching for perfection is an endless, eternal, constant struggle that cannot be conquered.
In all honesty, this is one of the most painful items I struggle with. Not only because of the negative words that I hear inside, but because it affects my personal relationships and those around me. Anytime an eccentricity hurts others, that’s cause for concern. Here are some things that can help you:
List what you are grateful for everyday. Whether seeing a good friend, learning something new, having something great unexpected happen, a new experience, or just being able to relax.
In getting into the now you can observe the perfectionistic thoughts and have them not run your life, consciously choosing not to listen to them.
For severe cases, psychotherapy may be in order to route out limiting beliefs and old thought patterns that have been programmed into you and are not true anymore.
Most of the time critical thoughts will occur if you are constantly procrastinating or not doing what you should be. If you settle what needs to be done, your body and mind will be happier to let you rest. Inaction breeds anxiety. Action cures it. Get that paper written, go to the gym… whatever it is, go do it.
Knowing You can Always do More
Since perfectionism can’t be defined, there’s always something more you can do, something you can be better at. But…
Every human is flawed
As a species we are flawed, each and every one of us in different ways. Learning to accept those flaws and laugh at them, is how we move forward. We focus on our strengths and work slowly on our weaknesses.
As this entire blog said at its conception, self-acceptance is the most important thing you can ever do for yourself.