We are currently a society very focused on high achievement. Many people feel driven to do more than do a “good” job, it has to be perfect. In fact, they feel THEY and the people in their lives have to be perfect. Perfectionism that has only to do with having high personal standards for yourself combined with having good coping skills (the ability to approach and complete the task) can really be very adaptive. Some of the most high achieving professionals and athletes are perfectionists.
On the other hand, social perfectionism (the belief that others will only value you if you are perfect) leads to extremes of feeling depressed, anxious and even potentially suicidal. This kind of perfectionism about oneself can also lead to eating disorders like anorexia. Girls feel that they have to be perfect and their attempt to do this can lead to starving themselves in order to control their bodies. Perfectionism leaves one vulnerable to real difficulty when things do go wrong in life, as is bound to eventually happen. A perfectionist can’t accept anything going wrong and feels utterly helpless and overwhelmed if it does.
Perfectionism about others tends to wreak havoc in relationships. Demanding perfection from your spouse, children, friends, and co-workers will inevitably end up in criticism, disappointment, and arguments.
The perfectionist tends to say to themselves things like “I have to be perfect or something bad will happen, or no one will love me,” or “I have to keep control of myself and others.” These are examples of the unconscious “stories” they have created and live by. Since it is really not possible to accomplish these things, they are vulnerable to feeling they have failed all the time.
What can you do if you think your perfectionism is getting in the way of feeling good about yourself and being productive in your life?
1. Figure out what areas of life you are striving to be a perfectionist in. Is it work that is the problem, relationships, yourself or body? This will help you focus on the arena of your life that you wish to make the effort to be more flexible and relaxed in.
2. Look for the roots of it. Underneath the need to be perfect is often the need to be accepted and loved and the fear that you won’t be. When you were growing up, did you feel you were loveable enough; were you worried about rejection? Review the time in your life when you first remember needing to be in control and be perfect.
3. Make a conscious decision. Make the choice to let some things go that you really know are not done to top standards. It will be hard and you may feel nervous about it, but once you do it repeatedly, it will help you see that the world does not end and people still value you even when you are not perfect.
4. Consider therapy. It’s great to make efforts on your own, but sometimes you need an objective. A trained therapist can help you see the extent of the problem and help you change it.