Many of us grew up thinking perfectionism was a good thing.
Perhaps your parents drilled it into you. Or maybe you came to the conclusion yourself that success and winning are the ultimate measures of your worth. It seems the tides have changed and we’re losing our love affair with perfection.
There are two common misperceptions about perfectionism:
Perfectionism is not self-improvement
I grew up thinking that success is achievement, and that hard work is a virtue. And that I should strive to be the best. There is an important difference between striving to be the best and striving to be my best. Self-improvement requires first accepting yourself (flaws and all) and then working to improve upon yourself. Your self-worth should not be based on particular outcomes or accolades.
One of my favorite quotes is from Carl Rogers:
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
Perfectionism is the exact opposite of self-acceptance. It is filled with self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy.
Perfectionism is not excellence
Excellence is a high standard, but allows for imperfections and mistakes. It’s more forgiving than perfectionism. Perfectionism entails having your self-worth tied to your performance or success. It means that mistakes and failure are not tolerated. For perfectionists, a mistake damages your self-esteem and leaves you feeling worthless or incompetent. It’s possible to achieve great things without being a perfectionist.
Goal achievement doesn’t have to include the hallmarks of perfectionism:
- unrealistic expectations of yourself and/or others
- insomnia and other sleeping problems
- high levels of self-criticism
- fear of failure, abandonment, rejection
- decreased creativity
- procrastination and overthinking
- difficulty relaxing and having fun
- depression and increased risk of suicide
- disordered eating or body image
- low self-esteem
- disconnection from others
- relationship problems
- need to please others
- never feel satisfied
There are 3 core questions you need to ask yourself to determine if there’s anything wrong with being a perfectionist.
Is perfectionism really helping you achieve your goals?
While perfectionists are often high achievers, your perfectionism may not be helping you as much as you think. The negative side effect is that no matter how much you achieve, you’re never satisfied. You’re ridiculously hard on yourself and still don’t feel good enough.
What is perfectionism stopping you from doing?
Perfectionists want to play it safe. They don’t take chances or try new things that could result in failure. This means that you aren’t going to pursue your big dreams. You’ll stay in your comfort zone where you know you can succeed. Are you really OK with that?
Is perfectionism robbing you of happiness?
Relationships are possibly life’s greatest joy and greatest challenge. How many times have your told your partner to pick his/her crap up off the floor or that s/he’s always late? Relationships get strained when you’re constantly criticizing and nagging your partner. Your exceptionally high standards damage your relationships. The other problem is that your “perfect façade” prevents real connection from happening. If you never share your fears, mistakes, or vulnerabilities, your partner doesn’t know the real you. Real emotional connection means being your true and imperfect self.
There is more to life than achievement. There should be time for fun and silliness. There should be rest and rejuvenation. Perfectionists get so fixated on the outcome that they don’t enjoy the process.
Sometimes it helps to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful, loved, and loveable.
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This post was adapted from one originally published on PsychCentral.com.