What is perfectionism? Is it the desire to always strive to do your best or is it more than that? People who consider themselves perfectionists may take great pride in their ability to pay attention to detail and to the accolades they receive as a result of their high standards. While perfectionism has some positive attributes there is a dark side. Perfectionism is typically defined as the desire to be perfect or appear to be perfect. Is perfection even possible? What happens if you fail to achieve the perfect grades, the perfect body, the perfect family life? When we fall into the trap of perfectionism we tie our self worth to outcomes…often unreasonable or unattainable outcomes. When we don’t achieve the outcome we wanted we have feelings of shame and low self esteem. As Brene Brown puts it, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.” It’s no surprise then that perfectionism is linked to anxiety and depression. When the only outcome you allow yourself is perfection you may procrastinate to avoid tasks that you know you can’t do perfectly or you may be so anxious about getting it perfect that you spend an unreasonable amount of time completing a simple task, such as a quick email (or a blog!)
So if this resonates with you, you may be asking yourself, how did I get here? Why Am I like this? Perfectionism can be attributed to a few origins. If you are a perfectionist, more than likely you have had these tendencies for a very long time…like childhood. Some researchers believe that perfectionism is linked to OCD which can be genetic. More than likely, however,
you had parents that were critical of you or pushed you to perfection, in school, athletics, etc. In many other cases, you had a disorganized attachment to a parent or caregiver early in life when you were not able to get your physical and emotional needs met and thus had trouble self soothing. When this happens we are unable to accept an outcome unless it was perfect because we don’t know how to handle “good enough.”. Children with disorganized attachment, may also form traits of a perfectionist as a way to control something in their environment in an effort to find stability, their grades, their body, their athleticism, etc. This is why perfectionism has also been linked to eating disorders.
Ok, so you are a perfectionist…now what? Being aware is the always the first step. The next step is recognizing that your self worth is not tied to the perfect outcome. Begin to challenge those thoughts in your head that say you’re a failure if things don’t turn out perfectly. Learning to love yourself- flaws and all. Try writing positive affirmations in a journal every day, such as, “mistakes are growth opportunities,” “I accept myself as I am, “I don’t have to be perfect for people to accept me.” Another way to overcome perfectionism is to try a new hobby, or push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is when perfectionists can being to live life as their true selves rather than according to an unobtainable ideal. This is when self discovery occurs and when we start to live life on our own terms. If you feel that you need a little help and guidance along your journey to self acceptance, know that seeking therapy may help to free you of the burden of perfectionism.