It could be said that perfectionism has become an obsession in the world we live in today. People want to achieve the perfect appearance, to have the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect relationship and, when their expectations crash against reality, they feel lost, anxious and hopeless.
Good vs. Perfect
Perfectionists often set impossible standards for themselves and, because they cannot reach them, they tend to feel worthless and “less than” compared to others around them.
It is said that people need a challenge in order to feel motivated to become better, to achieve new goals and reach their potential. However, when the goals they seek to achieve are unreachable, they do not feel motivated; quite the contrary, they tend to feel powerless and they just end up worrying all the time.
Setting unrealistic goals often leads to procrastination and anxiety. This reaction is very common in perfectionists, because the harder they try, the more disappointed and anxious they become when they fall short of their “ideal.”
The main problem with perfectionism is that it does not involve a “set in stone” goal. Even if perfectionists achieve certain goals, there will always be something they cannot attain and the cycle will go on and on and on.
Just like Sisyphus from Greek mythology, they are condemned to push upwards the same boulder that rolls down each time, much to their despair.
Everyone Can Be Affected
Perfectionism is, unfortunately, ever present around us. There is no profession, no age or gender that is not affected by this curse of our modern times. Attorneys are a good example of perfectionists. Some of them feel constrained to come up with the best briefs and court performances that they end up struggling against what they feel.
Similarly, there are writers who strive to achieve perfection by picking just the right words for the right combination. What they do, in the end, is waste a lot of time on minor details, instead of writing and creating more.
The creative process is involved in both cases presented above. What perfectionists from these professions do not want to accept is the fact that creation is a process and even the greatest creators of humanity have never delivered their masterpieces from their first draft.
From Where Does Perfectionism Come?
More often than not, perfectionism is triggered by low self-esteem, which manifests as that critical, internal voice that tells them they are not good enough and drives them to seek perfection in everything. As many other problems we have to confront with as adults, perfectionism stems from childhood. More so, it comes from relationship between the child and his/her caregivers/parents.
As with many other generational patterns, parents who feel unaccomplished project their perfectionist expectations onto their children, demanding them to outperform themselves in school or other activities.
Unfortunately, these parents are not empathetic of their kids’ limitations and they put pressure on them that is often unrealistic. They want their kids to be perfect, because they could not reach their goals. They motivate their actions by saying that they only want the best for their children.
Yet, as a result, these children grow up to be adults who feel that whatever they do, they are never “enough.” Their lack of self-esteem prevents them from leading a happy, fulfilling life, as they constantly worry about lack of success. That critical inner voice is loud and pervasive.
5 Ways to Combat Perfectionism
The main problem with perfectionism is that, in reality, no one is or can be perfect. By setting up higher and higher standards, perfectionists will never get where they want to be. So, the best advice is to get rid of perfectionism and start pursuing achievable goals.
1. See yourself as the good part of ‘you.’ Any person has a set of skills and qualities. Identify them in yourself and make a list. Whenever you feel down, take a look at this list and understand why you are worthy of success, and why you deserve good things to happen to you.
2. Understand that you do not have to be perfect in order to receive love and respect. Avoid seeing things in black and white terms; do not tell yourself that if you cannot do this or that, you cannot do anything. Seeing and understanding your limitations will allow you to live a happier life.
3. Consciously set criticism aside when you talk to others. If you offer compassion and understanding, you will be more accepting of your own self and, in turn, you will fear others’ criticism so much.
4. Try making friends who are not obsessed with money, career and so on. Your friends should not make you feel like you are in a constant competition, as this can be one of the reasons why you continue to pursue perfectionism.
5. Search for a therapist who can aid you in the process of understanding your own abilities and qualities. As you start appreciating yourself as a “whole” person, the pressure on your shoulders will diminish and you will feel lighter and thus, better able to enjoy life…
Perfectionist photo available from Shutterstock