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Perfectionism: Through the Eyes of the Beholder

What does perfectionism stop you from doing?

The irony about perfectionism or “being perfect” is that it is seen through the eyes of the beholder. In other words, it’s subjective, not objective. What is deemed perfect to one person, probably isn’t perfect to the next. And if you ever reach your idea of perfection, then is it ever good enough? Or does the bar just continue to get higher?

Curious, I decided to google the word, perfect. Google’s top hit is this: an adjective. “Having all the requirements or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics; as good as something can possibly be.”

But my question is, to whom?

So why do so many people feel the need to strive relentlessly for the idea of perfectionism? As a practicing psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders, I hear this theme frequently, mostly from women. In more than 10 years of practice, I cannot recall one man discussing his need for perfection.

A Common Theme

A common theme is: If I have the perfect body or marriage or hair or house or job or personality or boyfriend, then my life would be, of course, perfect.

Research has shown that perfectionism leads to obsessive thoughts and rumination. According to the DSM, The American Psychological Association’s diagnostic bible, perfectionism or perfectionistic tendencies is a trait seen in individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Anorexic individuals continuously strive for their idea of a perfect body shape and size. In severe cases, anorexic individuals literally starve themselves to death in their endless quest for the perfect body. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Perfectionist tendencies have also been linked to anxiety and depressive disorders.

A recent study published in BCS Psychiatry concluded that there is in fact a link between perfectionism, pathological worry and generalized anxiety disorder (Handley, Egan, Kane, Rees, 2014).

Where does this notion of perfection originate? Does it start as early as the bedtime stories we listened to, the movies we watched (Disney’s Cinderella, comes to mind) the toys we played with (Barbie dolls with anatomically impossible body shapes and sizes) the television shows we are watched, the media we consumed, the roles models we wanted to emulate?

Why Not an Alternative?

I will challenge you to a radical alternative.

Perfection is boring. Perfectionism is unattainable. Perfectionism leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life. Has perfectionism prevented you from exploring a new hobby, applying for a job, reaching out to make a new friend or stopped you from nourishing your body?

After a while, perfectionistic thinking becomes a way of life. It becomes your norm. You find yourself comparing and contrasting yourself or your world to everyone and everything else–all in a quest for an idea.

Imagine if Tomas Edison was too afraid to fail. He would not have created one of the most important inventions of the 19th century, the electric light bulb.

Or if Steven Jobs, the genius behind Apple computers gave up after the Lisa model failed. The Lisa was a personal computer designed and created by Apple computers in the early 1980’s. It was considered a major failure, selling only 100,000 units and was discontinued. Ye,t these men continued to try and try again until they achieved what they hoped to achieve.

They learned from the imperfections.

So what can you learn from your mistakes your unrealized dreams?

Today try something new, the something that might have been tucked in the back of your mind. Attempt to take one step, just a small step in the direction of your dream. Why not, what do you have to lose? Perhaps, only your ego.

Pole vault photo available from Shutterstock

Perfectionism: Through the Eyes of the Beholder

Laura Farrell West LCSW

Laura Farrell West is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing for more than 10 years in the Tampa Bay area. Laura is also a freelance writer, blogger and speaker. Her articles have appeared on LIvestrong.com and she has lectured to universities and mental health professions about eating disorders. Laura’s focus is on working with teens, college students and young adults struggling with mood disorders, eating disorders and relationship issues.

 

APA Reference
Farrell West LCSW, L. (2015). Perfectionism: Through the Eyes of the Beholder. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 11, 2018, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/perfectionism-through-the-eyes-of-the-beholder/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jul 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.