It’s a rarity if I go an entire day without hearing a client say “I’m such a perfectionist!” It’s declared as a flaw yet it’s typically said with a smile and laugh as if they secretly take some pride in it?
In a job interview, the classic answer to “What’s your biggest weakness?” is “I’m a perfectionist”—a total cop-out that allows you to wear your “weakness” as a badge of pride. Thing is, people who have perfectionist tendencies are sometimes more than just detail-oriented high achievers. They are often racked with anxiety, depression, and fear, and in one 2014 paper published in the Review of General Psychology, researchers suggested that perfectionism may be a risk factor for suicide.
In fact, Anorexia is the poster child of perfectionism and is arguably the hardest mental illness to treat.
Personally I can’t relate to Perfectionist. Attention to detail has never been my strong suit. Which drives my husband bonkers.
In fact, he rarely asks me to help him with his projects around the house anymore. Any paint project is going to end up very badly if the paint brush is in my hands. My hurry up and get it done philosophy can end up with some not so great results and a very bad paint job.
I am clearly the opposite of a perfectionist. I like to consider myself a Imperfectionist.
Here are a few signs that perfectionism could actually be holding you back — and simple ways to start letting go and live the life of an Imperfectionist.
1. You’ve always been eager to please
Perfectionism often starts in childhood. At a young age, we’re told to reach for the stars — parents and teachers encourage their children to become high achievers and give them gold stars for work well done (and in some cases, punishing them for failing to measure up). Perfectionists learn early on to live by the words “I achieve, therefore I am” — and nothing thrills them quite like impressing others (or themselves) with their performance.
Unfortunately, chasing those straight A’s — in school, work and life — can lead to a lifetime of frustration and self-doubt.
“The reach for perfection can be painful because it is often driven by both a desire to do well and a fear of the consequences of not doing well,” says psychologist Monica Ramirez Basco. “This is the double-edged sword of perfectionism.”
2. You know your drive to perfection is hurting you, but you consider it the price you pay for success.
The prototypical perfectionist is someone who will go to great (and often unhealthy) lengths to avoid being average or mediocre, and who takes on a “no pain, no gain” mentality in their pursuit of greatness. Although perfectionists aren’t necessarily high achievers, perfectionism is frequently tied to workaholism.
“[The perfectionist] acknowledges that his relentless standards are stressful and somewhat unreasonable, but he believes they drive him to levels of excellence and productivity he could never attain otherwise,” Burns writes.
3. You’re a big procrastinator.
The great irony of perfectionism is that while it’s characterized by an intense drive to succeed, it can be the very thing that prevents success. Perfectionism is highly correlated with fear of failure (which is generally not the best motivator) and self-defeating behavior, such as excessive procrastination.
Studies have shows that other-oriented perfectionism (a maladaptive form of perfectionism which is motivated by the desire for social approval), is linked with the tendency to put off tasks. Among these other-oriented perfectionists, procrastination stems largely from the anticipation of disapproval from others, according to York University researchers. Adaptive perfectionists, on the other hand, are less prone to procrastination.
4. You go big or go home.
Many perfectionists struggle with black-and-white thinking — you’re a success one moment and a failure the next, based on your latest accomplishment or failure — and they do things in extremes. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you’ll probably only throw yourself into a new project or task if you know there’s a good chance you can succeed — and if there’s a risk of failure, you’ll likely avoid it altogether. Studies have found perfectionists to be risk-averse, which can inhibit innovation and creativity.
For perfectionists, life is an all or nothing game. When a perfectionist sets her mind to something, her powerful drive and ambition can lead her to stop at nothing to accomplish that goal. It’s unsurprising, then, that perfectionists are at high risk for eating disorders.
5. You have a hard time opening up to other people.
Author and researcher Brene Brown has called perfectionism a “20-ton shield” that we carry around to protect ourselves from getting hurt — but in most cases, perfectionism simply prevents us from truly connecting with others.
Because of their intense fear of failure and rejection, perfectionists often have a hard time letting themselves be exposed or vulnerable, according to psychologist Shauna Springer.
“It is very hard for a perfectionist to share his or her internal experience with a partner,” Springer writes in Psychology Today. “Perfectionists often feel that they must always be strong and in control of their emotions. A perfectionist may avoid talking about personal fears, inadequacies, insecurities, and disappointments with others, even with those with whom they are closest.”
6. You know there’s no use crying over spilt milk… but you do anyway.
Whether it’s burning the cookies or being five minutes late for a meeting, the perfection-seeking tend to obsess over every little mistake. This can add up to a whole lot of meltdowns, existential crises, and grown-up temper tantrums. When your main focus is on failure and you’re driven by the desire to avoid it at all costs, even the smallest infraction is evidence for a grand thesis of personal failure.
“Lacking a deep and consistent source of self-esteem, failures hit especially hard for perfectionists, and may lead to long bouts of depression and withdrawal in some individuals,” writes Springer.
7. You have a guilty soul
Underneath it all, perfectionists are often plagued by guilt and shame. Maladaptive perfectionism — a drive to perfection that generally has social roots, and a feeling of pressure to succeed that derives from external, rather than internal, sources — is highly correlated with depression, anxiety, shame and guilt.
“Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving,” Brown told Oprah. “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”
Brown’s remedy? Try practicing authenticity. Let others see you, exactly as you are, and let go of the protecting shield of perfectionism in order to express vulnerability.
“Authenticity is a practice and you choose it every day,” she says, “sometimes every hour of every day.”
We can help you at CLR Counseling Group to let go of your Perfectionism and find your happiness in being Imperfect.