Do you have difficulty “switching off”? Do you feel like nothing is ever good enough? That there’s always more to achieve?
Unfortunately, in our always-on culture, perfectionism has become one of our more accepted addictions.
Typically associated with “Type A” personalities – and those with a tendency toward workaholism – for perfectionists, downtime is seen as “wasted” time and self-worth is determined by success.
And these kinds of high standards aren’t just limited to the workplace. Perfectionism has a habit of seeping into every area of life, be it: work, appearance, health, home, ethics…
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to give our best. A drive to succeed is important to keep a forward momentum and reach our goals in life.
But perfectionism is something different… The drive for perfection leaves no leeway to make mistakes. The sky is literally the limit.
The problem is no matter how hard we try, there’s always going to be more to achieve – some place else we want to be.
The simple fact is – life (and people!) aren’t perfect. We will never be able to control everything, and we’re only setting ourselves up for failure if we try to make it that way.
Why am I a perfectionist?
Perfectionism doesn’t just happen… It’s a learnt “skill” or coping mechanism.
Many perfectionists will have grown up in a household where there were similarly high standards. Perhaps your parents were workaholics themselves and you felt a pressure to live up to their own successes. Or maybe you grew up feeling as though you needed to prove yourself somehow. Connection and praise came mostly through achievement, and you felt a strong sense of responsibility not to “let the side down”.
At the root of many perfectionists is the fear of disapproval – of somehow not being “good enough”.
Perfectionist traits – what are the signs of perfectionism?
Difficulties forming close, intimate relationships – it’s hard to form authentic connections when you’re constantly projecting into the future, thinking about what more you need to do or achieve.
All-or-nothing thinking – for perfectionists, there’s likely to be no grey areas – even a partial success is seen as failure.
Difficulties delegating responsibilities – because the drive to get everything absolutely “right” is so strong, it’s common for perfectionists to try and do everything themselves – putting an even bigger strain on themselves in the process.
Hypercriticalness – the hypercritalness you feel towards yourself is likely to extend to others too. You might find yourself frequently picking at the shortcomings of colleagues, friends and partners.
A feeling of emptiness – basing our life on success and external factors alone is likely to leave us feeling lacking or empty inside.
A tendency to overwork – you’d rather run yourself into the ground than run the risk of failure.
Obsessive thinking and rumination (sometimes difficulties sleeping) – you’re consumed by swirling thoughts about your performance or what more there is to achieve.
Anxiety and irritability – a sense that there’s not enough time to do everything as quickly as you’d like.
Being a perfectionist is ruining my life – what are the effects of perfectionism?
As human beings, it’s only natural that we want to give our best. And striving for self-improvement can be a powerful, positive thing – but not when it comes at the expense of our own wellbeing.
The reality of everyday life is that most things are not perfect – no matter how hard we try to control them and make them that way.
By striving for perfection, we create an exhaustingly high standard that is impossible to achieve. This means that we’re going to be left with a constant underlying feeling that we haven’t quite “made it”.
Both life – and people – will rarely be able to measure up to our expectations and therefore there might also be the feeling that we’re being let down a lot of the time.
Perfectionism can also put a heavy strain on our relationships. No one enjoys a partner who picks them apart… And we’re never going to be able to be truly present with our partner if all our efforts are focused elsewhere.
How to overcome perfectionism
Because perfectionism is often embedded from childhood, it can be hard to see that this constant drive for perfection is detrimental to your wellbeing. In therapy, you will work to uncover how this pressure is impacting your everyday life, and identify its roots. You will learn to challenge perfectionist thoughts, and the importance of creating time for both work and play/pleasure.
Over time you will come to see that your worth is not something to be measured or proved – it simply is. You are valuable simply for being you.