The struggles associated with perfectionism are usually hard for others to see and hard for the individual to admit.
Perfectionists usually appear to have it all together, however, under the surface, there is an ongoing battle raging. People may think being a perfectionist is a choice, however, perfectionism can be a trauma or anxiety based response.
Psychological wounds and emotional trauma can make you believe that you have to prove your worth, keep the peace or avoid danger or conflict by being perfect. If you’ve had experiences like this, then you may obsess over exceeding everyone’s expectations to feel safe on some level. It’s likely you don’t realize you are doing this, it’s simply an unconscious response to the trauma you experienced.
If you struggle with anxiety, you may display more traits of perfectionism than someone who doesn’t. If you are constantly worrying about things, you probably strive for things to be perfect in an effort to eliminate that feeling of worry and anxiety.
Perfectionists are usually driven by fear and they constantly feel anxious because they want to handle everything perfectly. If you are a perfectionist you may also place unrealistic expectations on others in your personal or professional life because you want everything they do to be perfect too.
This is just one of the ways perfectionism can negatively impact your life.
The costs of perfectionism
Perfectionism can hold you back and create internal and external conflicts in your life. You may always feel like you come up short or you are a failure if you don’t achieve the level of perfection you desire. You may alienate people in your life because you feel like you will fail them too, or they don’t measure up to your standards and expectations. This can cause a lot of stress and tension.
Some of the negative effects of perfectionism can include blaming yourself, procrastination, sabotaging relationships and a need for control. These can cost you something very valuable; your inner peace and self-confidence, or important relationships with others that are crucial to your mental health and well being.
Mary Mykhaylova LCSW, author of the Sitting With Yourself blog on Psychologytoday.com talks about how perfectionism can negatively impact your life. She gives more examples of the negative effects you may experience and you can read them here: 8 Examples of the Self-Sabotaging Effects of Perfectionism.
What to do instead
If you struggle with perfectionism, it will take time, and consistent effort to break away from some of the negative habits you have developed. If you are aware of your perfectionist thoughts and tendencies you can work on a plan of what to do when they arise.
>Instead of gauging success by doing something perfect, determine if what you accomplished was meaningful or brought you (or someone else) joy. Meaningful things do not have to be perfect.
EXAMPLE: You invited some friends over for dinner and you burned the casserole but everyone showed up and you had a great time together. The food was a flop but it’s okay because the goal was to connect with your friends. It wasn’t perfect but it was meaningful.
>Instead of trying to control a situation, focus on setting boundaries so situations don’t get out of control.
EXAMPLE: You and a coworker have been given an assignment and your instinct is to just tell them you will just take care of it. You offer this because you want to have the control and make sure it’s done right. But try instead to discuss who is responsible for what, what you both expect the end result to be and then place a boundary for yourself that you do not take over their tasks; you stick to what is agreed upon.
>Instead of procrastinating because you are worried you won’t do something perfectly, just start and focus on simply “taking a stab at it” and you can refine it once you get your “rough draft”.
EXAMPLE: When recording a video or writing an email go ahead and do it, without spending hours practicing and continually analyzing it. Then you have a first draft you can review and make corrections and/or tweaks to.
>Instead of trying to do everything, set realistic, achievable goals
EXAMPLE: Plan out jobs or tasks and consider how long it will take. Make schedules or agendas that account for how long tasks will take so you don’t approach the day thinking you can get more done than is feasible.
It will help if you acknowledge that perfectionism is defensive.
It’s common for people to think that being a high achiever and being a perfectionist are the same, but they are not.
High achievers simply want to do their best, but perfectionists can be paralyzed by fear if they think they are failing. This is not always obvious or on a conscious level, but it can be seen in the response to not being perfect.
Writing down the thoughts and feelings you experience related to being perfect can be a helpful way to create self-awareness and understand how perfectionism is affecting your life.
As the holidays approach, it is easy to get swept away in the wave of needing to do all the things of hosting, giving gifts, creating memorable experiences with your loved ones.
Notice how trying to make sure it is all perfect takes away from the connection and pleasure in coming together to celebrate the holidays.