How to Conquer Perfectionism Before it Conquers You

by | Jul 2, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Perfectionism is an illusion — we believe it makes us better but actually harm us.

I used to struggle to start writing. I fell prey to the ‘first-line-syndrome’ — I fear that, if I couldn’t catch my reader’s attention immediately, they’ll click away. However, the more I tried to find the perfect line, the more I got stuck.

That’s the problem with perfectionism — we focus on what’s missing or broken and can’t make progress.

It’s one thing striving to be your best and another it’s trying to be perfect.

Perfectionism rarely generates personal satisfaction — we don’t achieve perfection, but disappointment.

Perfectionism Is Anything but Flawless

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” 
― Anne Wilson Schaef

I’m a recovered perfectionist — I still hold my bar high, but I’ve learned to give myself a break.

Overthinking paralyzes decision-making.

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair describes a perfectionist as a person: “who strives for flawlessness, for a perfect creation, outcome or performance. They find it difficult to delegate, even if that means neglecting their health, relationships, and wellbeing in pursuit of a ‘perfect’ outcome.”

Perfectionism isn’t bad if you approach it properly. Setting high personal standards and working hard toward those is a good thing. However, there’s a dark side to always aiming high — perfectionism is turning into an unhealthy habit.

Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, explains the distinction, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.” Perfectionism is used by people as a shield to protect themselves against the pain of being vulnerable — they don’t want to be blamed or judged by others.

Setting the bar high can cloud our judgment — everything feels wrong according to our standards. That’s why therapists and coaches know that asking people to lower their bar is pointless — they will ignore their advice. If you want to defeat perfectionism, you must understand and address the issues behind this increasing obsession.

Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate.” — Maria Shriver

Unhealthy perfectionism has surged, leading to eating disordersdepression, high blood pressure and thoughts of suicide. This is caused by a mix of excessively high personal standards (“I have to excel at everything I do”) and intense self-criticism (“I’m a complete failure if I fall short”).

The pressure to appear flawless is driven by the fear of failure, but also our desire to be loved and admired.

Our need to please others has reached a new high too. Increasingly, young people hold irrational standards for themselves — they create unrealistic expectations for their academic and professional achievements, looks, and possessions. They have bought into the modern myth that their lives, including themselves, should be perfect.

Perfection is an impossible goal — you only set yourself up for failure and suffering. That’s the paradox of perfectionism. The more you try to win someone else’s validation, the worse you become.

Perfectionism Is Not a Standard, but a Lifestyle

Experts have found that perfectionism is more than an attitude or excess attention to detail — it has become a way of life that creates and amplifies mental issues. It’s a clear signal that we have a problematic relationship with our sense of self.

As Paul L. Hewitt, from the University of British Columbia, explains, “It’s not a way of thinking, but a way of being in the world.”

His research shows that perfectionism isn’t about perfecting it’s about perfecting our identity. The obsession with being (perceived as) perfect is an attempt to perfect our imperfect self.

All perfectionists are not created equal.

Self-oriented perfectionists adhere to strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to achieve perfection and avoid failure — they engage in harsh self-assessment.

Other-oriented perfectionists set unrealistic standards for others like partners, friends, or co-workers — they are very rigid when it comes to evaluating how others perform.

Socially-prescribed perfectionists believe that others hold unrealistic expectations for them — they can’t live up to external pressure and (perceived) harsh criticism.