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The Dilemma of Perfectionism

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Are you or someone you know a perfectionist? If so, how did you/they become a perfectionist? Is perfection a positive or negative trait?

Who Becomes a Perfectionist?

Perfectionism becomes a coping mechanism for many who lived in an environment where:

  • every action was monitored and dictated

  • love is withdrawn for not meeting standards

  • every move is watched and criticized

  • nothing is ever good enough

  • rejection or abandonment is threatened

  • punishment is the result of imperfection.

Perfectionism, particularly from childhood maltreatment, can become so deeply ingrained in our psyches and behaviors that we may not recognize it.

A Real-life Example

From the time I was 6 until 13, I was expected to clean our entire apartment every Saturday and if it didn't literally pass a 'white-glove test,' a beating, or worse, would ensue. As an adult, I never made the connection between the roots of my perfectionism because it served me...or did it? It actually DROVE me to standards of excellence that I became my reputation to the point that I have plaques praising my high standards. I was described as 'driven' and rewarded for it by quickly rising through the ranks to executive management. Naturally, I thought my perfectionism and high standards were a really good thing. In fact, there was a time when career books coached people to answer the interview question of "What's your biggest flaw?" by answering, "I'm a perfectionist." Today we know that while the world may reward perfectionism, it is toxic to a happy, healthy life! That's the dilemma; and at what cost?

The dilemma: perfectionism is rewarded...but it is toxic.

That's why it's helpful to look at your perfectionist tendencies to see if any of this rings true.

Perfectionism typically arises out of fear of:

  • ridicule

  • abandonment

  • criticism

  • punishment

  • failure

Coping with perfectionism creates:

  • over-performance

  • harsh judgment of self & others

  • unrealistic demands on self & others

  • rigidity - the right way or no way at all

  • negative self-talk

  • relationship issues

  • low self-esteem

  • a cruel inner critic

  • perfection paralysis

  • feelings of self-disgust

  • failed deadlines

  • a sense of hopelessness - why bother trying

  • low self-worth: feeling useless

  • self-loathing, self-hate

  • shame

  • depression

  • self-esteem collapse

  • suicidal thoughts or actions.

The above lists aren't comprehensive but make clear that that perfectionism is toxic and counter to a healthy, happy life. That's why it's helpful to examine and keep a close eye on perfectionist tendencies. As a 'recovering perfectionist,' I just shot and published my first was intentionally, almost defiantly, imperfect. I was feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It takes some work to recover but it can be done!

Look for the next post on 'overcoming perfectionism' and Opt-in to be sure to get it. Kindly share with a friend who may relate and benefit.

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