Dealing with Perfectionism

perfectionismSociety puts a premium on perfection, for good reason.

Perfection fascinates and inspires. I am particularly drawn to the symmetry and complexity of buildings, bridges, and visual art, often staring at such creations with awe and wonder at how such perfection was achieved.

In addition to architecture and art, perfection is expected in vocations where the slightest mistake could be tragic – for example, surgeons.. Surgeons strive for perfection from the moment they make their first incision to the moment they suture the exposed insides of someone’s body. When performing something as invasive as surgery, one can do great harm and when the rare mistake is made, the consequences could be just as great. Part of me feels badly for surgeons because they are, after all, human. The other part of me is comforted to know that they have such high standards because if they didn’t, I may think twice before seeking medical treatment.

All this to say that there is validity in striving for perfection. Surgeons strive for perfection. However, this effort is best kept contained to one part of one’s life. It would be too much for surgeons to maintain such high standards in everything they do.

For many of us it may feel necessary to be perfect in our work, relationships, or appearances in order to feel good about ourselves. If pursuing perfection becomes an obsession and begins to interfere with life it is worth reflecting on what is going on.

Perfectionism is often at the root of a variety of issues that people seek help for: work-related stress, marital issues, feeling lonely and isolated, body image issues, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. In order to determine whether the perfection you are striving for is draining your life, try answering the following questions:

  • Have you ever avoided doing a task or activity because you were afraid you wouldn’t meet the expectations you set for yourself?
  • Have other people given you feedback that you have unrealistically high standards for yourself?
  • Do you have trouble letting go of guilt and/regret when you  “failed” to meet your own expectations?
  • Are you constantly wondering what people think of you? Do you think your worries about what others think of you are excessive?
  • Does your quest for doing things perfectly or being perfect hinder you in any way?

If your answers to most of these questions are ‘yes’, then it is likely that perfectionism is becoming a problem for you. Although the treatment approaches may vary for different issues, a common thread that connects them is the importance of accepting yourself in the moment. Accepting yourself in the moment does not mean that you should stop growing and improving upon yourself. We are all in the process of maturing. It does mean that at each moment of your growth process, you are self-satisfied and content 

Perfectionism can hinder you from accepting yourself as you are in the moment. Instead, it can convince you that you will only be happy or fulfilled if you have achieved ___(you fill in the blank)____.

If living your life ‘perfectly’ is the only way you allow yourself to be, the interesting imperfections that make you a complex, unique, individual will be lost.

If you no longer want to be bound by the need to be perfect, try taking on an open, curious attitude at each moment so that the unique parts of your self will reveal themselves to you. Only then, will it be possible to evolve into the special person you were intended to be.

For more information on perfectionism, check out this new book by Jeff Szymanski.