Why You Might Just Be a Perfectionist

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 04/05/2017

image via commons.wikimedia.org

I understand.  You’re not a perfectionist.  You’re just picky.  Or  ‘hard on yourself’.  Or you ‘have high standards’. Or you like things to be done properly.

Guess what?

* If you’re emails, tweets & Facebook posts are free of spelling mistakes, you just might be a perfectionist.

* If you noticed the typo in the previous sentence, you might just be a perfectionist.

* If you get frustrated fast when you are learning a new skill and haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, you just might be a perfectionist.

* If you have a wonderful dinner party…and you find yourself beating yourself up after your guests leave when you realize you forgot to serve the grapes with the hand-dipped chocolates…you just might be a perfectionist.

* If you ignore a dozen terrific reviews to fret about the one lousy writeup you got, you just might be a perfectionist.

* If your loved ones are hesitant to show you their creations, you just might be a perfectionist.

* If you score 96% on something…and yet you feel a tad disappointed, you just might be a perfectionist.

What’s in a label?

No-one likes to be labeled.  Nobody enjoys thinking of themselves as anything but their unique self. In this case, however, the value of the label “perfectionist” is that it alerts you to patterns of behavior that are (a) hurting yourself and (b) hurting others around you.  The label per se isn’t important — but what is key is that you are aware of how this concept is affecting you.

How does Perfectionism affect you?

1.  It generates excessive stress.

If you’re picky, hard on yourself or have high standards, you’re putting yourself under excessive stress.  You’re probably toiling, rather than working. You’re making life much more difficult than it needs to be.

2.   It puts those around you under excessive stress.

I promise you that if you are stressing over something, you are not doing so solo, in a vacuum.  You are leaking stress onto everyone with whom you come in contact — your colleagues, your friends, your family, your pets and innocent passersby as well.  Think of the family member you snapped at or the slow cashier you stomped away from.  When you’re stressed out, you leave few in your wake unscathed.

3.  It makes you judgmental.

You may think you are open to experience, tolerant of others and otherwise zen.  And perhaps you’re all of those things to some extent.  But part of being perfectionistic is a process of constantly evaluating yourself.  And others.  And how things are done — or should be done.  You frequently make judgments– especially when things unfold differently from your expectations.

5.  Fear and anxiety are your constant companions.

You fret.  You worry.  You’re afraid of how things are unfolding.  This takes its toll physically,  psychologically, professionally and socially.  Think of the ‘nervous Nellies’ you know.  How healthy are they?  How pleasant to be around?  Think of them as mirrors.

6.  You tend to be a pessimist.

You tend to expecting the worse (I’ll never finish and if even if I do, this is going to be terrible).  When negative events do happen, you tend to extrapolate and exaggerate them. (See?  I didn’t get the part.  I’m a lousy actor.  I’m a complete failure.  My whole life is a waste.  I’m worthless).

7.  You’re a control freak.

You are detail-oriented to a fault.  You expend a lot of energy trying to control outcomes, regardless of whether or not you actually have any power to affect how things unfold.  Part of fretting or worrying, for example, is a false way of attempting to control the future.  It’s as if your subconscious believes that if you pay your dues by worrying enough about it, it’ll turn out alright.  I promise you, it’s going to turn out the way it’s going to turn out…regardless of how much you worry or don’t worry.

8.  Contentment is rare and fleeting.

You are rarely satisfied with yourself and with circumstances.  Even when things turn out magnificently, your happiness is brief.

So what’s a perfectionist to do?

I’ve written a comprehensive book on how to Overcome your Perfectionism.  If the preceding points ring true for you, I hope you’ll check it out.  In the meantime, here are some basic steps you can take to begin to curtail your perfectionism:

1.  Be aware.

Monitor yourself for signs of stress, fear, anxiety and pessimism.  Notice when you judge yourself or others.  Realize when you are trying to control the situation…or others.  Observe your effect on others.

2.  Interrupt perfectionistic behaviors.

When you catch yourself judging or controlling or fretting…stop.  Pat yourself on the back for recognizing your perfectionism when it happens.

3.  Aim for ‘good enough‘ rather than perfect.

Life is imperfect.  It’s impossible for everything to be ideal in every moment in every life domain.  Learn to loosen your very high standards so that you are content with ‘good enough’ rather than making yourself crazy striving for perfection.

4.  Practice acceptance.

Learn how to accept your situation as it is, accept others as they are…and also to accept yourself especially when you feel you’re falling short in some way.

5.  Learn to relax.

By learning  meditation and relaxation techniques, you will disrupt the stress and fear that underlies perfectionistic behaviors.

6.  Be kind to yourself.

Perfectionists are notorious for beating themselves up — for being hard on themselves.  Counter this by treating yourself well.   Try the carrot instead of the stick to motivate yourself.  Savor frequent simple pleasures. Ensure your life is well balanced.  Live healthfully.

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Activity: Answer the following questions:

What do you do that indicates that you might just be a perfectionist?

How does your perfectionism affect you?

How does your perfectionism affect others?

What can you do to reduce your perfectionism?

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For a comprehensive approach to overcoming perfectionism, check out my book: http://bit.ly/PerfectionismSolutions

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How about you?  In the comment box below, please tell us how you know you’re a perfectionist…and/or what’s helped you deal with it.

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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/ .

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kalindi Rogers April 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Oh Lisa I unfortunately identify with all of this!! I gotta remember to stop worrying and lower my standards a little.

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