I am a textbook case of perfectionism. Anxiety has been my partner in crime for as long as I can remember. I resist trying new things because I might not do it exactly right, especially if others might see. When my house is a mess, I avoid cleaning, and projects get put off until the last minute. That might seem like the opposite of perfectionism, but after a lot of contemplation (and even more therapy) I learned that procrastination is a part of perfectionism. I was afraid that I couldn’t make things perfect, so I just didn’t start. If you don’t start, you can’t fail, right?
Perfectionism is a sneaky bastard. It comes in many forms, wears a different mask, and manages to stay elusive. It can feel like determination or procrastination. It can feel like anxiety or take hold as an eating disorder. It is an illusion and an unattainable destination. Yet, many of us call ourselves perfectionists. We say it with a sense of pride and wear it like a badge. “We are striving for excellence. What’s wrong with having high standards?” we say.
Nothing is wrong with having high standards. Nothing is wrong with striving for excellence. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is when that determination to be the best crosses a line and leaves you cowering beneath fear. Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of rejection.
When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun, and fear is that annoying backseat driver.
– Brene Brown
When we find a way to move past perfectionism, we start to lovingly push ourselves beyond what we thought we could achieve. It allows us to act, think, and create from our authentic selves.
Recognizing Perfectionism in Yourself
Having high standards alone does not make someone a perfectionist. Here are some common perfectionist behaviors and traits to look for:
- an “all or nothing” attitude
- highly conscious and overly critical of mistakes
- spending copious amounts of time on something, even at the expense of personal well being
- setting absolute ideals – there is only black and white
- harsh self criticism and self destructive thoughts
- frequently focusing on the negative, instead of the positive
- low self esteem and feelings of never being good enough
- breakdown of creativity and innovation
Do you recognize any of these traits in yourself?
The Three Types of Perfectionism.
Knowing which category you fall into can help you recognize those perfectionist behaviors.
- Self imposed – Perfectionists in this category set high standards for themselves. They have very strong motivation which comes from a fear of failure.
- Imposing on others – This group sets unrealistic expectations and standards for the significant people in their life, such as a spouse or child. They are constantly evaluating them.
- Socially imposed – A belief that others hold them to high standards in the primary motivation for this group. They feel an external pressure to be perfect.
If your perfectionist self is groaning and your inner critic is yelling, because if you’re a perfectionist that’s a flaw, stop right now. You are not flawed. But, I think it’s important to recognize this in ourselves, take steps to practice self care, and release some of the fear behind the shield of perfection.
What are the Potential Side Effects of Perfectionism?
If you are always striving for perfection and never quite meeting it, you may constantly feel like you are never good enough and have lower self esteem. When you’re too afraid to fail, you may be missing out on some great opportunities. There is also a high correlation between perfectionism and anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and other mental health issues.
Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect. It makes you feel inadequate.
– Maria Shriver
How to Overcome Perfectionism
Self care is so important whether you are a perfectionist or not. Perfectionism beats you down. It keeps you there trying, and trying, and trying to get back up and get to the top. Self care lifts you up. Once you accept that you are a perfectionist, you can combat your unhealthy tactics with positive actions.
Stop beating yourself up.
Mistakes happen. We all make them. Stop beating yourself up over them! Let them go. Find the lesson and move on. This is hard and takes practice, especially when you’ve spent so long talking down to yourself.
show yourself some love.
Perfectionism is the biggest barrier to self love. Only once we are able to let that go, are we able to truly love ourselves. Start by talking kindly to yourself. Say it out loud in front of the mirror, or start a list of positive things you like about yourself. List your accomplishments and things that make you proud, perfect or not. When you feel a negative statement of criticism arise, try reframing those thoughts into positive ones.
For more information on reframing your thoughts, check out this post.
Find healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety
If you use perfectionism as a way to deal with stress and anxiety, work on finding alternative and healthy ways to cope. Turn to a close friend or therapist that allows you to express how you’re feeling. Step away and go for a walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Track what’s going on around you when you start to feel stress or anxiety, and note what the triggers are so that you can be aware of them.
Release the need for control
The more you try to control something, the more it controls you. Free yourself and let things take their natural course.
Releasing control is scary. Loosen the grip. Take baby steps if you have to.
Most of us are in such a committed relationship with perfection that it’s hard to admit it’s an abusive one. I know I’ve often thought there is nothing wrong with trying to be perfect. I can’t change that even if I wanted to. I thought I was in control when really, it was just my fear. By slowly accepting that I was doing more harm then good, I was able to change my perspective.
Take a good look at what you’re doing now. Is it working? Are you falling into the traps of perfectionism? If you are, I hope these tips help. If you have any other advice for overcoming perfectionism leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter or Instagram @wild_for_awhile.