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Perfectionism is oftentimes mistaken for ‘being perfect’ or ‘doing something perfectly’. Or being flawless.
Many people assume that it must be a good thing. Other people think of being a perfectionist as being something negative and embarrassing.
So is it a good or a bad thing?
Perfectionism is interesting.
It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and it’s something that affects almost everything I do.
So I decided to have a little look into it.
This blog post isn’t a how-to. It doesn’t have answers (because I don’t know them). It’s just a collection of my thoughts based on my experiences as a perfectionist.
What is Perfectionism?
Google tells me that perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
I quite like that definition. It makes perfectionism sound like a good thing, helpful and positively productive – like all it does is help us get rid of the mess in our lives and surround ourselves with things that are perfect.
Unfortunately, that’s not the perfectionism I know.
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The definition on Wikipedia is a little more accurate: ‘a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high-performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluation and concerns regarding others’ evaluations’.
Now that’s more like it.
Psychology Today says: “Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression, procrastination, fear of failure, self-criticism and eating disorders.”
Perfectionism involves putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards which then powerfully influences the way we think about ourselves.
It is judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelentingly high standards.
It is experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost to you.
What Perfectionism Looks Like For Me:
Perfectionism makes me believe I’ll never be ‘good enough’.
It makes me believe that there’s always something more. More I should be doing. More I should be thinking. More I should be saying.
Perfectionism I know makes me believe that what other people think of me matters more than what I think of myself.
It makes me believe that everyone else is holding me to the same excruciatingly high standards that I hold myself to and that there’s no way I could possibly be measuring up.
I am always and constantly critically evaluating myself.
It makes me set unrealistic expectations and goals for myself.
Perfectionism makes me to be obsessively concerned about every tiny detail, mistakes and errors.
It makes me project an image of flawlessness, doubt myself, and be unforgiving of myself over every mistake I make and an inability to acknowledge imperfections.
I know I’m not the only one who experiences all that comes with being a perfectionist – how it affects the way you see yourself and relate with others, the way you exercise, the way you pursue personal goals, work and school, the way you blog, the way you use social media and so many other things.
If you’re a perfectionist, I have a feeling you might be able to relate to some of these:
Perfectionism and My Relationships
If you’re a perfectionist, you probably already know that your perfectionism impacts a number of aspects of your life — and not just the solo ones: Perfectionism can affect your relationships, too.
There is so much to say about how perfectionism affects my relationships and friendships. But I’ll just share a few:
For as long as I can remember I’ve always equated “being perfect” to be being loved, accepted, wanted and all. So in other to “be accepted” I create a mask to cover my flaws.
Outside of my make-up, I wear a mask of:
- good behaviour even when it involves pretending to be someone I’m not– as long as I feel accepted…
- faking “fine” even when I’m dying inside…
- always serving, trying to help, or people-pleasing to keep everyone happy,
- rule following, law-abiding, good Christian,
- strength and responsibility,
- “I don’t care”
- pretending to be “okay” and quiet when I’d rather speak up and declare my stand over an issue
- and many others.
Brown says that we carry perfection around “hoping it will keep us from being hurt. In truth, it keeps us from being seen.”
Wearing a mask constantly to gain acceptance from my friends means:
- I’m hiding who I really am from them which upon realization can lead to disappointment, distrust, anger and probably end of the friendship (as in my case)
- I’m missing out on real connection because I won’t ever take off the mask to share my struggles or weaknesses.
- You may either be attracted to my perfection while I hold you at arm’s length, or
- you may be repelled when you sense the fake or when you think you’ll never compare with my facade.
Friendship and any form of relationship are designed to be a give-and-take. So if I only give, I create an imbalanced and unhealthy dynamic between us.
Regardless of this fact, I try to “go-it-all-alone” without asking for or allowing others to help me. I remember a friend of mine becoming infuriated over this.
As much as I appreciate and want my SO to contribute meaningfully in every way to the growth of our relationship, perfectionism has me:
- wanting to control to the last detail everything that makes up our relationship and time spent together,
- setting unrealistically high standards and goals for our relationship and then getting disappointed over his inability to meet those standards,
and several times, I have been on the receiving end of such outbursts as:
“Grace, nothing is ever good enough for you. Nothing I do ever meets your standard. Why are you always seeking to control everything? Can’t you just enjoy the moment for once and stop being so worked up and tensed about everything and worrying that something is always going to go wrong?”
“…If you continue like this, I might just leave everything for you to handle yourself and we’ll how that turns out…?
This trait has hurt and affected my relationship in many ways that can’t be covered in a single blog post. I have lost friendships and missed meaningful connections with really good people because I was busy trying to be perfect for them.
Perfectionism As A Source Of Pride
For many perfectionists (myself included), the inability to be happy with anything that’s not ‘perfect’ can become somewhat of a source of pride.
We seem to believe it makes us better in some way, that setting performance standards that are practically impossible to reach is somehow a good thing.
Now I know there are arguments that it is actually a good thing (‘if you aim for the stars you’ll land on the moon’) but in my experience, holding myself to incredibly high-performance standards is crippling.
It’s so crippling that instead of ‘landing on the moon’, I often decide I should never try to ‘take off’ in the first place.
How can that be a good thing?
Sure, it guarantees that I’ll likely never ‘fail’. But it also guarantees that I’ll most likely never really succeed either.
If I only start things that are 100% guaranteed to succeed then I’m probably not doing anything that’s really interesting. It means I’m doing things that many people have done before and things that almost anyone could do.
And that’s not what I really want.
With high risk comes high reward. And with no risk? No reward.
Perfectionism And Social Media
That doesn’t mean the things I’ve posted haven’t been true.
It’s more that I never really share anything personal. I write in the third person or nearly impersonal. I rarely share photos of myself or any personal stuff for fear that I might not seem good enough or compare favourably with everyone out there.
Perfectionism makes me want to be someone I’m not on social media. It makes me want to be less ‘me’ and more everyone else, which means that I’m also extremely conscious of what everyone else is doing, saying and posting. This means I am also internalizing and personalizing everything everyone is saying (including the ones that diminish or ridicules other peoples experiences, work, craft or interest), thus deciding not to share anything at all to avoid being judged or ridiculed.
And I don’t like that it makes me act like that – it makes me even more critical of myself than I’d normally be.
So many times and even recently, I have a taken unnecessary breaks off social media (both sharing and reading) and eventually deleted the apps from my phone– all out of the overwhelming need to “share only perfect stuff.”
But I’ve started sharing gain and I’m working on the perfectionism, I’m still struggling with it.
Perfectionism And Blogging
I feel like I didn’t even know just how much of a perfectionist I was until I started blogging.
Perfectionism and blogging are not a great pair.
While perfectionism might ensure that every blog post that we publish is perfect and up to our excessively high standards, it will also likely ensure that we publish very few blog posts.
From my very first post on this blog, I’ve been faced with the reality that what I write isn’t going to be perfect. As soon as I publish something I’ll want to edit it and edit it and edit it again.
Perfectionism had (and still has) me wanting to spend all my time crafting the perfect post, editing a blog post I’ve already published instead of writing the next one.
Perfectionism has me leaving dozens of completed posts in my drafts (posts that were definitely good enough to publish) because they weren’t perfect.
The good news is that blog posts don’t have to be perfect.
An imperfect but published blog post is way more helpful than a perfect blog post that never comes into existence. Which is obvious.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that hitting publish is more important than writing that perfect blog post.
One thing that definitely helps with this is having and sticking to a blogging schedule.
I still screw up every now and again, but I’m getting a lot better.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What does perfectionism look like for you?
Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to know!