Perfectionism is a Psychological Liability
Flett and Hewitt (2002) write: “perfectionists are more likely than nonperfectionists to experience various kinds of stress” (p. 257) and list four perfectionism-specific mechanisms that contribute to and exacerbate stress:
Brown and Beck (2002) make a convincing summary of how a perfectionistic cognitive style with its rigid thinking constitutes a vulnerability to depression.
Perfectionists and compulsives are a tormented, unhappy lot. William Reich referred to compulsives as “living machines,” highly productive but not enjoying what they produce (Maxment & Ward, 1995), typically presenting with symptoms of anxiety, worry, depression, and dysthymia.
One of the goals of existential self-rehabilitation is to redefine perfection in a manner that would allow you to leverage an unconditional self-acceptance and to become invulnerable to others’ disapproval of you. Furthermore, an effective existential rehab would help you become more accepting of uncertainty in order to reduce your anxiety about the aspects of your life that you cannot control. Your ultimate challenge is to shift from dichotomous, black-and-white dualistic self-perception (that predisposes you to depression and anxiety) to an emotionally-wiser and reality-congruent platform of nondual and dialectical thinking.
Perfectionism is a Relational Liability
Many a perfectionist is encouraged into therapy by family members and supervisors to address the problem of anger and hypercriticism. As such, if unaddressed, perfectionism is a relational liability that leads to social alienation, loneliness, missed social and professional opportunities. Effective existential rehab will help you realize that you are, have been, and always will be “perfectly imperfect,” which, in turn, will allow you to compassionately identify …
2 thoughts: one for the year that is passing and one for the year that is yet to pass.
Happy New Now to you, all year long!
[Mindstream | pattern interruption series | Somov]
A couple of healthy thoughts for a dualistic mind to choke on:
1. Hope is a mind-killer (hope distracts us from the present; hope makes us wait for some future moment of reality but life is now, always now).
2. An ideal world is a world without idealism (idealism distracts us from the present; ideals make us wait for some future ideal moment of reality but life is now, always now, exactly as it currently, actually is).
3. All that can be (right now), is. Reality doesn’t shortchange. There is no celestial layaway in which the Universe withholds better versions of itself to manifest at a later point in time. All that currently can be, currently is.
These are hard thoughts to swallow for a dualistic mind but let me sweeten this nondual poison with a soundtrack from Sweatshop Union: The Thing About It
Enjoy the ordinary perfection of what currently is!
[Pattern Interruption Series]
Life is like a bubble -
Some eighty years, a spring dream.
Now I’ll throw away this leather sack,
A crimson sun sinks on the west peak!
Life – an illusion? Awakening – a death of an illusion? Death – an awakening from a dream? Awakening – another dream?
Ask yourself these kinds of questions.
And ignore the answers.
“A crimson sun sinks on the west peak!” – ha! T’ageo, as awakened as he was on his deathbed, did, however, fall prey to a favorite illusion of ours: sun neither rises nor sets; sun simply is as we spin around it. There is a model of the mind in this. But I wouldn’t ponder it too much.
[Present Perfect series]
ref: Anthology of Korean Literature (by Peter H. Lee)
This vector of desire makes sense to me.
We (can) go from conditional joy (enjoying ourselves only when conditions are in accordance with our desires) to unconditional joy (enjoying ourselves regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in).
This vector of adaptation makes sense to me.
Others called this “nirvana.” I call this “nondepressive anhedonia” – a loss of desire without the loss of enjoyment.
Related: Ordinary Perfection
It was almost 11am and I was supposed to pick up my wife in about 20 minutes, a few blocks away. Caliban book store in Oakland (Pittsburgh) was about to open: I had just enough time – it usually takes me a minute or two to pop in and grab something at random (relatively at random) – I know the shelves that hold my interest. I grabbed “The Ten Thousand Leaves” - a translation of the Man’yoshu, Japan’s premier anthology of classic poetry, paid the $8 and got out.
In a few minutes I was at the meeting place, with a few minutes to spare. I cracked the book open and notice the following words of Prince Hakutsu when he visited the caverns of Miho on a journey to the land of Ki:
Caverns, that last an eternity,
are still here even now,
but the men who dwelled in them
could not last forever.
O pine that stands
at the caverns’ entrance.
Looking at you is like coming face to face
with the men of ancient times.
“Reading these lines is like coming face to face
with the mind that wrote them
and the minds that read them since ancient times.”
If you have a few minutes to kill, notice the poetry of reality around you: this ordinary perfection has been here all along.
Related: Present Perfect (Somov, 2010)
Look at your hand. Notice the so-called fingers. Fact is there are no fingers. There is one hand. Finger is just a part of a hand. But it’s a kind of part that is not apart from a hand. A finger is not separate from the hand. But by calling this part of the hand a finger we have conceptually separated the inseparable – we have separated the finger-part of the hand from the hand itself.
Same with time: all life is one life-long now. But by having created the concept of “past” and “future,” we have divided one seamless life-time into yesterdays, todays and tomorrows, into this and that moment. The reality, however, is that we have never experienced a yesterday or a tomorrow, we have only experienced this very now, this lifelong now, this one seamless experience of life which is always now.
You might say: how come this particular now is different from the one it once was? Doesn’t that mean that this now is separate from all the other now-s of the past? Yes and no: this one lifelong now is constantly changing which gives you an impression of multiple moments (“this” moment or “that” moment). This multiplicity is misleading: there is only one moment/one now per life, per capita, per mind, per self. And this one and only now is fundamentally the same – like wax in a lava lamp; what’s different is the form that it takes – like wax in a lava lamp.
We have come to believe that “time moves” along some kind of arrow – from the so-called past to the so-called future, through the present. I don’t see it that way: there is no arrow – there is no past, there is no future, there is just an ever-evolving present, an ever-evolving now. This now, that you are always in, isn’t moving (like a car down the road, from a “from” …
There are days, like today, when, on a walk with my dog, wrapped into a restless blanket of a balmy breeze, my mind sways along with countless blades of grass around my self-walking feet. In a moment like this, I am not moving, I am being moved. In a moment I have zero interest in the past: I would not want to trade in a moment of present for any day of the past, whether I rocked it or bombed it; I know there is absolutely no point in trying to re-live anything. And in a moment like this, I have almost zero interest in the future. I used to read about moments like this – for example, in Knut Hamsun’s Pan – and I used to wonder about how to get there. And I have gradually realized: it’s not about getting there, it’s about getting here. I feel neither bored nor desirous: I feel like I’ve had enough, had plenty, had a lot. In a moment like this I want absolutely nothing – and that’s exactly what I want: nothing. No, it’s not some kind of passive suicidality; on the contrary, it’s active contentment.
Most of the time we work on our wellbeing from below, through symptom management, working our way up to wellbeing. A top-down path to wellbeing is through philosophy or better yet through cosmology, through a worldview that trickles its “big view” perspective down into the recesses of the conditioned mind.
A Chuckchee shaman in Siberia says: “All that exists, is alive.” There it is – a platform of top-down wellbeing in just a few words. Consider the implications of thinking, feeling, knowing this! You can’t get to this kind of level of wellbeing (with its capacity for awe and compassion and equanimity) through symptom management and medication.
Here are a few such memes of wellbeing:
These ideas are not mantras to repeat. They have to be understood, thought through, arrived at. And once they are “gotten,” they settle down like the sunken whales, lining the ocean of your day-to-day reactivity.
What’s the worldview whale that supports your wellbeing?
Many crack a smile as if they know where the conversation is going – it’s going nowhere, they think.
What a surprise of self-acceptance I got for them!
They venture an answer anyway: “Perfection is unattainable… No one is perfect…”
This is what I’ve heard over the years, again and again. This brings to mind a point I read in an obscure little book called The Concept of Meaninglessness by Edwin Erwin. I picked up the book – believe it or not – in a box of “free books” outside my favorite Pittsburgh book-spot, Caliban. Here’s the line of relevance:
“A concept would be meaningless if it could not be defined operationally.”
What is operationalism, you ask? I’ll let Erwin explain:
“Operationalism is a thesis most commonly associated with the Nobel Prize Laureate in physics, P. W. Bridgman. According to this original statement of the thesis, a concept is synonymous with the set of operations used in applying it in some concrete situation.”
This is all quite familiar to this psychologist: having been trained in the scientist-practitioner model (at SUNY Buffalo), operationalism has been drilled into my mind by my mentors.
So, where am I going with this? To this point right here: when I ask my clients to define perfection I get non-operationalized meaninglessness: “Perfection is unattainable… No one is perfect…”
So, about that surprise of self-acceptance: I offer my clients to operationalize perfection, to define it in a way that is personally clear and affectively palpable.
Here’s what operationalized perfection ends up sounding like:
“Recognizing that I am doing my moment-specific best and recognizing that I am always doing my best even if my best sucks in comparison to what I thought it would be or what others would have expected it to be.”
Sounds like self-acceptance, doesn’t it? So much liberation in this!
This is not an easy conversation. I myself forget the circuitous paths of this argument from time to time and botch up the dialog. Then I go back and re-read my own writings to refreshen the script in my mind. I take myself …