In making sense of perfectionism, I distinguish between primary and secondary perfectionism.

Primary perfectionism is a pursuit of perfection for its own sake, as an end in and of itself. Primary perfectionism is when you want reality to be better than it is because you think it could be or should be better than it is.  In this kind of perfectionism, the pursuit of perfection is the primary goal.  In principle, there’s nothing wrong with striving for a better world.  It’s just that in practice, constant striving for a better world obscures the ordinary perfection of the world that already is. 

Contrast this with secondary perfectionism.  In secondary perfectionism, trying to be perfect is a means to an end, and the pursuit of perfection is secondary to the psychological, relational, and existential dividends of being perfect.

In short, primary perfectionism is recreational or, if you wish, aesthetic, and mostly optional.  You chase perfection as a kind of existential hobby on the assumption that “what is” is never good enough only because it can always be better.  Secondary perfectionism is neurotically compensatory, it is a form of self-therapy, a defense mechanism.  As such it is compulsive, i.e.  psychological necessitated.  You feel you have to aim for perfection so as to avoid disapproval or to feel special or to stay in control.  Both primary perfectionism and secondary perfectionism rejects reality as imperfect.

If you are a perfectionist, the goal, as I see it, is to, first, shift from secondary perfectionism to primary perfectionism, and, then, if at all possible, to shift from these reality-rejecting worldviews to acceptance-based perfectionism that would allow you to experience perfection without being perfectionistic.

Related articles:

3 Hungers of Perfectionism (on secondary perfectionism)

Acceptance-Based Perfectionism

Ordinary Perfection (mindstream)

Victor Pelevin: “Buddha’s Little Finger” (anatomy of ordinary perfection)