“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it” (S. Dali).
We want to be the perfect artist, parent, manager, student, etc. We want perfect lives, perfect jobs, perfect parents and perfect selves. We learn from an early age that 4.0 is the goal and that we “shouldn’t” want anything less (whether we’re capable of it or not). This lesson teaches us that not attaining perfection makes us less than, unworthy. We learn that failure is humiliating and shameful and rather than trying and failing, it’s best to give up all together. It’s called perfectionism and it’s a very common issue.
Hello, my name is Diana and I am a recovering perfectionist. Writing this article has brought out some of my perfection related “internal monsters” as you can probably imagine, but I felt it was important to start this blog by putting what’s important on the table.
Are you a perfectionist?
First things first, what makes one a perfectionist? Contrary to popular belief perfectionists are not only people who want to be perfect but also
- Have unrealistic expectations and beat themselves up when they fail. They want perfection right here and right now and overlook the facts that practice leads to excellency or that consistent exposure/exercise paired with longevity in attempting something is the ultimate goal.
- Feel frustrated when things don’t go as planned.
- Blame themselves for most things regardless of fault.
- Procrastinate (lots). Waiting for the “best time” to get started and always “preparing” to do the work while losing themselves in details. They ensure they have all the tools and equipment necessary to fulfill their task and keep waiting until everything is just perfect. This, unfortunately, is a never-ending process because to the perfectionist there is always something to add, to change, and to polish (I lost count of the number of edits I did on this article already).
- Nothing is ever good enough and as a result many perfectionists struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders.
- Are critical with themselves. We love other people for their quirks and imperfections. For artists, finding the flaws and imperfections in the subject is the foundation of creativity, yet many artists ask the opposite of themselves.
- Think in black and white/all or nothing terms (i.e. If I’m not smart, I’m stupid).
- Engage in self-sabotaging behaviors , such as procrastination.
- Do not delegate responsibility nor handle criticism well. They are ruled by fears of failure, rejection, and criticism.
- Tend to have relationship issues. The basis of relationships is intimacy and trust. Perfectionism is a defense mechanism meant to ‘protect”. When the perfectionist is in defense mode, all bets –in the relationship- are off. People who expect perfect relationships often set themselves up for failure in this way.
“To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.” (Julia Cameron)
Perfectionism tricks us into believing that it is good for us because it leads us to think that we have high standards yet its’ main modus operandi involves getting us to doubt and criticize ourselves. We’ve known for quite a while now that self-punishment is not an effective solution yet perfectionists insist that they can reach their goals by punishing themselves. Perfectionism kills our creativity, it sure tried to kill mine; creativity requires spontaneity whereas perfectionism’s foundation is built on procrastination. It is also linked to poor physical health and risk of death.
Changing your perspective.
Luckily, perfection is subjective so we are the ones that get to define it. Chances are, your definition of perfection is different than mine and other people as well. While the concept of perfection is universal to humanity and can be found in the depths of our history, the truth is, you are the one in charge with defining it for yourself (clearly) and the ways you will use it.
Maybe you can think of some of the ways in which you demand perfection from yourself. Next time, in part II, we will get a closer look at how we rationalize perfectionism and why we resort to it as a means to no real end. In the meanwhile, take some time to figure out what perfection is to you, how you define it, and how you use it and consider sharing your thoughts and experiences with us here.