Is There Such a Thing as Too Perfect?

“I love sitting back and finding joy in the things that I have not finished or need to do more work on” …. words never said by anyone! Often there are times when we come up short on tasks or have a feeling that things are incomplete. This can be irritating to us and for some reason we can’t find peace with the feeling of things not being perfect. It can even become discouraging when you are not able to get it just the way you envisioned it. Sometimes you may make a small mistake that you feel you can’t take back. Yes, those are all truly frustrating things which can really affect how you feel, but did you know that it could be of our own doing that we have these repeated experiences of feeling things are incomplete? Well it’s most definitely possible especially if you’re struggling with Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is when we believe we must be look perfect, act perfect, or even believe that perfection is achievable. You are probably wondering how this could be a bad thing. It is a good thing to be driven and goal oriented, but if we are honest, nothing and no one is perfect and there will always be flaws in everything. When “Perfect” becomes our standard, we often set expectations for ourselves that are not realistic and cause us distress. This can often block us from truly appreciating the work we’ve done and cause us to minimize or discount what was accomplished. Perfectionism is often overlooked, but it can and will zap the joy out of anything if we allow it.

Perfectionism can show up in 2 negative ways. The first is the societal perfectionist, which is when someone is trying to be perfect to meet the unrealistic standards of society. Examples may be when you have high expectations set for you because of your job title, the school you attend, or the sport you play. When this happens, the likelihood of negative feelings and thoughts increases. You may have begun to have feelings of depression, worthlessness, and increased stress levels. Also, some have even experienced urges to self harm and suicidal thoughts due to failing to meet the standards set by societal perfectionism. The second type is the self-critical perfectionist. This person feels too much pressure from the unrealistic goals set for themselves. Failure to meet your own unrealistic goals can cause you to start talking to yourself in negative ways or be self-critical which is like bullying yourself. This causes decreased feelings of value or worth in ourselves and can cause our motivation to decrease.

Perfectionism not only shows up in work or school. The way we judge our environment, our physical appearance, how you speak or write, and even how you manage your friendships and intimate relationships can be affected as well. Perfectionism can be something that is taught to us or it can be a side effect of our mental health. When we experience frequent put downs or criticism from family members such as parents, friends, or siblings, it can lead to the unrealistic thoughts about perfection. Anxiety can also cause some to be perfectionistic, as the fear of having a panic attack due to failure could push you to go beyond realistic expectations. 

So, by now I bet you’re wondering how to know if you’re struggling with perfectionism. Here are some warning signs of perfectionism:

·       Spending more time than would be expected on tasks (Example: taking 3 hours for a 1 paragraph assignment)

·      Minimizing accomplishments (Example: feelings of failure over getting a 95% on a paper because it’s not a 100%)

·      Being frustrated by others success (Example: finding flaws in their achievements) 

·      Avoiding tasks because they can’t be done perfectly (Example: skipping out on school or work projects rather than starting them)

·      Only focusing on the end goal and not the process (Example: being discouraged by only losing 3 lbs instead of the 10 lbs you wanted to lose after two weeks in the gym)

·      Sticking to tasks you know instead of trying new things that you might not be perfect in (Example: only playing games you win and refusing to try to play new sports or games with friends to not look bad)

Can Perfectionism Ever Be Good?

Perfectionism can really block our satisfaction in life and limit our perspective, but there is a type of perfectionism that can be effective. When we have goals based on our own standard or perfectionism that is motivating and not deflating. This comes with an understanding of what is realistically accomplishable for yourself and making sure you achieve it. An example of this would be knowing you can get in A in math class if you study because every time you study you earn an A. You would not compare yourself to others who get A’s without studying or people who study more or get a higher A by 2 points. When you have personal standards for perfectionism, you will be satisfied with the A you receive because you set a goal and achieved it using the method you know works. Also, you would not allow anything else to influence your feelings about your accomplishment. Those who can set goals without their disregarding their own standards are less likely to experience stress, anxiety, instability in mood, and distress.

6 Tips to on Healthy Standards for Personal Perfectionism:

·      Share goals and expectations you have for yourself with trusted and motivated friends or family members

·      Plan to celebrate after trying new or difficult things

·      Set limits on the time you take to complete small tasks

·      Reward yourself for the achievement of short-term goals

·      Break projects or big tasks into parts

·      Set goals that motivate you to complete them

Perfectionism is a very tough thing and can easily go unnoticed. Hopefully this helps open your eyes to perfectionism and ways to make it work for you.