I find that many of my clients (often unknowingly!) suffer from Perfectionism.
Confession: it’s easy for me to spot in others because it is something that struggled with for most of my childhood and into my late twenties. I have done a lot of work to unravel the tightly wound persona of the perfectionist (and it’s still a work in progress).
So what is perfectionism, and why does it matter?
- Perfectionism can result in a rigid mindset, where the expectations do not fit with the situation.
- Perfectionists can only like themselves when they do something well.
- Perfectionists are so self-critical and hard-driving that they push themselves beyond what is reasonable.
- The perfectionist’s greatest fear is being exposed as incompetent.
These traits are problematic because they create significant stress and pressure in the perfectionist’s life and can cause a cascade of physical, mental and emotional problems.
If you are a person who struggles with anxiety, addiction, or trauma then this sneaky persona may be at play.
The perfectionist is all wrapped up with attachment to certainty and control. In theory, if you can control your environment and circumstances, then you will be safe. (This is what the perfectionist believes, at least). And it makes biological sense! If you have experienced trauma (major or minor), then your primal brain has learned to try and control things as much as possible so that you don’t have to experience that trauma again. It is a survival mechanism, designed to keep you safe.
Once you begin to recognize and identify the patterns of perfectionism, then you can consciously choose to act in more empowering and productive ways.
The problem with a perfectionist mentality is that it stomps out happiness, joy, and spontaneity. The perfectionist has adopted a rigid way of thinking that is driven by the pressure to be perfect and do things perfectly.
As a perfectionist, you believe that you have to earn your worth and value as a person. Your identity is equal to what you have accomplished or achieved. When your self-esteem and identity are attached to these external factors, then anxiety and depression can result. Your self-esteem will rise and fall along with whatever you attach it to.
A common example I see with many of my female clients is with weight. Self-esteem is attached to the number on the scale, thus creating an emotional roller coaster ride from hell.
This creates an addictive cycle, driven by the pressure to “get it right.” This pressure can be so great that it takes over your life. You make it more important than your relationships or enjoyment of life. You put being productive at work or achieving your goal weight above your significant other, your friends, and taking care of yourself. This creates isolation and further anxiety and depression for the perfectionist.
As a perfectionist, you may also have to use food, substances, shopping, or work to numb yourself from your real feelings. This is how you effectively crush your ability to experience life fully. You attempt to carefully control what you feel and how much you feel it.
This is a lot of work — it’s exhausting!
You can see now that perfectionist thinking is a slippery slope. It was designed to keep you safe, yet it has unhelpful consequences that can take over your life.
Luckily, with practice and intention, you can let go of the perfectionist way of thinking. You can undo the unsupportive mental habits you’ve developed and create new (healthy!) ones.
I am a self-proclaimed Recovering Perfectionist, and I can help you on your path to recovery. I know what it’s like because I’ve been there.
I can help you see your blind spots because they were once my own. We often think that we need to push ourselves in order to be successful, but that’s simply not true! Once you open up and let go of what’s out of your control, you allow your creativity and passion to flourish. It’s a beautiful thing!
Are you a perfectionist? Take the free quiz here!