07 Aug Perfect isn’t Part of the Human Condition
The pressure to be perfect negatively impacts both performance and mental health. In fact, research shows that it may even be an overlooked risk factor for suicide.
Often, I’ve heard clients say that they aren’t perfectionists with a wistful tone. It sounds like, perfect is a long off dream. They report they aren’t perfect so they couldn’t be a perfectionist. Do the following scenarios resonate?
Scenarios of Perfectionism:
- You labor over an email. After the email is sent, you re-read it and see a grammatical mistake. The pit of your stomach drops over what is actually a small mistake.
- You were supposed to turn in a report at work days ago to your boss. It sits 1/2 done in a file while you browse Amazon again. You know how it should be completed, but you dread it. Avoiding it like the plague. Sleep is elusive while the report cycles in your mind continuously.
It’s a horrible feeling to believe that to make a mistake means that you are a mistake. Fear of exposure for not being intelligent or competent is exhausting. Perfectionism makes it hard to complete projects when good enough is never enough.
The mere idea of negative evaluation from peers, partners and supervisors can become a barrier to completing projects, trying something new, and speaking up in a group. It’s difficult to accept constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement when you only hear negative self-assessment.
Don’t get me wrong, correcting mistakes, and making an attempt to follow directions are acceptable ways to approach work, home projects, and relationships. But when intense fear of making a mistake gets in the way of doing your best or being able to accept that making a mistake is a normal part of being human, it’s problematic.
Perfectionism often has roots in childhood. Growing up in a home where making a small mistake or getting anything less than A on a report card caused anger or punishment instead of nurturing support is a breeding ground for adult perfectionism. An intensely competitive school environment or a micro-managing supervisor at work can also lead to this behavior.
If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
Ms. Knowles is correct. Perfectionism is the thief of growth and joy. Reduce it and experience less anxiety and depression, more productivity, and the freedom to express yourself both authentically and creatively.
Benefits of Abandoning Perfectionism:
- Less procrastination because you aren’t driven to do things perfectly which is actually impossible.
- Ability to be creative and innovative because you no longer fear negative evaluation and are open to feedback.
- Experience less stress because the idea of being perfect is no longer stealing your passion and joy.
Antidotes to Perfectionism:
- No Judging. Pretend no one will judge or grade or give feedback on what you are doing until the project or report or whatever it is you are doing is completed. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish when you lose attachment to evaluation.
- Realistic Statements. The idea that one must be perfect is an example of all or nothing thinking (perfect or not perfect – no in between). This is a common cognitive distortion which can be helped by repeating realistic statements. Practice regularly, but particularly when you are feeling a fear of failure or a barrier to completing a task.
- “Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes.”
- “I can do my best.”
- “Making a mistake does not mean I’m stupid or a failure. It means that I am human like everyone.”
3. Exposure. The hardest one of all! Expose yourself intentionally to being imperfect. I will admit that as a reformed perfectionist, this one still makes me cringe a little. That alone means that it is VERY helpful in squashing an attachment to being perfect.
- Show up for an appointment 15 minutes late.
- Purposefully mispel something in an email.
- Leave a visibly messy or disorganized part of your home or office.
- Admit to feeling nervous or something that shows a human weakness to a peer.
If you are ready to move beyond perfectionism and unlock your true abilities, therapy can offer a safe place to explore the roots of your unique perfectionism and practice new ways of being. Email me to discuss the benefits of working together.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.