Have you ever been called a perfectionist? Do you have a boss, spouse, parent or friend who is a perfectionist? We might define perfectionism as being pedantic, having a generally disapproving attitude, or subscribing to “all-or-nothing” thinking. This definition is both right and wrong. These are the characteristics of those who seek and aim for perfectionism. However, unfortunately perfectionism can be hidden deep down in the secret corners of one’s personality. When perfectionism manifests itself like this, it can sneakily cause behavioral patterns that make life difficult and cause problems.
I say “sneakily” because in general, we tend to consider people to be perfectionists if they set high standards in their business and private lives, or if they have very organized lives with very strict plans. When it comes to someone who we think of as “average” or “humble” — and this can even be ourselves — we don’t categorize that person as a perfectionist. On the other hand, behind the lives of people who seem to be humble or disorganized on the outside, there can be a perfectionist mind on the inside. Some people who don’t feel like they are successful or fulfilled in their lives fall into this category knowingly or unknowingly. This is because sometimes we set such high expectations from ourselves or others that we can’t even take a step due to fear. We are scared we won’t achieve the high bar we have set for ourselves.
For this reason, we can say that most people who tend to procrastinate are perfectionists. It’s never the right time to start, and it’s always tough to be completely ready. Moreover, our mind runs away from shoulds and shouldn’ts that we impose on ourselves when it comes to working on a task. The responsibilities we assume involuntarily get heavier and heavier. As a result, we strengthen the perception that we can’t achieve anything and we’re insufficient.
Perfectionist can be related to seeking perfection. Everything should be perfect from houses we visit to the clothes of the people we meet. Even the smallest flaw in our lives is enough to make us feel uncomfortable and nervous. Despite planning the whole week perfectly, if one of the plans change, the world can turn upside down. It is very easy to be convinced that life is perfect or flawless — because we tend to consider our own high expectations to just be normal. Another common aspect of perfectionism is the obsession with success: there is always a list of duties to accomplish and bullet points to tick. Perfectionism makes us think about things in terms of duties they need to accomplish, not individual tasks. That’s why, when you compliment someone who tends to be a perfectionist, the lackluster responses you get are generally because they truly do not believe they have accomplished anything, not because they are being modest.
Unfortunately, setting very high standards for anything in our lives can cause dissatisfaction and disappointment in the long run. The reason for this is the belief that these standards are normal and achievable. Even if you achieve goals that seem to be very difficult, and even if you have a very high status, there are still many more things to achieve. What’s more, the appreciation of other people never satisfies you. Rather than thinking that your goals are unrealistic, you believe that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. When you can’t achieve these goals, you start to blame yourself. Even if what you have achieved never seems sufficient, the feeling of development and progress keeps you going. You keep running towards a point which seems to be more definite. You believe that you will be relaxed and free when you achieve that final goal. The bad news is that this will never happen, because you will keep chasing after other goals. This is how perfectionism harms us, as there will always be other examples you’ll compare yourself with, and who you think are “better” than you. When dissatisfaction and the feeling of inadequacy in fulfilling the goals we set become constant, the exhaustion starts.
Do these sentences sound familiar to you?
If so, maybe you’re in the comfort zone of being busy all the time. Sustaining a lifestyle or keeping doing something just to accomplish it without even remembering why we started it in the first place can turn into a pressure which creates anxiety. That pressure gets overwhelming. Your work-life balance is lost, and you may find yourself spending most of your time trying to plan and organize the things you’re supposed to do instead of actually doing them. This is generally when perfectionism starts to cause distress.
Additionally, these behavioral patterns cause physical ailments like intestinal problems, migraines, ulcers, colitis, skin problems, high blood pressure or arrhythmia. These can also become chronic over time.
Do you feel that, even if you push yourself a lot and do your best, some things in your life are slipping out of your control? Even though you work very hard, do you hear from your friends or family that you let them down? Does hearing these things make you feel even worse because you think that everything should be perfect, even in your relationships? Or to put it simply: do you often hear that you’re a perfectionist? If you find yourself saying these things to yourself, you can decrease the pressure and disappointment in your life with a few simple exercises:
What benefits do you get from keeping your expectations high and having a certain standard in your life? What do you sacrifice in return? Make a list and be honest with yourself. If you feel the need, ask for help from trusted friends or family. Writing this out and seeing it in front of you is a good mindfulness method.
These can be things that you say “No matter what I do, I can’t achieve it,” or things that are not efficient. It can also be things that you do involuntarily just because you think you need to do them. Remember that this also includes relationships that actually don’t work, or people you keep seeing even if you don’t want to.
For these areas, write down your expectations from yourself and others. After that, be honest with yourself about whether they are realistic or not. Try to revise them accordingly.
You can do these exercises until you feel that the pressure in your life decreases. What difficulties do you feel in your life? If you feel comfortable to do so, please share the results of these exercises with us in the comments.