We often mix-up a drive to excel and perfectionism; they’re not the same thing. A drive to be your very best can leads to a sense of self-satisfaction and self-esteem. It feels good to give it all we got. Perfectionism? It’s a horse of a different color. People who feel driven in this direction tend to be more motivated by external forces – such as the desire to please others rather than themselves. Common and recurring thoughts of perfectionists include:
- Anything short of excellent is terrible
- I should be able to do/solve this quickly/easily
- I am best handling this myself
- I must find the one right answer
- Errors, failure, and mistakes are unacceptable
- I have to do it all at once
My name’s Paul and I am a recovering perfectionist.
I am also recovering from depression. The two are connected.
I’d been trying to do too much, too well, trying to please too many people, expecting too much of myself for too long, putting too much pressure on myself, creating too much stress. That’s a lot of ‘too muches’ for one person. My self-esteem took a battering, I stopped looking forward to anything and I felt like I was useless and hopeless.”
Psychologist Dr. Gordon Flett has studied perfectionists and found that they set excessively high personal standards for themselves and others then harshly evaluate their performance on these benchmarks. Often, perfectionists believe it’s their parents, bosses, or spouses who expect them to be perfect. They believe that such people will value them only if they’re perfect. The constant demand to appear as if they have it all tougher is draining.
Others tend to see them as harsh and unforgiving – rigid and unkind – though the truth on the inside is they are vulnerable people who lack resilience. Flett fund that physicians, lawyers, and architects, whose occupations demand precision, are at higher risk for perfectionism, depression and suicide.
Causes of perfectionism run from parenting to a genetic link, but whatever it’s origins, try these fixes:
Separate self-worth from the requirement to do things perfectly.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner writes: Perfectionism is addressable by using and applying cognitive tools. Positive change can be had when thinking is changed and self worth is separated from the requirement to do things perfectly. If you constantly hear your inner critic berating you for not getting or doing that extra 20%, you have noticed your perfectionist beliefs. Discrediting and disputing these values and finding realistic evidence to prove them wrong is a key part of recovery. As humans, we are inherently imperfect. We have the ability to fail without ever being a failure. We sometimes just need to think it and believe it.
Put people first.
Before tasks and “stuff,” put your heart into connecting with the people you love.
Come out as a human being.
Authenticity, although messy, is required for the pleasure of love, joy, fun and overall happiness.
Pay attention to your own signs of trouble.
Perfectionists get more anxious and rigid when they are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Use prevention strategies to manage this tendency.
Let go of high expectations. Try to accept people as they are. We are all unique and flawed as human beings.
The great songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen once wrote and sang, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light get’s in.”
We’re cracked open when stress, anxiety and depression become just too painful and perhaps begin to see this eternal truth about others and ourselves:
Nobody is perfect.