Is Perfectionism Bad For You? 5 Reasons To Let Go Of PerfectionismJan 27, 2022
How do you define Perfectionism? What does perfectionism mean to you?
Perfectionism is complicated because it’s never what it seems. On the surface, perfectionism is simply wanting things to be perfect, which sounds ideal and wonderful. Doing things perfectly is often viewed as a sign of competency. We enjoy perfect performances or perfectly cooked meals. If you have a day planned with family, especially with kids, having it be perfect makes everyone happy.
Beneath the surface, perfectionism is more than just wanting a flawless outcome. It is having unattainably high expectations of yourself that lead to chaos and disaster. Perfectionism is all about doing more, achieving more, and being more. Perfectionism mindset doesn’t just say, “oh, you did that pretty perfect, that’s good.” Perfectionism says: “well, if you were really good, you would do that perfectly again.” Even worse, Perfectionism would say, “if you were really good, you would do it even better next time.”
The truth about perfectionism is that you never get to the finish line because there is always more you can do; the more you can achieve, the more you can improve.
What is Perfectionism?
In essence, perfectionism focuses on two things: how the work is done and how it turns out.
The first part of how the work is done is that you expect the work to be done very quickly and without any challenge. For example, perfect parenting means that it was a breeze; you followed through with all of your parenting skills, responding rather than reacting to your kids’ emotional outbursts; the whole day was a success. Leading a perfect meeting means you answered all questions, had no errors with your information, and had no conflict. Ultimately, an ideal day means everything went smoothly: you woke up early, you checked off all the items on your list, at the exact time you said you were going to do it. It all went well; it all went perfectly.
Let’s say you are at point A and trying to get to point B; perfectionism expects it to be a straight linear line; no swirls, no zig-zags, no left or right turns. It wants this smooth perfect progression towards the final goal.
In this process of getting things done, from A to B, perfectionism also expects that you do it alone, not with much help. Because the more you ask for help and the more you rely on someone else, this is a sign of weakness for perfectionists. Because it says, “if you were really good, you wouldn’t need anyone’s help.” Therefore, it views asking for help as a sign of inadequacy and imperfection, which are unacceptable. When it comes down to how the work is done, Perfectionism says you get it done smoothly without any hiccups, quickly without any delay, and alone without any help from others.
The second part of the “how” is about how the outcome or the end results comes out. By definition, for the perfectionist, the outcome must be perfect. It must always be flawless. So what happens when the outcome is less than perfect? What if you get 95 out of 100 on your test? What if you make one mistake or typo in your email? What if you raise your voice at your kids during a car ride, despite all the laughter? All of these minor flaws are equal to failure. Perfectionism has all-or-nothing thinking. Things are either perfect or not. It lives in black or white. This only sets you up for more disappointment because life happens in the gray.
5 Reasons Why Perfectionism is Bad for You:
1) Perfectionism causes a disconnection from yourself:
The truth is we are all imperfect human beings. Our imperfections will eventually show up, sometimes by the hour, sometimes by the day or the week. When Perfectionism is a quest to be perfect, what happens to all the imperfections, the flaws, the shortcomings?
When perfectionism does not accept mistakes or shortcomings, the imperfect parts are rejected, ignored, or dismissed. When errors and flaws can’t be tolerated, your mind will take extreme measures to act like those parts are not a part of you. You start to repress unresolved issues and unpleasant emotions.
Ultimately, Perfectionism becomes a rejection of the self. This eventually leads to disconnection from the self because your imperfections are part of you.
The rejection of the self leads to war within oneself. Your positive and strong qualities and traits begin to be at war with your imperfect and vulnerable qualities and traits. You start to believe that your imperfect qualities are a burden. You start to think that your shortcomings are holding you back. You begin to act as if they don’t exist. You almost turn your back on your imperfections; when all along, your flaws need your love, affection, and acceptance.
The disconnection prevents you from being whole and recognizing all the ups and downs. Instead of accepting yourself as a whole, you only accept a few parts of you that are perfect. Without self-acceptance, you are left with voids and disconnection.
2) You suffer from low self-worth and confidence:
Perfectionism is linked to low self-esteem and low confidence. This may be surprising because we often think perfectionists must feel good about themselves since they do everything so perfectly. We assume that people who do things perfectly must be feeling confident and have it all together. This is not true because Perfectionism is never what it seems.
Beneath the surface, perfectionists are full of worry and fear of making mistakes and being imperfect.
Their worries around making mistakes lead to second-guessing every decision or double-checking every action before moving forward. This type of ambivalence and lack of clarity ultimately reduces your trust and confidence in yourself.
Your fear of making mistakes lowers your self-worth because of the following core belief: “my mistakes define me; I am my mistakes.” As a perfectionist, you worry about what might your mistake say about you? Does your mistake mean something? Perfectionists worry that if they make a mistake, then it is proof of their unworthiness and inadequacy. For example, it is not uncommon for parents to make mistakes. Parenting is hard for everyone. It might be one of those long parenting days, and no matter how calm and collected you have been all day, it can take one tantrum to lead to raging at your kid. Even though you know parents make mistakes, at that moment, you feel terrible about yourself. Not because you raised your voice at your kids, but because you conclude one mistake defined you: “I am not a good enough mother.” The mistake now has power over you. It has the power to change the way you view yourself and the power to make you doubt your worthiness and enoughness as a mother and as a person.
For the perfectionist, the imperfect result feels like a representation of themselves. Because perfectionists believe that “I am how well I do something” and “to feel enough, I must perform perfect results.” When your worth is measured by your productivity and how well you do something, your self-confidence and self-esteem will eventually be damaged by imperfect results. The imperfections and flaws falsely become barriers to feeling worthy and confident.
3) Perfectionism brings along missed opportunities:
When Perfectionism is all about doing things perfectly, you are more likely to stay in your comfort zone, where everything is familiar. A perfectionist likes their comfort zone because they have certainty in their comfort zone. They know how everything is going to look and work out. In their comfort zone, perfectionists have mastery over things, and they can perform tasks with 100% perfection.
Perfectionists then start to think that things outside of their comfort zone must be dangerous since they are unfamiliar. Things outside of their comfort zone become a threat if they do not entirely control them. A perfectionist concludes that “If I were to try something new, I may not do it well, it may not be perfect, so it is best I avoid new things.”
Fear ends up keeping perfectionists in their comfort zone. It can be the fear of failure, the fear of being exposed, fear of looking foolish, or fear of rejection. Fear is powerful enough to keep you in your comfort zone, where you feel secure and protected. However, new opportunities exist only outside of your comfort zone. Therefore, listening to your perfectionism and getting paralyzed by your fear only keeps you in your comfort zone and away from the new opportunities. At the end of the day, while you may think you played it safe by staying in your comfort zone, you ended up collecting missed opportunities that you may not have again.
4) In the pursuit of perfectionism, you become your worst enemy:
Negative self-talk can be seen as the cause and the symptom of Perfectionism. When you struggle with negative self-talk and judge yourself for everything you do, you may turn to Perfectionism for a false sense of safety as an unhealthy coping mechanism. You may think, “if I just do things perfectly, I might finally get rid of my negative self-talk, I might finally feel good about myself.” However, this becomes a vicious cycle: the more you try to do things perfectly and raise the bar higher and higher, you will experience an inevitable failure or a flaw- because we are all imperfect human beings, so our imperfections are eventually going to show up - then your negative self-talk worsens by these imperfect moments. Ultimately, your perfectionism makes your negative self-talk worse, not better.
Behind perfectionism lies inner criticism, self-judgment, and negative self-talk. Negative self-talk, also known as the inner critic, is the mother of all disconnection. It is full of judgment and self-loathing. When you engage in negative self-talk, you minimize all your positive efforts while magnifying the shortcomings. If something goes well, you quickly say, “it doesn’t count” or “I just got lucky.” When there is a glitch or a hiccup, you say, “I can’t believe I made that mistake, everybody can see right through me, that was unacceptable.” It is a vicious cycle that always deprives you of self-love and compassion; and only feeds you criticism, disappointment, and disapproval.
Part of recovering from perfectionism is all about learning to be self-compassionate. To overcome this barrier, when faced with imperfections, instead of blaming yourself or judging yourself, talking to yourself like you talk to someone you love is necessary. Having an understanding, supportive, and empathetic inner dialogue soothes you through hard times.
5) You experience a lack of authenticity in your relationships:
Perfectionism causes a disconnection from others. In relationships, to keep up the perfect appearance, you start to hide your struggles, vulnerabilities, and imperfections from others. Others don’t know when you are hurting; others don’t know when you are struggling; others don’t know when you are having a hard time and need help.
One of the traits of perfectionism is to never ask for help or delegate. These are seen as signs of weakness and imperfections. It is unacceptable to ask for help or delegate not because they think they are too good to ask for help. Instead, the perfectionist is afraid that if they were to delegate, then others may not do it as perfectly, and then they will risk the end result not being perfect. As a result, perfectionists have a hard time letting go of control.
The Swan movement is a great metaphor to describe the illusion of Perfectionism. The swan metaphor describes how there is a perception of calm, control, and graceful action while under the waterline, out of the public gaze, the manic paddling of the webbed feet are enabling the graceful movements above the water. Perfectionists are like swans in the sense that others may think they are calm and collected and have their stuff together, but in actuality, behind closed doors, Perfectionists are full of anxiety. It takes everything out of them to look calm and collected on the outside, where there is a war going on inside. They can free themselves by asking for help or delegating; but if they were to ask for help, they would surrender to their imperfections.
Perfectionism is ultimately a trap. Your perfectionism may have been rewarded or praised in the past or even now; but ultimately, it leads to disconnection, feelings of unworthiness, and missed opportunities. Perfectionism never leads to genuine happiness with yourself or others. Perfectionism is not a friend, but an enemy. It is not a strength but a disadvantage. It is not a motivator, but a burden.
Life is not better with perfectionism; Life is better with imperfections.
About the Author
Dr. Menije is a leading expert on overcoming perfectionism and building an authentic life. As the founder of Perfectionism University, an online platform for self-help courses on breaking up with perfectionism, her goal is to create a community where we can all unlearn Perfectionism and start our journey of embracing imperfections and owning our enoughness. She knows firsthand how perfectionism can lead to anxiety and disconnection from self. She had her real awakening once she read the “Gifts of Imperfection” from one and only Dr. Brene Brown. She realized there was a name to what she was suffering from. She was seeking perfectionism because, deep down, she thought, "I wasn’t good enough." Now, Dr. Menije speaks relentlessly on many platforms to share her personal story combined with her clinical training as a licensed psychologist to help women break up with perfectionism. She knows one can be a prisoner of their perfectionism. Her hope for you is that you turn the judgment to compassion and ultimately live a life where you embrace imperfection rather than striving for perfection.
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