Just when I have something figured out, along comes another how-to-article telling me how to be or do something better or even change my entire life. No matter where I turn, I am constantly reminded that I am not good enough in more ways than one. I am not smart enough, not rich enough, not slim enough, not efficient enough, not pretty enough, not powerful enough, not “with it” enough and probably “out of it” altogether.
That’s me and it gets worse. In line with our education economy, yesterday’s perfect diet is banned today and my car of the year was just recalled. My time-management is out of date and my writing achievements fade against the big authors. Yes, I am my own worst critic. Growing up with perfectionist parents didn’t help either. It wasn’t until their seventies, that my father could tolerate fingerprints on his freshly washed car and that my mother learned to enjoy a meal without matching table décor.
Perfectionism is driving us up the wall or around the bend and neither direction is desirable. No wonder half of the population is on Prozac and the other half copes on some other crutch. We live under constant pressure to be perfect and expect nothing less from others. Intensely glued to information that helps us conform to some perfect ideal, we learn less about ourselves. Detached from the core of who we are, we show up with fabricated selves to gain approval.
There is quite a difference between aiming for a successful life or relationship and trying to achieve perfection. Contrary to popular belief, perfection is not required to succeed in love and life. In fact, the perfectionism-trap has serious negative consequences:
We feel our accomplishments are never good enough
We value people based on their achievements
We believe doing our best doesn’t cut it
We take mistakes personally and hesitate to try again
We are vulnerable to rejection
We do what we should, not what we want
We set impossible to reach goals
We are hard on others and ourselves
We expect perfection of others
We develop a obsession with perfectionism
We feel we never measure up
We fear failure in relationships and have difficulties being intimate
We don’t pursue a relationship out of fear it might not be perfect
We become critical of our partners
To sum it up, we believe that unless we are perfect success and love will evade us. The biggest cost of perfectionism is our neglect of the humble core within and our failure to claim a life in alignment with our true self. Instead of focussing on our qualities and all that is right with us, we are busy fixing everything seemingly imperfect. Driven to live up to the perfect ideal we become pretentious, self-promoting, critical human beings. Because of our focus on achieving goals, we never enjoy the journey of getting there. As a result we lose the irreplaceable moments of relating to people and doing things. Webster defines perfectionism as a disposition, which regards anything short of perfect as unacceptable . The torment for perfectionists is that they never find anything perfect, simply because perfection does not exist. Instead they suffer from social and personal anxiety and strained relationships. To find peace, accept ourselves and nurture the best in us, we have to overcome perfectionism and:
Use our mistakes as opportunities for growth
Set goals in line with who we are and what we want
Accept ourselves as human beings with flaws
Give less than 100% and still experience success
Enjoy the journey instead of focussing on the goal
Recognize that anxiety arises when we set unrealistic goals
Understand that we get more done and feel better about ourselves if we don’t strive for perfection.
Give up the irrational belief that relationships must be perfect
Stop second guessing ourselves
Be compassionate with ourselves and our partners
Thousands of people give less than 100% to a goal, but 100% to the journey and succeed. Everyday people don’t give all they’ve got, but still get done what they need to. If we try to give 100 % to everything we do, we never get enough done. Perfectionists operate on the assumption that unless they can give 100 % to a task, they won’t even start. As a result, they become occupied with trivial details and put off tasks until they can make a 100% effort. Perfectionists tend to be procrastinators with endless to-do lists and dreams put on hold until “some day.”
When it comes to relationships, perfectionists don’t do that well either. Single perfectionists keep on dating without making a choice, thinking someone more perfect will be around the corner. When they are in a relationship, the fear that it might not be perfect, keeps their relationships from progressing. Even when they finally settle with a partner, second-guessing their choice and being critical of their partner ensures frustrating relationships. Compromise in love as well as in life is difficult for them. Perfectionists pay a high price for the misguided belief that choosing the right love partner will guarantee a perfect relationship.
The entire perfectionist-trap becomes a vicious cycle in life and love. The more we attempt to be perfect in every area, the more anxious we get. This anxiety is coupled with a feeling of always falling short or behind. Consequently we concentrate on what is wrong with us or what we didn’t do. While doing our very best is admirable, more often than not, doing a good job is enough. The truth is that we are always half-cooked human beings in transition. Nobody will love us any more just because we are more perfect. We are being loved for the passion and spirit we bring to the table as genuine human beings.