Do we assume there is an implied promise that perfectionism brings us rewards? If there were rewards, are those rewards real or is the promise false and the allure is based on an illusion? What are the costs and benefits of perfectionism?
For the sake of this post, the definition of perfectionism I’m using is illustrated in those persons whose standards are high and beyond reach and reason, people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment without boundaries. This compulsion impacts the spiritual, emotional and physical health of the perfectionist and possibly the people around them. Add diminishing self-control, troubled personal relationships and low self-esteem to that as well.
Since I am a “Recovering Perfectionist”, I think I have some insight into this issue. I first saw this in others actually (don’t we always do that?) – the “all or nothing thinking” issue. Ah, eye-opener here. Dualism again. “All or Nothing Thinking” is basically black and white thinking – there is no middle ground. The forgotten factor here is BALANCE IS IN THE MIDDLE of black and white and all or nothing! Any minor error is an invitation to say, “I’m a total failure”. That is a perfect analogy of a perfectionist.
Perfectionists perceive themselves as inefficient because they tend to imagine that other people, and only other people are successful people, achieve personal goals with minimal effort, few errors, maximum self-control and little, if any, emotional distress. FANTASY!!!!! Delusional actually. A syndrome called “Saint-or-Sinner” exists in the perfectionist world. To illustrate, a perfectionist who decides they need to start a diet, tells themselves from the start that they are either off or on the diet in the strictest terms. The first time there is a lapse, the period of “Sainthood” ends and the chance for perfect dieting is viewed as lost forever. What steps in now is “Sin” characterized by guilt, moralistic self-deprecation, and binges. The payment for failing will be to HARM THE SELF INTENTIONALLY because they failed. You know what I mean. You ate only one spoonful of ice cream. A small amount in reality. But that tiny thing was TOTAL failure. So you ate the whole half-gallon. Been there – done that.
We could spend hours and hours talking about WHY we develop perfectionism. But learning to take baby steps toward breaking through the illusion of perfectionism is more important. From experience, a pro and con list may help with this. Putting together an “advantage/disadvantage” list of the “practice of perfectionism” can help break through that “fantasy” that everyone else is perfect. Writing things down makes it more real. It isn’t just a thought any more, it is a string of written words. We can see through written words more easily than feeling thoughts. We can add more words, cross out words. When you SEE and weigh the costs against the benefits of being perfect, it may become very evident that it wasn’t worth it. You can choose to step out of the illusion of perfectionism.
Another option would be to keep a journal of self-critical thoughts that occur. When reviewed, this list can be very shocking and illuminating. How can anyone be happy if they think so badly of themselves? To counter that, keep a journal of the good things about you, no matter how tiny. You, know, “I did not text while driving today”. A VERY GOOD THING! And the good-thing list will continue to grow. Additionally, to REALLY crack this perfectionism thing open, start a Happiness Journal. All happy things should be recorded there. The little things, the big things, surprising things. Review it on a regular basis. Focus on what works, what makes you happy, what makes you real.
My most powerful perfectionism buster tool is this. When I plan something, I put it on paper so I can see through the illusions of thought. Then I read it through from the perspective of the people I love most in life. If I can give that plan to them knowing it wasn’t mean, difficult or self-deprecating in any way, it is a good plan. If I would not wish that plan on them in part or whole, I don’t use it or I change the things that were too strict, too black and white, to more realistic and simple goals. Works every time.
Guess I use the power of love to help break my perfectionism and gift the love back to me. Works “Perfectly!”