Healing the Body & Spirit · Reflections

Self-Punishing Perfectionism


What are the costs and benefits of perfectionism?

Definition of perfectionism:

“People whose standards are beyond reach and reason. They compulsively and unremittingly force impossible goals upon themselves and measure their own sense of worth in terms of productivity and accomplishment without boundaries. This compulsion impacts their spiritual, emotional and physical health as well as the people around them. With time, they experience diminishing self-control, troubled personal relationships and low self-esteem”.

Since I am a “recovering perfectionist”, I think I have some insight into this issue. My initial “illusion” was to only see this tendency in others (don’t we always do that?). Any minor error is an invitation to say to self, “I’m a total failure”. The perfectionist perceives themselves as being inefficient because they believe everyone else successfully achieves their 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’s 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.


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 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!”

Dr. Deb

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