The need to be perfect, perfectionism, can be a real challenge for people, impacting personal happiness and general well-being. Perfectionistic behavior can also negatively impact relationships. The problem is that there is often a real benefit to having your act together, being extremely detail oriented and seemingly able to do it all. And you may get a lot of positive feedback from those around you that reinforces this behavior. The reward system can be plentiful in this way. However the long term consequences of constantly trying to live up to such a high bar can be significant not only your emotional health but your closest relationships.
The problem with perfectionism is it’s a set up.
Human beings are not created to do anything perfectly. Human beings make mistakes. So at some point the perfectionist will do the same and likely endure a lot of suffering as a result. The drive to be perfect can be intense; high stress levels, anxiety or fear of NOT doing things perfectly and exhaustion. It’s a set up because it’s not only unsustainable but can have further consequences:
- Impact on your own happiness. Perhaps you weaponize your drive to be perfect against yourself.
- Impact on your relationships. Maybe those closest are often not experiencing you as emotionally available.
Loneliness in your experience can also come up as perfectionism often comes with a pretty strict idea of how things should be done…and only you know what that is. Getting help and support from others can be very challenging for the perfectionist.
The are often roots to perfectionism.
Take the time to look at your past to see if there are clues as to why you have taken on this trait. Is it possible you took on perfectionism as a coping strategy during a time you felt out of control? There are a number of good reasons to explain how people lean in to this kind of behavior including:
- Chaos in the home
- High expectations by parents
- Perfectionism was modeled
How to begin to steer towards a more balanced perspective.
The first step towards shifting away from perfectionism is noticing when it comes up for you in the first place. The act of “noticing” is really the first step in any kind of effort to change patterns of behavior. Much of the time, it’s automatic and out awareness. Notice how many times of day you are driven to reach the high bar.
Another important aspect to making real change is to understand the roots of your perfectionism. There is likely a valid reason why it served you well at one point, or was a coping mechanism of some kind. If you aren’t clear on this part, a therapist with a focus on family of origin work can help.
As you start to try to change, you will likely encounter your inner critic who will push back on the idea that you don’t need to do this. Practicing self-compassion as you do this work is critical. Again, a therapist may be appropriate to help you navigate through and out to the other side.
Making any change in how you function should always be seen as a work in progress. It can take time to unwind old patterns and with perfectionism, you may need a number of experiments in which you learn that “good enough” is actually ok.2