Do you strive to achieve greatness? Do you cringe at the thought of an error or making a mistake? If something is out of place, does it drive you mad? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when someone comments, “You’re so perfect?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a perfectionist.
A perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection. Perfectionists have high expectations and intangible goals. These individuals never seemed satisfied and can be blind to their own level of performance.
Being a perfectionist can add chronic amounts of stress to a person’s life. Continuously trying to be perfect can lead to feelings of sadness, frustration and failure. Worse yet, perfectionists expect the same performance level from those around them. This can add strain and stress to their relationships.
Maybe you got a bit upset when plans you created fell through. Or maybe you got frustrated when a loved one let you down. How you react to situations doesn’t necessarily make you a perfectionist, especially if these occurrences are rare.
But take a look at the list below. These are good indicators that your way of thinking makes you a perfectionist.
All-or-nothing thinking: Perfectionists tend to set very high goals for themselves and so when they have something in mind, it becomes all-or-nothing. Unlike a high achiever who is satisfied with a job well done, perfectionists will not feel accomplished unless the goal is entirely met.
Critical eye: Perfectionists tend to be quite critical or themselves and others. If anyone lets down a perfectionist, the perfectionist will have no problem pointing out the mishap. Even in their own work, if there is a flaw they can be critical of themselves.
“Push” vs. “pull”: A high achiever is pulled towards their goal because they want to achieve it. But perfectionists are pushed towards their goal out of fear. The worst thing that could happen to a perfectionist is not attaining their goal.
Unrealistic standards: Perfectionists’ goals are often unrealistic. Where many of us create a goal, achieve it and move forward, a perfectionist starts with an incredibly high, or unrealistic goal. And taking steps toward it is not enough. This can set them up for “failure” in their eyes.
Focus on results: Sometimes to reach a goal it can be more about the journey, not the end result. Perfectionists focus solely on the result and often ignore the journey.
Depressed by unmet goals: A non-perfectionist may create goals and when they don’t achieve them, either appreciate what they’ve learned or re-evaluate the goal. If a perfectionist doesn’t reach a goal they can become depressed.
Fear of failure: As mentioned, the fear of failure can push perfectionists toward their goals. Likewise this fear of failure can hold back perfectionists from trying.
Procrastination: Even though perfectionists want to achieve the best, their fear of failure may delay the start of a project. They may hold off starting things in fear of failure.
Defensiveness: Perfectionists have a difficult time taking criticism, even if it’s constructive. This can cause them to become defensive.
Low self-esteem: Perfectionists tend to be unhappy and self-critical. Many of them suffer from low self-esteem and will retreat into isolation.
Perfectionists can put large amounts of stress on themselves, which can turn into anxiety. This anxiety can stem from fear of failure and being critical. Furthermore, because perfectionists believe they can never make a mistake, anxiety may be linked to always being perfect and doing a job well done. They may feel that there is a critical eye on them at all times and they must look perfect in front of others.
All of these negative emotions can really take a toll on one’s life. Perfectionists may begin to feel they are not good enough or that they are failures. This is in their eyes and usually not the perspective of those around them.
Perfectionists may not even recognize anxiety in their lives as they feel they, too, are perfect. To be perfect is to be without flaw, and no one is without a flaw or two. But while regular people might realize a small step forward is progress, perfectionists won’t even try if they know they can’t cross the finish line. They engage in avoidance behavior because they are so stressed out.
Avoidance and anxiety can work hand in hand. By not recognizing anxiety you then avoid it. By avoiding it you temporarily release yourself from anxiety and the feelings surrounding it. Unfortunately, you can only avoid something for so long before it catches up to you.
Overcoming perfectionism may be difficult, but by taking steps towards healthier, goal-achieving behavior, you can combat anxiety.
Recognize perfectionism: The first solution to any problem is recognizing you have one. Ask yourself if you could relate to any of the behaviors described above.
Realistic thinking: Every time you start to think critically of yourself, take a moment to stop and re-think it. Put it into perspective and ask yourself if you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. It may be helpful to use helpful mantras like, “No one is perfect,” or “It’s okay to make a mistake, it doesn’t mean failure.”
Take perspective: Perfectionists often only see the world in their own view. It may be helpful to change their perspective and try to see things in the eyes of someone else.
Look at the big picture: Perfectionists can be so focused on one goal they tend to overlook the bigger picture. For example, if they are planning a party they may only focus on the small details. Is the food ready? Are the decorations set-up properly? Instead, perfectionists should look at the big picture: Did people show up to the party and enjoy themselves (whether there were “hiccups” or not).
Compromising: For a perfectionist to achieve a goal it’s either right or wrong. By learning to compromise and accept some mistakes they can ease stress and fear associated with achieving their goals.
These are just some steps that perfectionists can take to overcome perfectionist habits. If you are having difficulties overcoming perfectionisms, speaking to a therapist is a valuable option as they can further create a plan to help you overcome such behavior.
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