Perfectionism is quite a common character trait, that affects about 30% of the general population and increases to almost 80% among the gifted population. Besides being pretty common, perfectionism is also on the rise. It can significantly interfere with your daily life and your stress response, so it is important to identify perfectionistic character traits and find some way to deal with them.
A perfectionist has often some common traits with a high achiever. Both are people who are often pushing themselves to their limits and strive for excellence. They are very much goal oriented. But while the high achiever is celebrating his achievements, the perfectionist is only focusing on his failures, and that he missed hitting the mark he was supposed to achieve. While the high achiever strives to be the best he can be, the perfectionist just wants to avoid looking stupid because he has made a mistake. He is driven to give more than he can because he doesn’t feel to be good enough. Achieving more, looking perfect, and pleasing everyone becomes a way to define his self-worth.
Perfectionism is an effort to get a sense of self-worth through achievements. The problem is, that a perfectionist is never reaching the point of feeling that his accomplishments are sufficient or adequate, so he constantly feels bad about himself. Perfectionism is normally linked to limited self-esteem.
The cause of perfectionism is often found in childhood and could be caused by the following parenting styles:
- Having overly demanding parents, that expected their kids to be close to perfect, sometimes responding to any kind of shortcomings with some form of punishment. The child internalizes that it is only loveable if it is pleasing the parents and doing everything just right.
- Having perfectionist, goal-oriented parents, that children tend to model. Sometimes parents are praising their kids excessively for achievements instead of commending them for their effort.
- Having parents that were not emotionally available for their children, and the child trying to get the attention of parents with outstanding accomplishments or thinking to get appreciation by being perfect.
- Having dysfunctional parents that may not know how to treat their kids appropriately. The child may not understand the reason for his parents to be alcoholic or depressed or with some other mental problems and often sees himself as the cause of the problem. In an effort to help their parents to improve, the child may try to behave and perform perfectly, thinking this will resolve their parent’s problem.
- Growing up in a chaotical home, some children try to create an environment of control and predictability that is lacking in their home, by indulging in some perfectionistic rituals.
Perfectionists tend to hyper-focus on even the tiniest flaws. If you focus on the things you’re unable to do perfectly, you may end up doing nothing at all, out of fear of failure. When a minor setback feels like a major personal failure, that’s when perfectionism becomes a burden.
Perfectionists believe they’re committed to excellence, but they’re actually avoiding feelings of inadequacy. They define their worth according to their performance but are never satisfied with the result. Perfectionists aren’t trying to achieve something great. They’re trying to avoid failure. If you’re a perfectionist, ask yourself why. What do you gain? What does it cost you? Do you take pleasure in being perfect? How do you feel when you’re less than perfect?
Being a perfectionist has several disadvantages:
- You waste a lot of time. Some things don’t require a high level of attention. To spend more time than necessary is a waste of an important resource: your time. If success is important to you, allocating your time wisely is an important consideration.
- It creates a lot of stress. When you see only one way to be successful at something, there’s no room for error. Perfectionists aren’t happy people. There’s a constant anxiety that can’t be completely satisfied.
- You lose sight of the big picture. Bogging yourself down with trivial details can limit your awareness of the bigger objective.
- You can’t relax until you feel that everything is done and done perfectly.
- You’re never happy with your results. You might be satisfied, but you’re never happy.
There are some warning signs that could show that you have tendencies to perfectionism. If several of those apply to you, then you should work on your mindset and remove the root of perfectionism.
- You take things too far. No matter what you do, you take it to the limit. Everything has to be done as well as possible, whether it’s folding the laundry, parking the car, or doing something more meaningful.
- You long for your high school days. High school is perfect for perfectionists. The competition isn’t too great on average, and your achievements are witnessed by all. Your work is also clearly judged quantitatively. You know exactly where you stand.
- You’re judgmental of others. Your standards of acceptability are so high that no one can consistently achieve them. If you find yourself with fewer friends than you’d like, your commitment to be perfect might be the primary cause.
- You’re too hard on yourself. By the same token, you can’t live up to your expectations either. This leads to feelings of disappointment and shame. Are you more successful than most of the people you know, but less pleased with yourself than they are with themselves? Do you find it hard to be proud of yourself? Do you feel happy and proud when you’re successful, or do you merely feel a sense of relief?
- You have a hard time accepting help, because you think you can do everything by yourself. And if you delegate something, you feel the other person does not do it right, so you prefer to do it for yourself.
- You overthink any decision you need to make, to be sure you do the right thing. You spend hours researching your options, decide on the best, and still regret it afterward if you find out there would have been a better option.
- You procrastinate excessively. The need to be perfect creates anxiety and makes it hard to get started. You know you’re in for a lot of work and self-induced drama. Under those circumstances, anyone would be hesitant to get started!
I guess you can see how a perfectionist is getting stressed out about any kind of mistake, because he is defining his self-worth by his achievements, and any mistake is considered to be fatal. If you are dealing with that problem, you need to find strategies to overcome your perfectionistic traits and define your self-worth in a healthier way.
If you are a Christian, be sure to define your self-worth by the worth that your Creator has put on you. Be sure to internalize, that you have a loving Heavenly Father that takes care of you, no matter whether you have achieved to live up to your perfectionistic expectations or not. Take some Bible Promises to redefine your self-worth, like for example:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.Jeremiah 31:3
As you develop a new foundation for your self-worth, you can start to get more relaxed about your mistakes and enjoy the process of becoming the best version of yourself. Because you deserve it to put the self-constructed stress aside and live a more fulfilling life!
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Martin Neumann was trained for Lifestyle Interventions in 1998 at Wildwood Lifestyle Center & Hospital. Since then he has lectured in different parts of the world about a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies. He is the founder of the Abundant Health website.