Perfectionism is a tendency to hold yourself to unrealistic and often unachievable expectations. It manifests in our thoughts and behaviors when we believe we have to do everything “right.” Believing you’re “not good enough” is usually at the core of perfectionism. This belief, or something similar, is the driving force that leads to endless striving to do more and be more. Not only does perfectionism rob us of peace within, it also has potentially damaging effects on our relationships as it drives us to expect perfection from others.
As a result of the endless cycle of seeking flawlessness, perfectionism and anxiety often go hand in hand. If there’s always more to do and be, accepting oneself as you are now isn’t likely. Instead, working harder becomes the norm. We work hard to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions such as fear, shame, and disapproval. Yet, over time, exhaustion, overwhelm and unhappiness can creep in as we find ourselves on a never-ending ride of unworthiness and endless striving.
However, there are ways of working towards being less perfectionistic. So if you’re wondering about perfectionism and it’s impact on your life, read on to learn more about it’s negative effects and how to find a good way forward.
The Perils of Perfectionism
How Criticism Damages Your Relationships With Self and Others
Perfectionism urges us to be impeccable and picture-perfect. Consequently, we can become hyper-focused on every single thing that we or others are doing in critical ways. Nitpicking until everything appears to be perfect. And blaming when things aren’t perfect.
The judgment involved in criticism creates a lot of negativity around how we see ourself and others. It dampens our ability to be authentic for fear of being judged, and we hide away our true thoughts and feelings. Looking for the flaws in all situations can take over, and we can miss seeing the good in ourselves and others.
How Control Damages Your Relationships With Self and Others
Control is often a strategy used to attain perfection. The need for control over the smallest of details may preoccupy you, leading to a belief that if you don’t handle everything, things won’t be done the “right” way, or possibly be completed at all.
This leads to difficulty trusting others and a struggle to ask for help or contributions from others. This “I can do it myself” attitude can leave you feeling over-worked and also stuck with an enormous to-do list. It may also drive others away as they assume you don’t need or want their contributions. The need to control can also lead to feeling fearful of times when there’s a lack of control. Moreover, you may avoid particular situations where you anticipate you may have little or no control.
How Comparison Damages Your Relationships With Self and Others
Feeling a drive to be perfect might also amplify comparison of yourself to others. Since the core of perfectionism is typically linked to feeling a sense of unworthiness, we might turn to noticing what others are doing, how they look, and what they have to get a sense of direction for ourselves.
Thoughts of “If I can just be like _______, I’ll be _________” might spur you on to continue perfectionistic tendencies. However, comparison frequently increases shame and takes us further away from what actually makes us happy when we solely focus on what we lack. After all, we need to recognize and cultivate what brings us joy and satisfaction in our individual lives to truly live the life we want to live.
How to Soothe Perfectionistic Thinking
When perfectionism gets going, what can you do to relieve the urges to do more and be more? There are practices that non-perfectionistic people engage in that lead to greater satisfaction in their relationships with self and others. You’ll notice a theme as you read on: acknowledging and managing difficulty is key to confronting perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors.
Perfectionism stems from feeling inadequate, and so we often engage in endless striving in order to avoid painful emotions such as shame, fear, a sense of failure, and guilt. However, while these emotions are challenging, they are also part of being a human. If we continue to try to avoid them, we often miss out on important aspects of our human experience, especially connection with self and others.
Practicing compassion is a way in which we support ourselves and others by recognizing challenges and using a kind approach when dealing with the challenge. In other words, this approach is the opposite of being judgmental. Instead, compassion is a way of tackling difficulties in an effort to alleviate suffering- both our own suffering and that of others. We do this by leaning in to the discomfort we feel rather than to avoid it, change it, or attack it.
When we work to better understand our experience rather than avoid it, we can foster better connection with self and others. We can start the practice of compassion by listening nonjudgmentally. Listen to what your emotions are telling you, what your body is communicating to you through body sensations, and what others are saying.
Perfectionism, shame and anxiety can often close us off from sharing how we truly feel. Fear of being perceived a particular way and fear of failure are often at the heart of withholding our truth.
In contrast, vulnerability is about being honest and authentic about our feelings and thoughts. We expose ourself, including our fears, doubts, insecurities, and mistakes to another so that we may be seen, heard, and supported. Healthy expression of our innermost thoughts and feelings can help us to know ourselves better and to relate more effectively with others.
Accepting You for Who You Are
Addressing perfectionism is a process, and one that takes practice and patience. After all, there are reasons why one becomes perfectionistic over time. However, perfectionism can be better understood and managed so that it doesn’t interfere with your happiness in your relationship with self and others. We are all imperfect humans, and life is messy. Embracing these truths can be liberating for a perfectionisticly minded person.
If you’re ready to start this work in your life, therapy can be a supportive and thoughtful approach to getting it underway. At Vitality Therapeutic Services, we specialize in addressing perfectionism and anxiety and would be honored to work alongside you in your journey toward living a life full of vitality. Perfectionism doesn’t need to run your life. Contact us here to get started.
Photo by Khoa Võ: https://www.pexels.com/photo/unhappy-thoughtful-teen-girl-arms-crossed-in-rainy-day-5430077/