Trying to achieve the impossible entitled as ‘perfect’ seems to be the default code for some of us. Immaculacy is the keyword for each task and dissatisfaction with everything created. But what is behind all of that?
Ironically, I have deferred finishing and publishing this post because of perfectionistic tendencies of mine. My inhibitions of publishing something that is not as close to perfection as possible have retained me from getting anything done for this blog. Now, after weeks of trying to improve this text, I am still unable to finish it. Weeks that caused me to question the appeal and usefulness of this topic. Day after day that made me doubtful if I should put myself out there like that. But a time span that also presented me with the realisation that the issues perfectionism can cause are more prominent than I thought before my research and that I may be able to assist someone in the same situation as me.
I am, by far, not the only one trapped in this unnatural concept we ourselves created – perfectionism. We live in an era of achievement, a society that expects us to accomplish things that seem to be outside of the realm of possibility. This is not purely a bad thing because perfectionistic tendencies can lead to success and achievement. Different celebrities, like Serena Williams, Martha Stewart and Eminem, have mentioned their own perfectionism in interviews as something that pushes them to accomplish great things. But perfectionism is a double-edged sword, and the concept perfectionists go by, the drive for achievement, can lead to unrealistic expectations and self-criticism. It is a virtue to be eulogised but which backfires if a threshold is passed, becoming toxic. Nothing is ever good enough. Everyone else is always better. Mistakes are unacceptable.
Definition of perfectionism
But what exactly is perfection? What does being perfect mean? Oxford dictionary describes it as ‘having all the required or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics; as good as possible to be’. This is where it already turns into a slippery slope: Who decides when something is good enough? People tend to have different perceptions of things, and this matter is not an exception. Maybe someone confused ‘-fektion’ with ‘fiction’ because it is as much based on an invented and untrue concept as this literature form of prose. Or possibly someone mistook the prefix ‘pre’ with ‘in’ because the destructive thoughts of a perfectionist can be very much like a disease-causing organism.
Generally, it is natural for someone to have some sense of perfectionism in one area, something they are interested in and passionate about. The definition of a perfectionist, however, is someone who refuses to accept any standards short of perfection in a generalised sense. No matter what, it is supposed to reach the visionary expectations. An ‘All or Nothing’ mindset. In reality, it is a misnomer and rather the avoidance of failure in every case than the pursuit of perfection. It is a vicious circle that is hard to escape. In a counter-productive attempt of being better than oneself and everyone else, one easily seems to confuse productivity with perfectionism.
The dark side of perfectionism
Typically perfectionism is grouped into three different classifications. Self-oriented, other-oriented and socially-prescribed. This means that one is either highly critical of oneself, highly critical of others or one believes others expect them to be perfect. Different factors may contribute to whether perfectionism develops or not: mental health issues, upbringing and the perfectionistic behaviour of parents, genetics and the current scapegoat for everything – social media. The exact cause for why people fall down this rabbit hole of perfectionism still has not been completely uncovered.
With a ‘no room for mistakes’ attitude and the constant fixing of what is perceived not to be good enough, the thoughts of a perfectionist can be destructive and lead to anxiety and guilt. Most have low self-esteem, are profoundly self-critical and feel like their worth is based on their accomplishments. Perfectionism is like a mask that is supposed to show a ‘perfect’ life because shame or faults are a perfectionist’s worst nightmare.
One might assume that striving for the best in every aspect translates over to the health of a perfectionist. Trying to be perfect in each and every aspect of life, however, not only puts a strain one’s mental health but also on one’s body, which not always makes perfectionistic people a model for physical and mental well-being. Multiple studies have proven that with perfectionism often trail high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Furthermore, “aspects of body image, such as low self-esteem and self-oriented perfectionism, lead adolescents to pursue unattainable physical appearances and have been suggested as prerequisites for the development of eating disorders” (Strasburger, 2012). Nevertheless, more research must be done to disentangle the relationship between perfectionism and health.
Me, myself and perfectionism
I personally have always worn my perfectionism like a medal, shining golden in the light of complements. But I need to admit that it has held me back at various points in my life. Hours and hours of, for others unnecessary, work getting bogged down in details, trying to improve every single of it. From own experience I also know, that perfectionism and procrastination like to go hand in hand at times, like lovers on a stroll.
Researching for this blog post, I have come across posts of others that were like a step to step explanation to an anti-perfectionism lifestyle. However, perfection is not a light switch, and it is not as easy as to be turned on and off whenever needed. For my own part, I still need to work on my own perfectionistic tendencies, which is why I can not give you a ‘How To’ instruction. If that is what you are looking for, you should stop by wikiHow ‘5 Ways to Control Perfectionism‘.
The weight of perfection can, at times, feel like it is chained to your ankle – holding you back. An essential step to getting rid of this weight is realising that your standard and expectations do not always correspond with what is realistic. Lowering your standards slightly might be key. Allowing mistakes and not overthinking the opinion of others constantly can be a useful step to becoming a, as Brené Brown put it, ‘good-enoughist’.
As the last message, I want to tell you that a fail is merely the first attempt in learning. Even though this might sound as cringy as it can get, making mistakes is not a sign of lesser value or the indicator for shame, it is one step bettering oneself.
- deBara, D. (2018). How To Be Your Most Productive Self: Let Go Of Being Perfect. [online] blog.trello.com. Available at: https://blog.trello.com/productive-not-perfectionism [Accessed 25 Dec. 2019].
- GoodTherapy.org. (2012). New Study Examines the Effects of Cultural Perfectionism. [online] Available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/perfectionism-african-american-students-0517122/ [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
- Rettner, R. (2010). The Dark Side of Perfectionism Revealed. [online] livescience.com. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/6724-dark-side-perfectionism-revealed.html [Accessed 17 Dec. 2019].
- Colino, S. (2018). Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Perfectionism. [online] health.usnews.com. Available at: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-08-22/surprising-things-you-didnt-know-about-perfectionism [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
- Strasburger, V. (2012). Children, Adolescents, and the Media, An Issue of Pediatric Clinics – E-Book, Volume 59, Issue 3 of The Clinics: Internal Medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences.