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Are you a perfectionist?

Some people know that they are a perfectionist, someone who refuses to accept nothing short of perfection. It might be an all round issue that permeates every area of their life (hazardous) or be focused in specific areas (still quite painful).

Here's a problem though: There is no such thing as a state of being where as humans we can achieve perfection and the fact is that if you would hold you to such high standards that were impossible to meet in the first place, you will find that you always fall short of your own expectations because, well, you're human, but also you don't truly appreciate the value of who you are and what you have achieved versus what you haven't.

Unfortunately many people do not realise that they're perfectionists whether it's in a blanket manner or specific to certain aspects of their lives. I was one of them. Until a year ago, I'd have told you that you only had to look at my life to see that I'm not a perfectionist but when I found myself being tormented by tinnitus and vertigo and stumbled across the realisation that I've been quietly hard on myself and expect far too much of me, over the subsequent months, I had to admit the truth - I am an unwitting perfectionist. I have struggled with fear of failure and fear of success which puts me in an uncomfortable No Man's Land between the two. I have been systematically taught as a child that earning approval through getting things right is critical and that if I get anything wrong, I am stupid and/or a failure.

It is a vicious cycle of being afraid to 'fail' or disappoint and then also being afraid to achieve and then have people expect more from you which provides more room for disappointment. It means shutting myself down or loading myself up so much that all of the procrastination and being overloaded means that there can be 'legitimate' reasons for why. Problem is of course is that I was beating myself up for that as well and being very impatient with me while my fear of 'getting it wrong' and over-analysing and 'editing' to get 'get it right'. I've had to literally practice tolerance, self-compassion, patience, and self-support and gradually, I'm making headways.

I share this with you in much the same way I blabber about other aspects of myself and my life because I know I'm not alone and that you may have an unhealthy 'streak' in your life of trying to get things 'perfect' or avoiding admitting that something is a mistake.

  • You may be disassociated from your achievements and giving you a hard time about what you don't do while never appreciating what you do do.
  • You may still be carrying on like a child who is afraid of verbal or physical repercussions.
  • You may be still carrying on as if there is going to be some sort of life consequence or 'social outcasting' or something.
  • You may refuse to forgive you or to move past something.
  • You may hear their critical voice in your head or you may be hearing your own voice saying these words.
  • You may be persecuting yourself about not meeting impossible standards which is self-rejection.
  • You may actually be doing far more rejecting of you than anyone else is in your life.
  • You may not be doing very much because you're trying not to put a foot wrong so you're avoiding dating, or in fantasy relationships, or coasting in a dodgy situation.
  • You may be spending money on cosmetic surgery and treatments that you really don't need.
  • You may be impacting the success of your ideas because you don't listen to feedback because to do so would be in your eyes, to admit that you're 'wrong' or even a 'failure'.
  • You may actually be clocking up far more so-called 'mistakes' than if you'd just held your hands up in the first place.
  • You may be telling people about themselves.
  • You may be trying to force people and situations to 'change' rather than admit that you've made an error in judgement.
  • You may be incredibly stubborn and keep returning to situations and people that should be left alone.
  • You may be avoiding making decisions because if you make a decision, there is the fear of being 'wrong' so you try to have a 'Decision Free Lifestyle' where you sit on the fence and eff up your own and even other people's lives.
  • You may be so afraid of disapproval that not only do you not express disapproval but you're passive because you hope to ward off other people's disapproval and feedback and then end up pissed off when they speak up or you feel disapproved of.
  • You may keep approaching the same problems with the same thinking and actions because you're trying to be the exception to the rule.
  • You completely overdo it and sometimes, if you'd stopped at 70% of your output, you may have achieved a better result or realised where you needed to adapt.
  • You may hold you to a higher standard than others which is complete and utter bullshit especially if you have little or no boundaries and you forgive assholic behaviour while punishing you for far less. It's like "Well, I should I know better because x,y,z and maybe if I were a better person they would have behaved better. They're X so you can understand why they behave that way but I'm not allowed to get away with Y." 'Double-standarding' is what this is and guess what? It's actually being disingenuous in your own life.

Of course, you may be reading this and be like how I was - But I'm not a perfectionist!

You'll know you're a perfectionist if you have the belief of not being good enough. This is the giveaway. You may think that you're just seeking to be 'acceptable' to your 'standards' or what you think are the standards of others, but, you're actually seeking to be the perfect version of good enough which is... perfectionism. If you weren't striving to be the perfect version of good enough, you'd could accept you and get on with living and evolving. Instead, you're good enough already but don't think you are and are waiting for light to dawn on you, for the heavens to open up, for some sort of 'thing' to happen in your life that would signal that you've met standards.

Actually, even if your perfectionist ways are inspired by your childhood, as an adult, the fact that you don't feel good enough is all about how you're judging you. It is not about how others are judging you because their judgement only takes on meaning when you convert it into a judgement about you.

I never pick up a magazine and think "Oh, I'm not up to standard" because I realise that it's just bullshit peddled by the media that's especially targeted at vulnerable women who will buy things to bring themselves up to standard. The media speaks to the insecurities of women whereas when it comes to men, it likes to 'play up' strengths, even ones that a man may not have. But other women including my own friends actually pick up magazines and then think that they're not up to standard because they're not a certain size.

You need to have a willing ear to be affected by 'general' standards or even those of people whose validation you're seeking.

There's no such thing as being perfect so to strive for it is like a complete and utter waste of your time because your idea of perfection and someone else's or the ideal may be completely different. Your job isn't to be perfect - your job is to live your life. Who are you trying to please? Is it you? Is it someone else's voice because it's like trying to cup the ocean in your hands.

  • Why do you have to be perfect?
  • Why do you have to meet these particular standards?

It is critical that you evaluate why because you can understand the beliefs that are driving you and challenge them. If you're a grownup and you're actually believing that you have to be perfect because if you don't then you're going to incur the wrath of your parents disapproval, you're still in a child-to-parent dynamic and need to separate yourself, work out your own identity and raise you into adulthood.

If you think that you have to be perfect or that you shouldn't get things wrong because you think you're going to be punished or it will make you a failure, it's time to evaluate how real that fear is, because guess what? Whether you admit you've made a mistake or not, it's happening or happened so you're actually afraid of the consequences of something that isn't happening in spite of the fact that the something (the mistake) is and if any 'punishment' is happening it's because you won't back away from the mistake, not because you made the mistake.

Your name isn't going to go into some worldwide logbook of mistakes. Some of the most successful people who have ever lived have a hell of a lot of mistakes behind them and are all human beings.

What is the worst that can happen if you admit that you're wrong about something? That you have to change into something that will work more favourably for you and will generate better results? That you get to stop immersing yourself in pain? That you have to start over? That you have to learn something? That you have to be on your own for a while?

You're not saving face by being a perfectionist - you're just creating pain.

'Failure' is also a state of mind. I've 'failed' at more relationships than I care to remember but I've been successful at not staying in these dubious relationships and it's the fact that I've made my mistakes that showed me where I needed to learn and adapt. Out of mistakes comes success. Out of not admitting mistakes comes more mistakes.

The happiest people in life are not those who seek perfection. They're also not the ones who are complacent in an uncomfortable comfort zone. Happy people accept themselves and in being honest, they can adapt their thinking and behaviour where appropriate to help themselves, but they can also get on with the business of living.

It's like trying to find the perfect thing to watch on TV and next thing, the whole evening has slipped through your fingers. The person who chooses a channel after a few flicks and settles into it might not have the 'perfect' programme but has relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Maybe they discovered something new, maybe they gave something a chance and realised it didn't work, and maybe it exceeded their expectations. The person who is too busy seeking perfection often ends up in a big fat anti-climax with little to show for it.

People who strive to be perfect don't end up truly learning and this means that it directly affects their growth. Who learns when they're too busy bashing themselves over the head and measuring themselves against all sorts of ideals and indexes?

What can you learn when you feel that you have to be perfect and that if you're not, you've 'failed'?

You cannot fail as a person. You can fail at something you do, like an exam, but you cannot actually fail as a person - you're a separate entity to your relationships or the things that you do in your life. You are breathing, you have a gift of being here on earth, you have more seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years so each day you get to pull yourself up, learn and try again.

Perfectionists either set unclear goals (it's like yes you want to be happy but what are you determining as being critical to that happiness?) or unattainable goals (all this trying to be perfect malarkey or trying to be the exception to rules of shady behaviour or situations) and it's one thing to set a goal for a task or for something that you're striving towards, which would have a sequence of actions that would lead to that goal, along with depending on what it is, the thinking and understanding to go with it, but having a goal of perfection as a person sets you up for seeking a destination that doesn't exist. Often these goals are based on "I'll do this and they will do that or such and such will happen" and then if it doesn't, it's like "They didn't do that so I'm not good enough" and then you decide to give up.

Perfectionism is striving for an unrealistic standard so you're actually judging you for not meeting impossible standards. What the what now?

It's a long-shot mentality because the truth is, you're setting you up to fail by striving for an unattainable goal which you've actually quietly accepted 'failure' for at the outset. That's what makes perfectionism so damn painful - it's just an excuse to beat yourself up about something that you either weren't supposed to do or that you may not even have real reason to change. It's all subjective as well - the very things that you think are not up to standard may be things that others may strive for. You may look at you in the mirror and assassinate your appearance but there will be people who admire the very appearance that you think is below standard.

Perfectionism is also constant comparison - there's always something that we can compare ourselves to but the question is why would you bother and who says that who or what you're comparing yourself to is 'valid' or 'right'? You will always find something lacking if you would go to the trouble of seeking something to compare to and you're always a hop, skip and a jump from being dissatisfied.

You'll also find that as a perfectionist that you're always riddled with doubt and fear, which doesn't really leave much room to love you.

You'll find that you have commitment issues because you're afraid that something isn't as good enough or perfect as it 'should' be. Then when that opportunity has passed, you'll decide that it was and kick yourself.

You also cannot enjoy the process of the journey of whatever you do or just life in general because you're too focused on the 'perfect result'. In turn this reduces productivity and effectiveness which in turn ends up lowering your self-esteem as it's a bit like being on a hamster wheel of doom, and in turn this wreaks havoc in your life.

Being a perfectionist is sticking with a pattern of thinking and behaviour - you end up trying to do something using this pattern and then because it impacts the results, you think that you need to try something different with the same thinking, assuming that it's not the thinking (which affects the approach anyway) - it's just that you need to try harder at the same things or adding in other actions that reflect your thinking. This is how you end up doing stuff like relationship or 'situational' insanity - taking in the same baggage, beliefs, behaviours, choosing same people in different packages or variations of the same situation, and expecting different results.

It is time to reevaluate your 'goals' and you may need to drop some of your goals. You cannot be all things to all people but you also cannot be all of these things to yourself. Some of these things are not necessary or competing against one another. Some may be distracting you from where you really need to be putting your energy. You have to reevaluate and address your beliefs because you're not actually giving you a chance to 1) achieve and 2) to enjoy your life and 3) to appreciate you. You also need to separate your worth/value from accomplishments and achievements - you should be a standalone person anyway.

Food for thought

Before you read this class today, did you consider you to be a perfectionist?

If you did, are you able to recognise how perfectionism is hampering your progress and distorting your self-image? If you didn't, how does it feel with this new awareness? Is there disbelief? Relief?

I had no idea that I was a perfectionist until a few years ago and it was a shock because I'm so aware of where I'm human and basically not perfect. I use my experiences to deeper understand myself and to help others. But I was and actually, I have to rein in my perfectionist to ensure that it doesn't wreak havoc on my life. There's still a kid (around 7) inside me who is afraid of getting things wrong, disappointing others, and doing too well that it gives people more expectations. Who is the perfectionist that's inside you?

Are you a perfectionist about everything or are there some things that you're more chilled about? If it's the former, who communicated the message that these standards are the 'right' and if it's the latter, why are you relaxed about those particular things and what could you take from these that you could apply to the areas of your life where you're too exacting?

Do you expect people around you to be 'perfect'? Do an inventory and evaluate who is perfect? Yes, your list will be empty. Who do you consider to be near perfect? Where are you judging you harshly in favour of putting this person (or people) on a pedestal? I love my husband very much and at first, I practically drew a halo around him but I realised if I was truly going to be 'in' this and I was going to love and like him and like and love myself, I had to stop pumping him up. Adulation and pedestals isn't love or like; it's comparison.

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