Are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism is not a skill, but the number 1 enemy of a healthy self-esteem. Perfectionists have a hard time letting go of negative thoughts. They are extremely tough on themselves and often struggle to fully enjoy their own achievements. They also suffer from excessive self-criticism and self-doubt, which increase insecurity and give rise to feelings of inadequacy.
If you are wondering if this is your case, but would like to learn more about perfectionism, see below for its most typical behaviours:
All-or-nothing thinking: perfectionists see the world in black and white. The perfectionist scale contains only two opposite poles: ‘perfect/excellent’ and ‘rubbish/terrible’. There is no ‘adequate’ or ‘acceptable’, ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in the perfectionist’s classification system. According to perfectionist thinking, what is not a success is a total disaster.
Result obsession: achieving a perfect/excellent result is the main motivation of perfectionists. Perfectionists feel empty and unfulfilled without recognition. Because they struggle to love and accept themselves, they use external stimuli, such as praise, titles, acknowledgement, appreciation and validation to feel good about themselves. Perfectionists are approval junkies.
Mistake phobia: because perfectionists struggle with issues surrounding low self-esteem, the prospect of making a mistake is source of great anxiety. Contemplating failure is psychological torture for perfectionists. This result obsession added to their excessive judging and criticising generate a strong fear of the consequences of not attaining their incredibly high standards.
Aversion to criticism: perfectionists take criticism personally. Because they are extremely harsh on themselves, they have a tendency to interpret negative feedback as a personal attack. This is mainly due to their difficulty to separate their own selves from their actions and behaviours. If you tell a perfectionist that what he or she did is not very good, they believe they themselves to be bad.
Shoulds: why chase perfection like a hamster on a wheel? Because you should. You should always do your best. Forget feelings, moods or other idiosyncrasies, ‘best’ always means excellent, regardless of who you are. Perfectionism goes hand in hand with irrational absolutes and an intolerant attitude.
Discounting the positive: satisfying perfectionists is a big challenge. Nothing is ever good enough. Their worth can only be validated when in line with the highest of high standards. Anything below excellent is considered mediocre.
Rumination: perfectionists are time travellers. When they are not thinking about the past to find reasons for their supposed failures, they are trying to work out a way to transcend their own achievements. This lengthy and persistent consideration process, also known as rumination, feeds on itself. The more they ruminate, the more stuck they are with it.
Procrastination: why make all that effort when perfection is so difficult to attain? Rather than working so hard just to end up regretting your actions, it is easier not to decide. The most comfortable line of action is to put everything off. Without a decision, there is no risk, and no risk means no disappointment.
Self-denigration: perfectionists are masters of self-deprecation. Nobody criticises perfectionists as fervently as they do their own selves. They believe to be their duty to find faults with everything they do. Because nothing is ever good enough, they are constantly second guessing their own decisions, as if they were not competent to assess their own predicaments.
Guilt: feeling guilty for not being able to achieve their incredibly high standards is something with which perfectionists are very familiar. Perfectionism makes guilt seem like a plausible emotional reaction for not succeeding at everything you do. If you have failed to excel, you ‘should’ feel guilty. Guilt, allied with a long list of shoulds, reinforces perfectionism and feelings of low self-esteem, such as inadequacy and insecurity.
Shame: because perfectionists are always monitoring their own behaviours, they believe others are able to notice when they do not perform as well as they ‘should have’. They feel ashamed for not being able to comply with the demands of their own idealised selves, as if everyone else shared their inflexible views.
If you identify with the above, it is very likely that you are indeed a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a fairly common problem. To overcome perfectionism, make your priority to practice self-love and acceptance. Replace your overly judgemental attitude with a daily dosage of self-compassion. Become your own best friend and start telling yourself that it is OK to make mistakes. Learn how to laugh at the idea of being slave to a metaphor. Perfection is an illusion. Make ‘good enough’ the new ‘excellent’. Embrace your humanity and make peace with your weaknesses. Against a positive and forgiving attitude, your perfectionism will not stand a chance.