Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Masters of Counselling & Psychotherapy UofA
Member of the ACA College of Supervisors
Level 3 Member Australian Counselling Association
Perfectionism is all or nothing thinking. It is exhausting, and it stands between you and happiness. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best you that you can be. It is when the rules you apply to life and how to create the "perfect" life get in the way of living your life it becomes a flag for concern.
As a perfectionist you may have such an attention to detail that you spend all your times making lists, putting things in order, and filing that you are not able to finish your work. That is called ‘tunnel vision’ you are so occupied with the detail you totally miss the big picture.
Alternatively, you may be one of those ‘super’ people who can fit everything in for everybody, except for themselves.
Perfectionism also impacts relationships and this may be represented by your need to have everyone to like you. it may also be that you take on the opinion of others rather than making your own mind up about who you are. You take on others opinions as absolute truths and have a tendency to engage in all or nothing thinking. For example say someone thinks I am incompetent than I am incompetent. If someone doesn’t love me than I am unlovable. I must not make mistakes otherwise, I will not have the love the approval of others.
There are levels of perfectionism and it can telescope into catastrophic thinking such ‘ I couldn’t handle making a mistake while presenting to the office’, or ‘If I do not stay thin, nobody will ever be attracted to me.’
Perfectionists are also very good at knowing what others are thinking this is called "crystal ball thinking". Or should I say they are very good at THINKING they know what others are thinking. In fact they think too much all together. Who knows a straight A student who predicts before every exam they are going to fail?
A perfectionist is overly responsible, and always, always at all costs must be in control. ‘ I can prevent my son from getting sick if I constantly remind him to dress warmly, eat his vegetables, wash his hands, get enough sleep,’ and the list goes on and on.
As a perfectionist you are the proud owner of a healthy ‘SHOULD’ list. A not negotiable, I shall not deviate from rules on ‘how things ought to be.’ You also have difficulty trusting others, the old ‘if I want a job done properly , I will have to do it myself syndrome’. There is only one way to peg out the clothes, fold the socks, present a business proposal, apply for a grant and like the should list this one goes on and on.
So here is a little check list , kind of a quiz to determine if you are one of those "P" people.
Do you over compensate – would you rather arrive an hour early than risk being a minute late?? Do you check and double check?? Do you look for reassurance?? Are you constantly repeating and correcting?? Are you organizing and list making excessively?? Are you a procrastinator?? Do you give up too soon or don’t know when to quit?? Are you unable to delegate? Are you a hoarder? Are you a master at avoidance?? Are you always trying to change the behavior of others??
Now if my questions make you feel that I am talking directly to you and you are worn out from your perfectionism there are things you can do.
The first step is accept that you have done the best you could with the information you had up until now.
So no beating yourself up, no blaming, no shaming, no guilt, no regrets, for that is more perfectionist thinking and you don’t want to do perfection anymore!
Now it is some for what I like to call ‘belly button gazing’, time to turn your attention from the outside world to your inner world. You have all the answers, you are like your own personal encyclopedia. Be brave, it is worth it, the pay off is personal freedom and happiness.
Firstly re-evaluate your standards and be totally be honest. Are they really helping you?? What purpose are they serving?? Are they adding to the quality of your life??
Next , take a good hard look at how they are effecting others. Are they making happy families, happy relationships, happy you??
Now assess the flexibility of your perfectionist beliefs. Do they offer a variety of opportunities or are you narrowed into only way of succeeding?? Is it an all or nothing type of deal??
Isolate your personal triggers, what situations make you run for the cover of perfectionism?? Accept, accept, accept, you did the best you could, that is all any of us can do.
Finally, keep a ‘perfectionism’ diary or journal. Be honest, be open with yourself and you can make changes.
When you give up the need to be ‘policeman of the universe’ you will experience increased energy levels, health, happiness and improved relationships. When you accept yourself and others for who they are, not what they do, then you open the door to the all the things you were seeking by trying to control everything. All you have to do is let go.