Is Perfectionism Holding You Back?

Being a perfectionist can be a set up for failure. As human beings, we make mistakes. Mistakes are very difficult for perfectionists to handle. Here's why:

Perfectionism may seem like a desirable trait to have, but it can often turn into more of an obstacle than an asset. When you consider the fact that no one is perfect, perfectionists are setting themselves up for futility and disappointment.

woman in glass bottlePerfectionism is not simply another name for laziness, even if the results from the two character flaws may be very similar (it can be very difficult to get much done in either case). However, there are major differences between perfectionism and laziness. Lazy people don't get things done because they don't want to get them done, or there is always some distraction which is much more appealing than whatever obligation should be getting taken care of. Perfectionists, on the other hand, arrive at the same result of inactivity for a different reasonthey believe that nothing is worth doing unless it is done perfectly. That's not to say that the same person can't exhibit characteristics of both laziness and perfectionism at different times or even the same time.

As it is difficult or even impossible to do many tasks perfectly, having the standard of perfection can be awfully debilitating. Of course, there is a wide spectrum of perfectionism, and most perfectionists typically draw the line somewhere short of perfection on at least some things in order to get something done. Unfortunately, perfectionists often save their most unrealistic standards for when it is most important, grinding their productivity to a halt. It's like having writer's block, except it can rear its ugly head in all kinds of other places. What makes perfectionism so unhealthy is that it is fueled by low self-esteem, doubts, and depression. Instead of seeing failure as a learning experience and an inevitable part of being a human being, perfectionists interpret their mistakes as signs of their unworthiness.

Perfectionism is often caused by having stressful relationships or stressful environments in one's formative years. For example, demanding parents could make their child prone to perfectionism by causing their children to think they must earn love through performance instead of receiving it unconditionally. The other extreme can be just as bad, as distant parents can also cause children to feel unwanted and unworthy. Genetics also plays a role in making someone a perfectionist, and the "nature versus nurture" debate is unsettled as to exactly how much of an impact each one has.

Perfectionists can pay a high price for their actions, or lack thereof. Their fears and anxieties become self-fulfilling prophecies that can snowball into ever-worsening feelings and relationships. They continue to disappoint themselves and those with whom they associate.

However, there are ways to control perfectionism both internally and externally. One way is to remove oneself from overly stressful relationships and environments. Of course, that can't and shouldn't always be done. There is a big difference between eliminating harmful stressors and simply hiding from the everyday stresses that we all must face. The best way to get past that is by looking inward and realizing that "to err is human." In fact, some of the greatest discoveries and learning experiences come from mistakes. All anyone can expect of themselves is to give it their best effort. Sharing your thoughts with friends, relatives, or a professional may help in this department.

Bill Urell

Bill Urell is an addictions therapist at a leading residential treatment center. He teaches healthy life styles and life skills as a component of holistic addictions treatment. His websites cover areas of professional and personal interests.

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