Perfectionism is one of those issues that many people may not even consider to be a problem. What could be wrong with having high expectations and striving for excellence? A lot is wrong with it, as this article outlines: “Here’s The Profound Psychological Shift That Frees People From Perfectionism: It’s not a way of thinking. It’s a way of being in the world.”
I appreciate that it confirms that perfectionism is directly linked to low self-worth and lack of self-acceptance, my pet topics!
The article notes: “At a fundamental level, it’s about perfecting the self, and this urge doesn’t come from a healthy place: ‘All components and dimensions of perfectionism ultimately involve attempts to perfect an imperfect self.’
This article is a very nice summary of how perfectionism arises due to a lack of secure attachment or bond to a parent in childhood. If a child learns that his or her behaviors cause mom to be anxious or disappointed, then the child may start to strive to fix herself as an attempt to earn love and approval.
What follows is a striving to “fix” the self by being perfect in an attempt to gain acceptance, love and security.
“An assumption starts taking foot: If I’m perfect, I won’t be rejected, ridiculed, abused — I’ll be loved and accepted. It’s an unconscious negotiation they make with the world: If I’m perfect, all this good stuff will happen, all these needs will be met — and their frequently difficult relationships with parents, siblings, and peers will become easier.”
I would suggest also that perfectionism is a way to try to improve the relationship with YOURSELF. If you meet yourself with harsh criticism every time you “fail” in some minor way, you will strive mightily to avoid that experience. You will clean, organize, work, volunteer, and over-achieve in an effort to avoid meeting your own self-criticism when you don’t live up to your own expectations.
Unfortunately, the self-criticism that accompanies and drives perfectionism can ruin relationships with yourself and others and can actually hamper performance and success. Perfectionists may spend far too much time on the wrong projects. Years ago when I worked as a writer for a corporation, I once had a boss who had me rewrite a one-sentence photo caption for eight straight hours, returning to her every time I re-wrote it. She would close her office door and edit that one sentence for 30 minutes, call me back in and tell me to re-write it. Well, let me tell you, there are only so many ways to say, “Jim and Joe stand in front of the company’s trade exhibit at a trade show.” Her perfectionism stalled publication of the employee newsletter and derailed me from working on more important projects. How much of her life was handled in this way, I wondered? What was she of afraid of happening if that caption was written incorrectly?
The article also notes that often procrastination is a sign of low self-worth and perfectionism. “The lesson: if mistakes are unacceptable, it’s going to be hard to get things done. You’ll be more likely to procrastinate, since you can’t do badly on things you haven’t yet started.’
In Self-Acceptance Psychology I label this type of behavior Self-Blaming, in that a feeling of unworthiness triggers a tendency to assume fault and take on blame.
Improving your self-acceptance or self-compassion is the way forward to overcoming Self-Blaming tendencies and overcoming perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a sign of low self-worth. To solve it, we must change the way we relate to ourselves, so that we find warm, compassionate ways to treat ourselves, rather than berating ourselves at every turn. This will make it easier to fail, because WHEN we fail (not IF!), we know that we will meet ourselves with grace and forgiveness. This makes risk-taking possible, reduces perfectionism and procrastination, and often makes us less irritable with the imperfections of others.