The Illusion of Perfectionism & What to do about it!

When I was thinking about writing this blog post, I reached out to the world’s most trusted consultant “google”. I was really curious about some of the myths that perhaps you and I at one point or another ascribed to? Honestly, I laughed at some, some I gave a nod, thinking that it could be plausible, others were just illogical, downright unbelievable and laughable. Yes, it is easy for us to identify and spot certain myths, because they don’t fit within our understanding of self and the world. What if there is a myth that we praise, one that we celebrate as being a valuable personal characteristic.

Perfection can be seen as doing a piece of work well or producing a product or a service that is flawless. To some, perfectionism represents the need to criticize, the need to identify weakness, making the perfectionist a difficult parent, spouse, supervisor and friend. There are also those that see a perfectionist as someone who spends an excessive amount of time and energy cleaning their surroundings and organizing their possessions. Irrespective of how we define perfectionism, research suggests that there are three underlying psychological components of perfectionism. These components are not there for us to further “diagnose” or blame ourselves, rather it serves as a way in which we can better understand how we interact with our world and those within it.

The Psychological Component of Perfectionism:
Let us explore the performance component. This takes into account the unwavering desire to always perform an action in a flawless manner. By wanting to do this, we may find ourselves in a position where we are sincerely trying to avoid all mistakes. Individuals who fall into this category see doing well as a direct measure of their self worth.
The Character Component: This involves the desire to always want to present self in a “perfect” manner. In this category, we tend to value the way in which we are perceived by the world and we ensure that whatever we display when others are watching matches exactly what we want to believe about us, that “we are perfect”.
The “pickiness” component: This is seen in individuals who are preoccupied with the limitation, weakness of persons, experiences or objects around them. Due to this preoccupation we may have a difficult time enjoying and living in the moment as we are obsessed with the imperfection of our surroundings.
I shouldn’t work hard?
Oh yes! do your very best, but with doing that give yourself room to make mistakes and learn from them. This is important because making mistakes is a part of life; trying to eliminate them, will only frustrate us. It is okay to make mistakes, laugh at your mistakes, examine them closely, learn from them and share with others.
How can Perfectionism impact my life?
Being a perfectionist can impair many areas of functioning as it can adversely impact our work, personal, school and family life. Just imagine working with someone who doesn’t believe in making mistakes, can you see how difficult it would be for us to function in such an environment? Specifically knowing that mistakes are apart of the learning process and also a feature of being a human. Also knowing that by making mistakes we are better able to understand our craft and become more comfortable in what we do. If we function from this capacity, we send a message to others around us that they are not good enough, perhaps even after they have even tried their best.
In our relationships with our significant other, when we attempt to be perfect we create an environment that is far from real which cannot be sustained. An import part of a relationship is the ability to “repair”. This means that when something difficult happens we are able to talk about it, explore possible solutions and learn more about our friends and family members. Whereas, in a “perfect” relationship, we are living in the façade of everything being great which is super super impossible. Appreciating who we are as human beings, means that it is essential for us to understand, that imperfection is a part of being human.
What Can you do?
  • Talk to someone, do not be afraid to reach out for help, no one is perfect, not even a therapist. I know, I am one!
  • Become aware, notice how the concept of perfectionism shows up in your life and your actions.
  • Be gentle with yourself, knowing that you are learning and that is okay to unlearn old beliefs.
  • Be gentle with others, trust that they are going through their own journey as well.
  • Remind yourself. Do not be afraid to repeat affirming statements that will remind you about your “humanness” … repeat phrases such as “I did my best and that is all I can do” “Perfection is an illusion, it’s not real” “my aim is to learn each day, not to be perfect” and “I am enough, just as I am… me in this moment I am enough”
Take care, for now. I hope this was a fun read. P.S when I was writing this I found myself wanting it to be perfect, I had to laugh and remind myself to carry-on.
By Candace Hamilton, MSc,
Registered Provisional Psychologist and Fellow human being