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Is perfectionism ruining your life?

Perfectionism can be the driving force behind your accomplishments, but it could also be killing you softly. There is a degree to which having this trait serves a motivational purpose. Beyond the healthy limit though, perfectionism is a symptom of maladaptive behavior, and in some cases, even of psychological disorders.

The healthy dose of perfectionism

The wish to excel is an ambition many of you hold dear. It is the fuel which drives you to success. You gain a lot when the tasks you complete are done perfectly well – your self-esteem flourishes, you are energized to keep going, your sense of purpose is strengthened, and so on. By being attentive to details and clearing all mistakes on your way, you set a high standard that proves your professional level. And here is where the benefits end.

Perfectionism at its worst

As with most things in life, if you overdo it, it will take its toll. You may undergo minor setbacks, such as being unable to finish that project you have postponed for a few weeks now, or not applying to that position that has finally opened, or not asking that girl out. If such instances happen occasionally, they may not bother you much. But when that becomes a pattern and you find yourself in trouble for not even starting tasks, not relating to people, and lacking initiative in pretty much every field of your life, then things are getting out of control. Here are some repetitive themes in perfectionistic thinking:

  •  “There is so much to be done here, that it is impossible for me to get it done on time. I’d better not waste my time trying.”
  •  “There are so many ways to ruin a date that I would surely fail at something, so I’d rather not call the girl at all.”
  •  “I have that project completed, but it is so full of errors that I won’t submit it.”
  •  “I just don’t look good enough in anything I put on, so I simply won’t go to that party.”

Can you think of examples when you had such thoughts yourself?

The root of the problem

When people realize that their perfectionism is a problem, they have already developed full-blown anxiety or depressive disorder, personality or eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, substance abuse or self-harm, or other medical condition, such as chronic stress or heart disease. Why let it get there?

You can analyze a lot earlier what purpose your perfectionism serves. Why do you do it? What are you trying to prove? To others? To yourself? Who taught you to be this way? Did you grow up in a critical, demanding environment? Did you compete with an older sibling? What are you compensating for? The mechanisms, which turn a child into a perfectionist adult are as many as the stars in the Universe. And if you are experiencing difficulty in spotting your own star, feel free to look for professional help.

How to win the battle against perfectionism

The real problem with perfectionism is that it strips you of all opportunities. The fear of not being perfect, of making a mistake, actually prevents you from giving it a try. But humans learn through mistakes. And when you guard yourself so heavily against failure, you only deprive yourself of learning. So one of the first mantras CBT specialists teach perfectionistic clients is “I’m just a fallible human being”. It’s hard to believe, I know. No battle worth fighting is easy.

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