Perfectionism is more prevalent today than we think; its definition is frequently misunderstood. Ironically, people who are perfectionists often resist the idea that they are, in fact, perfectionists. Instead they argue that, not only are they not perfectionists, but that if they were, life would be much easier because “everything would be perfect.”
Because perfectionism is so frequently misunderstood, I have to spend time explaining to my clients what being a perfectionist looks like, thinks like, behaves like, feels like, and so on. It doesn’t take long for them to start nodding their heads, relating to all I share, but still hesitant to identify themselves as perfectionists, which is a totally normal reaction.
So how do you know if you are a perfectionist? If you agree with 5 or more of the following perfectionist tendencies, you are most likely a perfectionist:
- I think and speak in “always” or “never” type of language, which is often called All-or-Nothing or Black-and-White thinking.
- Most of the time I think there is a perfect choice or solution to a problem
- I set really high standards for others and myself.
- I strive for flawlessness in anything I do.
- I rather do the work myself instead of relying on someone else to do it the way I want it done.
- I take a long time to make decisions or delay them because I have too many options.
- I pay close attention to the details and have a critical eye.
- I fear failure.
- I am saddened when I am not able to meet my goals.
- I procrastinate for the things I feel I might not do well at.
- I am my worst critic.
- I suffer from low-self esteem because I constantly compare myself with others.
Even though perfectionism has gotten a bad rap (and for some very good reasons), there are some benefits to having perfectionist characteristics. Along with intensity and sensitivity, it can help propel someone along their personal journey towards self-evolution or self-actualization. When properly channeled, it can be the spirit’s yearning to reach higher levels of existence. When managed and understood, it can drive a person to go beyond the mundane and help that person actualize his or her full potential.
Since perfectionists set high standards for themselves, they feel immense amount of guilt and shame when they fall short of their own standards (even as the world is applauding them). Saddened and disappointed in themselves for not fully utilizing their abilities, they easily get into a vicious cycle of self-criticism that results low self-esteem. This cycle decreases their potential and increases the amount of self-criticism. Without the proper boundaries and supports, these individuals can become unhappy, depressed, and pessimistic, which is what usually what gives the bad name to perfectionism.
On the other hand, the pursuit of excellence can give a contentment and spiritual satisfaction that are beyond measurement. In her article Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness, author Linda Silverman shares that “higher consciousness only evolves by striving to grow beyond the immature, self-absorbed facets of oneself” (1999). It is sheer joy to be in the moment and to live life with details, which means living life to the fullest. You are connected with rest of the universe through the activity or goal. Being a perfectionist can either paralyze you from taking any action or propel you to the next level of evolution and consciousness.
A perfectionist must work to use his/her tendencies as a catalyst towards personal evolution instead of becoming paralyzed with fear of failure. Though it takes commitment/work/dedication, I see it happen everyday with the work I do with my clients. Embrace your limitations and transform them into strengths.
Happy perfecting ☺