“Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it's about earning approval and acceptance.” - Brene Brown
If you are demanding, high achieving, and organized, people might label you a perfectionist, but the reality is that perfectionism manifests itself in different ways. It’s true that some high-achievers are motivated by a quest for perfect results, but other perfectionists are procrastinators who can’t accomplish their goals.
The curse of perfectionism exists outside the reality of result and the trait of meticulousness. Perfectionism is an outward-oriented, maladaptive behavior. In brief, perfectionists make themselves slaves to success and other’s approval, while focusing on negativity and failure. Whether or not it’s motivating or produces results is irrelevant. What matters most is that perfectionists are rarely satisfied or fulfilled, often risk averse, and commonly suffer from anxiety or depression.
In this telling Forbes commentary, Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything, recovering perfectionist, Amanda Neville, shares her personal story of perfectionism and reveals how it interferes with collaboration and creativity. “I used to wear it as a badge of honor, but I’ve been surprised at how many times [my perfectionist mindset] disparity is the culprit underlying my discontent. [Perfectionists] set standards that are impossible to meet and then devalue work that doesn’t meet the impossible standards. It’s a toxic loop. The time and neurosis required to make something ‘perfect’ comes at the high cost of flexibility, responsiveness, creativity, and cooperation.”
So, are you holding yourself to high standards and finding internal motivation, or are you suffering from the maladaptive and limiting behavior called perfectionism?
Here are 5 hallmarks of a problematic perfectionist:
You are Critical:
You believe others should act as you do and, if they don’t, they’re doing it wrong. But that’s not the worst of it. You’re most critical of yourself. When something goes even slightly wrong or there is a miniscule failure, your inner voice becomes a demonic Siskel and Ebert -- dissecting each and every error in the film of your life. You need to tame the inner critic and realize that failure is learning. Be kinder to yourself and others. There are many ways to be and live in the world and none of them are inherently right or wrong.
You Take Work Criticism is Personally:
Speaking of criticism… when someone offers constructive feedback on your project, whatever it may be, your only hear that you’re not good enough, that the person doesn’t respect you and that everything you do fails their expectations. This is not normal. Feedback is simply that -- a constructive assessment of how your work meets a need. Period. It’s not actually about YOU. It’s about adjusting the work for the work’s audience. In this situation, your skills are just tools to be honed and improved for this particular situation. It’s a learning experience, not a personal attack. But you take it personally because . . .
You Base Your Value in Achievement
You are only as good as your last successful project. Well, actually only as good as the RESULT of your last successful project. Doing what you do well, and being recognized for it, is what validates your existence. You’re suffering from a fixed mindset -- always proving out your worth by avoiding risk and doing what you’re good, so you can believe you have value. But the fact is, you’re more than what you achieve. You are connected to all things. You are part of something larger than yourself. You have intrinsic value even when you sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix.
You’re Obsessed with the Flaws
Even when something goes 99% right, you focus on the 1%. You can’t even celebrate an accomplishment fully because there’s always a “but, too bad, or almost” attached. This feeds the toxic cycle of malcontent because nothing is ever going to be perfect and the discord will always lead to dissatisfaction.
You Procrastinate and/or Overinvest
If you feel you can’t accomplish the task, you’ll just wait for the perfect moment that never arrives. If you think you can do it, you’ll dive in and never come up for air; you’ll insist on doing it all (because no one else can do it like you); and then, when it’s done, you’ll feel a rush of relief as you cross it off a list. It’s not a terrible way to live, but there are other sources of motivation and more collaborative and healthy ways to work.
If you see yourself here, for Pete’s sake, don’t beat yourself up because you’re not a perfectly functioning human. Instead, relax, breathe and check out this article at Psychology Today -- Your 12-Step Program for Becoming a Recovering Perfectionist.