Why Don’t Perfectionists Come (Easily) Out Of Their Closet?

Why Don’t Perfectionists Come (Easily) Out Of Their Closet?

Why Don’t Perfectionists Come (Easily) Out Of Their Closet?

My parents highly valued academic achievements and striving to be your best; perfectionism was a quality to be pursued. And while humanity’s aspiration to improve is what made us discover, create and grow, there’s quite a difference between aiming and obsessing. It took me many years to learn it.

 

perfectionism  noun – refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

 

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterised by a person’s compulsive striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, paired with critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ opinions of self. Perfectionists measure their self-worth by accomplishments and productivity and tend to be their own harshest critics when they fail to meet their self-imposed standards.

 

The bright side of perfectionism is that it can drive people to accomplishments and motivates them to persevere in the face of discouragement and obstacles. The adaptive form of perfectionism is typically considered the positive component of this personality trait. Adaptive perfectionism includes preferences for order and organisation, a persistent striving for excellence, and an orientation to tasks and performance. Low negativity and healthy self-esteem accompany all of these characteristics.

 

In its pathological form, perfectionism can be damaging and is increasingly seen as a risk factor for suicide. The perfectionists’  high expectations of self and their self-criticism, together with their habit of showing a perfect facade to the world increases their risk of suicide, while decreasing the likelihood they will seek help when they should.

 

Perfectionism is a risk factor for the obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, body dysmorphic disorder, workaholism, self-harm, substance abuse, and clinical depression as well as physical problems like chronic stress, and heart disease.

 

So perfectionism can be “light” and somehow useful, but when it gets bad, it’s very bad.

Would it benefit those afflicted to recognise it and ask for help? Surely.

 

Then why don’t perfectionists come out of their closet?

 

There are a few possible scenarios/cases:

1. They don’t have a closet – or do they?

One might think that the adaptive perfectionists are the happy campers who get the best of the two worlds: they have glorious achievements, but don’t obsess, don’t fret, don’t kill themselves working. However, the problem doesn’t occur when they reach their goals, only when they don’t. That’s when self-criticism rears its ugly head, they start obsessing, and their self-esteem plummets.

 

2. They don’t recognise it for what it is.

Since parents transmit their perfectionist tendencies to children, this is the face of normality you grew up with, and as such, you don’t find anything unusual about it. Maybe with time, you start noticing differences between you and your peers regarding persistence over goals in general and details in particular, but you learned that this is a valuable quality, so, good for you!

3. They start to see it, but don’t think/deny that perfectionism is a problem.

And theoretically, it’s not, as long as it stays with certain limits. Still, under stress and when things don’t go as they would like to, even the “mild” perfectionists start displaying the typical behaviours and face the same issues. And only when it’s being pointed to them they start recognising it. I have spoken to very lovely people who were functioning normally until stressful circumstances hit. Then they tended to procrastinate, got anxious and noticed their inner voice becoming quite mean to them despite their increased efforts.

4. They see it but can’t admit it’s a problem and don’t ask for help.

Why? Because for the love of all that is holly, they cannot admit or – even worse -, let others see that they have a problem.
When you spend your life perfecting yourself – and often, those around you-, when you continuously hunt and correct the slightest mistake, you can’t afford to be seen as flawed. Because deep down you fear that once others know the “real” you, they won’t like/accept/respect/ love you for who you are. Deep down you carry the feeling of being an impostor, and that’s why you work your whole life to create and maintain this beautiful mask of perfection.

 

The lesser known truth is that perfectionism is a self-esteem issue, based on emotional convictions about what one must do to be acceptable as a person. It is based on self- criticism and the “all-or-nothing” thinking where an achievement is either perfect or useless.

 

Still, many people – perfectionists in particular – fail to see the connection between perfectionism and low- self-esteem. Since they’re working harder than anybody, the perfectionists do get that valuable experience that makes them succeed seemingly without effort where others struggle. Perfectionists have their strategies, discipline, and systems in place to help them achieve those fantastic results. But so do all achievers, right?

 

The difference is that if you strip a perfectionist naked of their systems and order, what’s left is a scared and vulnerable person, desperately trying to hide away and restore all these things that have become part of who they think they are. When you’re always a control freak, it’s not comfortable to be left in a world of complete chaos without the tools that keep you not only afloat but (apparently) in charge of the events.

 

What’s The Way Out?

 

If I’ve been speaking about it in a way that made it sound all gloom and doom… well, don’t be afraid, it’s not (not all the time).

The first thing you can do is to start paying attention more to the telltale signs. If you’re not sure, take an assessment, find out if you’re a perfectionist.

Another idea is to ask the people in your life – your close friends, your family and co-workers. You’d be surprised how many things that seem perfectly natural to you had them roll their eyes so hard it hurt.

 

Once you discovered at what end of the spectrum you are – if you are – there are simple measures you can take to make sure it’s not getting worse. You know, common sense, like don’t pile up a mountain of chores that would be fit for 10 or more people.

Rest, get enough sleep and take some time out. 

Say NO to some people and tasks – the world will not collapse because you decided to take some “Me” time. 

Open up and let others see you – people are attracted to humans, not cold, perfectly running machines (even machines don’t run all the time perfectly).

If you want others to like and trust you, how about you be the first to give yourself that love and appreciation? 

Play, now and then – I know you almost forgot how, but it’s there, screaming to come out again. And last but not least, recognise when changing things is not in your power, and therefore they are not your responsibility.

I know it can be hard to let go of control, releasing the grip on life can be scary. You feel lost, you feel exposed.

The bad news is you never had real control, it just looked like you did. The good news is, you don’t have to. When you learn to trust the flow and surrender to the infinite intelligence that runs this universe, not only will your life become easier, but you will find available a far wider range of solutions than you could think of.

 

Because, ultimately, the real power resides in the flexibility to adapt and find new answers, not in the rigid schemes or strategies we employ.

 

Is Fear Of Being Judged Running Your Life?

Would you like to start doing what YOU want instead of what others choose for you?

Perfectionists R US

If you’re a perfectionist and would like to join a community of  like minded people, you can join my Facebook group.

Share, learn, have fun and just be yourself, un-apologetically.

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A Solution (Un)fit For a Perfectionist’s Crisis

A Solution (Un)fit For a Perfectionist’s Crisis

A Solution (Un)fit For a Perfectionist’s Crisis

Let’s say you’re the usual type of perfectionist, working yourself to the bone, pulling insanely long work hours. You’re up to date with the best in your field, you review and polish your work about 100,000 times before you consent to release it in the world  (still doubting its value).

You know, your average perfectionist Joe (or Jane), working with all systems up  at 150% capacity for most of the time.

 

Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash

All of a sudden, you crash.

 

You shift through the million tasks you set for yourself for a ridiculous time frame and hardly manage to accomplish one. (Taking seven times longer than usual.)  

 

Your clarity and fluency are gone, and everything you read from other sources seems aeons away in brilliance from what you are capable of uttering. Everybody seems way more intelligent, creative and productive than you.  

 

And what is worse, all your efforts go unnoticed. All the work you pour your heart, soul and blood into is lost in an ocean of anonymity. Nobody seems to want it, and nobody seems to care.  

 

You doubt that you’ll ever get the results you want, your capability to achieve them and your worth as a human being in general.  

 

So what can you do when you feel your whole world collapsing, and there’s not a soul in sight? Because let’s be honest, available friends when you need them are quite a scarce commodity these days.

 

 

Baron Munchhausen’s Solution

Well, the old school of hardcore would say something like “Suck it up, you’re not the only one”, or “What’s the big deal, nobody cares anyway”, so basically, “Don’t be such a baby”.  

 

Others, in the self-empowerment industry, would probably go along the lines of: “You just need to find some motivation” or “Why don’t you use positive affirmations”. The modern day’s version of Baron Munchhausen’s solution. Who’s that gentleman you ask?  

He was a fictional German character of the 1785 book “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen”. He always bragged about his unbelievable adventures, like riding on a cannonball, fighting a forty-foot crocodile, and travelling to the Moon.  

 

The solution I mentioned above comes from one of his fantastic tales, where he managed to get himself out of a swamp by pulling himself by his hair. It amazes me how, after so many years, we sometimes still believe that’s a valid solution, that heroic exploits are the best – and only- miracle cure for every problem.  

 

But what if this is not helping you to get out, because, if anything, the perfectionist already knows how to soldier through difficulties?  

 

If you’re a man, you might go out for a drink, jump in the gym and punch some training bags or find other ways to cope, like sex, alcohol, drugs, etc.  

 

If you’re a woman and you feel so lonely your soul screams in agony, juggling all your tasks you might find a bit of time to do some journalling till you sob uncontrollably. Slam shut the diary/laptop and decide to weep properly, puffy eyes and all. Cry till you feel so exhausted you fall asleep for a couple of hours (or three or four), and when you wake up, you feel a little better.  

 

Sometimes that’s all you needed, to take all your fears out in the open, let them play havoc for a while with your emotions, then you’re good to go, fresh as a daisy.  

 

Other times, although you feel a bit better and the pressure subsided, you’re not entirely out of the woods. You might even need to cycle back through those phases few times.  

 

If you’re lucky enough, you eventually find a friend with which you can vent. If not, you take your dog out and do your best to sort things out through introspection, meditation or other techniques you’ve learned.  

 

And sometimes – a lot of times, unfortunately- people crash and burn. You drown in despair and stop any effort, convinced it’s all useless because you are a perfect waste of space on the face of this earth anyway.  

 

Your beautiful message, the work dear to your heart? Pointless. The skills and talents others admire? Rubbish, nothing but average. Because it’s obvious that everybody else is and does so much better than you.  

So you give up?

Don’t. Hear me out, please.

 

 

Stop, rest, take some distance.

When you’re so close to an obstacle your face is stuck to it you see it way bigger than it actually is. And because of this, you might miss the minor change in your strategy that can dramatically improve your results.  

 

Also, try rescheduling the million tasks and allow them a larger period of time more suited to, you know, human beings. When you’ve outstretched yourself – even doing the work you like to do – you need to rest, plain and simple.  

 

You don’t think your car is bad, stupid or not good enough because the petrol level indicator shows empty, right? No, you would only fill the tank. Why would you treat your body any different? (- not suggesting you have some petrol too, mind you)  

 

And if you rested, changed the strategy but still feel lonely and useless and you’ve read so far, I’m here for you.  

I’ll open the space where you can share, and I’ll listen to your story, fears and struggles. I’ll be the mirror where you’ll see the qualities you’ve dismissed or diminished. The friend who encourages and believes in you, even when you stopped doing it.  

Because we all need to be reminded now and then that we are important. That we matter. That we are valuable and worthy. Until we remember who we are.  

 

I’m here for you.

Contact me for a chat  or join my group.

Is Fear Of Being Judged Running Your Life?

Would you like to start doing what YOU want instead of what others choose for you?

Perfectionists R US

If you’re a perfectionist and would like to join a community of  like minded people, you can join my Facebook group.

Share, learn, have fun and just be yourself, un-apologetically.

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