“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” -Michael Law
I’ve noticed a trend in our culture—the trend to do everything without effort, the trend to judge yourself based on the amount that you produce every day, whether that be work, household chores, and items on a checklist. What I notice even more is what happens with my clients where they can’t sustain these trends. I see struggle, I see sadness and man oh man do I see anxiety. As I mentioned previously, in order to step out of the shadow of shame and into the spotlight of your life, you have to recognize the behaviors that put you in the dark in the first place. Perfectionism behaviors don’t fit in a little square box with the bow tied neatly on top (although wouldn’t it be nice if they did), however bringing awareness to them can kickstart the process of growth and reduce the fear that comes alongside. There are certain behaviors that I see my clients struggle with time and time again; figured why not share them with you.
Here I’ve compiled a list of characteristics that are commonly associated with the relentless strive for perfectionism.
- Daily mood is affected by successes and failures
- Feeling unfulfilled by any achievements made
- Frequent rumination on mistakes to prevent them from happening again
- Set high unrealistic expectations/standards (i.e. the way you look, the way your house is kept, the way you complete hobbies)
- Avoid starting new activities, hobbies, tasks, etc. due to not being the “best” or fear of failure
- Procrastinate tasks because they need to be perfect or redo tasks often because they aren’t perfect
- Feedback from others is seen as hurtful instead of constructive
- Engage in frequent all or nothing thinking (i.e. seeing things in extremes and very rigid)
- Frequently spend time on small things at the expense of valued living
- Result focused instead of enjoying the process
- Engage in reassurance seeking from others before taking any action
- Over-planning every situation to avoid failure
- Difficulty with decision making due to not wanting it to be the “wrong” decision
- Highly self-critical
Remember, trying to be perfect at core is a coping mechanism based on a belief system that “I am inherently not good enough.” Therefore as you look at the world through that belief lens, then you are always going to continue pushing towards something that can never be reached. Each time we reach and can’t grasp, things come crashing down and we feel anxious or depressed and even shameful that we didn’t do what we had hoped. Each time we reach and can’t grasp, a little piece of yourself can be lost.
Disclaimer: Connecting with some of these behaviors does not guarantee you are a perfectionist, nor does it provide you with an actual diagnosis of any kind. The list is here simply to promote awareness. If you are interested in exploring these behaviors and how they affect mental health, please feel free to reach out to a professional therapist.