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Dealing with Perfectionism: Perfection is the Enemy of the Good

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Many of us often have trouble settling for good enough. More often than not, we want things to be perfect, or at least an idealized image of what we think is perfection. Whether you’re trying to write up a flawless report at the office, or you’ve been slaving over a painting in your free time—you can make yourself crazy trying to make everything absolutely perfect. While aiming towards perfection might seem like the obvious way towards self-fulfillment, it can often have the opposite effect, making you more anxious and dissatisfied with yourself. In fact, there are more negatives than positives that arise when people become obsessed with perfection.

The pursuit of perfection is an endless one, if not completely unwinnable. If someone is constantly thinking they need to be perfect, they’ll face never-ending anxiety and blows to their self-esteem, as perfection is unattainable. In their mind, there’s always something they could be doing to improve themselves or new ways they think they could be better. While self-improvement is healthy, it can become detrimental if it starts to control all aspects of your life. People can quickly find themselves thinking that everything needs to be perfect. But nothing is ever exactly flawless, which means this kind of thinking only creates anxiety. Obsessing over perfection can also prevent people from pursuing new things. Instead of trying, people are paralyzed by fear, thinking, “If I can’t do it perfectly, why should I even try?”The only way to get over this fear is to get out of your head and just try. No one is going to do anything perfectly the first time, and maybe not ever. Failing, correcting then trying again is the surest way towards later success. You can only get better at something if you make the effort.

Similarly, workaholics are often fixated on the impossible idea of perfection. They’re constantly trying to make everything exactly the way they think it should be. But when is good enough good enough?

In considering this question, you should examine when your pursuit of perfectionism in the workplace starts to adversely affect your personal life. Success in your professional life isn’t worth it if you’re never getting to spend time with your friends, family or on your own personal interests. While working hard and giving extra effort is commendable, we are all human. We have off days. We make mistakes. This is all part of life and at the end of the day, errors allow us to learn and grow. Fighting perfectionism is all about embracing failure and being okay with mistakes.

Those seeking personal perfectionism may find the same patterns develop towards those they are closest to—like spouses, significant others, friends or family. This can be dangerous, especially if it relates to a parent instilling these values in a child. Continuously touting the importance of perfectionism is the easiest way to make a child anxious or rebellious. Because perfectionism creates constant pressure, children can end up buckling under the stress and internalizing a deeply critical voice that could follow them into adulthood.

Spouses and significant others can also suffer similarly if someone is pushing incredibly hard for their success. Well-meaning intentions can lead to actions that are indelible. Instead of focusing on your own definition of success, it’s better to take into account and understand the other person’s needs or wants. They may want something entirely different than you and that’s okay. By allowing those close to you to focus on what they love, you’ll cultivate a more understanding and fulfilling relationship.

If you’re fixated on perfection, you should ask yourself why you feel that way, and even if you really need to be without fault. Because perfectionism is a fruitless pursuit, it’s impossible to know what you’d ultimately gain. If you obsess over everything, you may find yourself losing more than you ever bargained for.

Dealing with perfectionist tendencies isn’t something you have to struggle with alone. If you’re finding it hard to break away from your obsessive routines, remember that Stenzel Clinical Services has many trained clinicians that are well versed in helping people work through these issues.