Do you ever feel up a tree because you are imperfect in a world that wants perfection? Have you ever wondered why many people around you want and expect perfection Does perfectionism drag you down? Does it feel like a constant unhappy nag? Most of us feel that way some if not all of the time. It is a serious subject with serious consequences that deserves serious consideration.
What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a way of thinking and a way of living. It is the idea of living up to very high standards or ideals. There is nothing wrong with having ideals, but they are always unattainable.
Ideals actually have a fatal flaw. They are static ideas in a world is constantly changing. That means that they demand to be met irrespective of current conditions. Impossible ideals about strength, fame, money, youth and beauty drive many people – even to their own destruction.
Ideals are a way to beat ourselves and each other up and under these circumstances, the ideals are more important that the person striving for them. The ideals become an end unto themselves and striving for them can be harmful to the individual. Often we believe that we need to be perfect to survive and if we received that message when we were young it may have been real for us.
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
The idea that we can be perfect and live perfectly is an old and persistent idea.
Our early ancestors with their limited knowledge ascribed reasons to things that they did not understand. Often when events occurred that were undesirable or tragic, the reason was felt to be a flaw in ourselves. Even natural events acquired a human cause and sacrifices were made to prevent natural disasters.
Although the human race has survived, the idea of perfectionism has not died out in spite of our improved knowledge about cause and effect.
My hunch is that today’s perfectionism comes from an old idea in the child that by being perfect, he or she can gain a parent’s love or improve the chances of survival. This idea is promoted by parents, religious and social structures and an economic system that uses our hurt feelings about not being perfect enough to manipulate us into buying what we don’t want to need in order to be accepted.
Why Perfectionism Is Cruel
How perfectionism is played out on the human stage is cruel. It is cruel because it punishes us for something beyond our control. All humans are imperfect. We cannot not be human. We cannot know it all. We cannot have all skills. We cannot anticipate everything. And no one else can either.
It pits one against another in some kind of beauty or performance contest that has little value or necessity. We are human beings not human performers, so treating another as a performer is dehumanizing.
How To Get A Handle On Perfectionism
Perfectionism is life destroying. It takes us say from life with impossible demands. It destroys our spirits with its ridiculous expectations.
I have noticed that perfectionists tend to demand an ideal without considering what meeting the ideal will require in time, energy and resources. Under those circumstances, failure is virtually guaranteed. It actually creates an illusion of failure. It is important to realize an essential component of perfectionism is the expectation of an ideal situation as a constant. Perfectionism is essentially unresponsive to life and living because it is inflexible.
The best way to get a handle on perfectionism is to recognize that it is an escape from life. Life has many events, situations, different challenges and types of people. Perfectionism denies that reality. A perfectionist demands that all of life relate to him/her on his or her perfectionistic terms. The perfectionist is a taker and does not relate to life.
If you want to get rid of perfectionism in your life, you first need to
- be able to identify it. Look for rigidity, impossibly high standards and unrealistic expectations.
- identify where it exists in your life
- notice how much perfectionism exists in you, your family and friends, your type of work and work environment.
- notice when someone implies that you are at risk for being less than perfect.
Now you can see the scope of the perfectionism in your life and start to work on it. Here are a couple of ideas:
- start setting limits on unreasonable expectations. Start to say that you need more of (time, resources, skills, help etc.) to get a job done.
- start putting your health first. Health needs to trump any ideals.
- evaluate your relationships to see which serve you, which need change and which are damaging. Take appropriate action.
- if you have children make sure they see the good in themselves and that it is enough. It will inoculate them against perfectionism.
- notice all the good in yourself. It will keep you from being susceptible to the unrealistic demands of perfectionists.
- think of idealism as a waste of life. In what ways does it take you away from the best uses of your time and energy for yourself and others.
This should get you started. I would suggest journalling as a way to help you heal from and change the role that perfectionism plays in your life.
Above all, cherish your brief time on this planet.