The Offices of Jessica C. Sullivan LCSW, PLLC

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Perfectionism is something I have struggled with from time to time throughout my life. It is also something I notice to be an increasing problem in society these days. Holding ourselves to high standards is great, but the ability to give ourselves a break when something does not work out exactly as planned is fundamental to keeping a healthy life balance and healthy distance from the demands of perfectionism.

From my observations and personal experience, perfectionism can impact those as young as children in elementary school to full grown adults. Competition among peers in both academics and extracurriculars has become very common among kids and teens, something my younger self can certainly relate to, from isolating myself with nothing but my studies for hours at a time, to triple checking my work and comparing my talents to others in the performing arts. Then there are those who seemingly put in less effort and do just as well, if not better, adding to the frustration.

So, what does the strive for perfection or being the best actually cost us, and is it worth it?

I began to retreat from my perfectionist ways once I realized the mental and emotional toll these tactics were taking on me. Self-assurance and happiness became more important than being “perfect.” I started to take back my power.

No, I put in enough time on this, I know I tried and checking through once is good enough.

Who cares if someone is better than me? Good for that person. I have my own strengths, and I have my areas for growth and improvement.

It can’t always be my time to shine.

Comparing one’s self to others and needing approval from others gives our power away, and why are others so worthy of our power? True validation is something we need from ourselves.

How perfectionism starts.

The goal of perfection is often driven by an underlying fear of failure or rejection. Perfection is designed to protect us from hints of being flawed. Desires of being loved and admired can be driving forces as well.

Our culture can also put a lot of pressure on us. For example, remaining single at a certain age, not having a big social media following or not looking a certain way can spark judgment among others. The World Health Organization has in fact linked anxiety disorders to the excessive standards we hold for ourselves.

Types of perfectionists.

Perfectionism can manifest itself in a few ways.

Self-oriented perfectionists abide by strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to achieve perfection and avoid failure. They engage in harsh self-assessment.

Socially-prescribed perfectionists believe that others hold unrealistic expectations for them. They have trouble living up to outside pressure and perceived harsh criticism.

Other-oriented perfectionists set unrealistic standards for others, such as partners, friends, or co-workers. They are rigid when it comes to evaluating the performances of others.

Conquering perfectionism.

John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT expresses that people who have succeeded in life have more than likely still made numerous mistakes along the way. He advises, “the important thing is to learn from our miscues, tirelessly forgive ourselves, hold ourselves gently, and move on.”

Ilene S. Cohen, Ph.D. shares that it better serves a person to focus on the progress he or she has made and look at how far you have come rather than how far there is to go. Perfectionism also stays alive when you look to other people to give you worth and rely on their opinions to give you value. Dr. Cohen also suggests the following to help combat perfection:

Lastly to consider, does perfect even exist?

What your perfect may look like may be very different from my perfect, and his idea of perfect, and hers, and so forth. Since perfectionism is subjective, is there a true perfect? Striving to be perfect seems to be striving for something that quite frankly does not exist. So be you, and be proud of you because you are amazing.

Gina Pellrine, LMSW

Clinical Psychotherapist, Nourish Your Mind, LLC