Surprise: It’s Really Not Great to Be a Perfectionist
Everyone is different, but most perfectionists tend to have three things in common with their fellow sufferers. First, they don’t recognize that being a perfectionist isn’t a good thing. Second, perfectionists don’t think they’re perfectionists. Finally, perfectionists generally find it almost impossible to give themselves a break — and that’s where things get dicey, both for their careers and for their personal lives.
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As it turns out, perfectionism isn’t about actually being perfect. It’s about experiencing an uncomfortable internal emphasis on perfection, and it has negative consequences, both personally and professionally, for those grappling with it. In some cases, the impact of perfectionism can lead to serious self-harm. At The Science of Us, Melissa Dahl warns that current research suggests a strong link between perfectionism and depression.
“Perfectionism is a trait many of us cop to coyly, maybe even a little proudly,” writes Dahl. “…But real perfectionism can be devastatingly destructive, leading to crippling anxiety or depression, and it may even be an overlooked risk factor for suicide, argues a new paper in Review of General Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.”
Lead author Gordon Flett tells Dahl that perfectionism can be destructive and cause suffering both for perfectionists and those who love them. Maybe it’s time to take a second look at perfectionist tendencies in order to understand the profound impact they have on happiness, productivity, and our general well-being.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Perfectionists aren’t having fun
There is a difference between excitedly pursuing excellence and suffering for it. Those who love what they do and give their full effort, focus, and creativity to the pursuit of something that thrills them are not necessarily perfectionists. But, those people who feel like what they’ve done is never good enough, those who beat themselves up over every misstep, might be experiencing the negative effects of perfectionism.
2. Perfectionists expect the impossible
Mistakes are a part of life and learning. Perfectionists tend to feel awful when they’ve made a mistake, and this can inhibit them from learning from the past. Because negative emotions and feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt can be so overwhelming, it can be hard to think clearly and logically when under their spell. As a result, perfectionists tend to learn less from their mistakes than others. They also experience what they consider “failure” on a regular basis, as they struggle to take their own inevitable foibles in stride.
3. Perfectionism is destructive
Perfectionism doesn’t help people get things done. Instead, it makes everything harder, and that leads to decreased productivity, and ultimately, often less success. Learning to focus on one’s actions, goals, and even mistakes, in a positive and less self-critical way could help people turn over a new leaf. Keeping in mind that an emphasis on perfection, when painful, is destructive not constructive could be a good first step.
Everyone can take life and self a little too seriously sometimes. It’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. We should have fun trying to get there, and know all along that we never will.
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Gina Belli works as a teacher, freelance writer, and educational consultant, and lives in her beloved home state, Connecticut. She likes to write about education, work-life balance, and the economy. Given her arresting capacity to over-analyze anything interpersonal, her writing often tends to focus on some of the more emotional aspects of workplace connections and disconnections, as they relate to partnerships and teams, personality and communication styles, and leadership. In her free time, she likes to putter around her renovated one-room schoolhouse home, take walks in the woods, and eat as much guacamole as she can get her hands on.