April 11, 2017
We all have an ounce of perfectionism within us. Who doesn’t want to work on a project until it represents our best effort? Achieving personal excellence is typically considered a good thing.
However, taking this trait to extremes is not so perfect. Perfectionists are typically victims of a fear of failure that exposes them to a higher risk of anxiety and depression. This study even links it to an increased risk of suicide.
Perfectionism is deceiving because oftentimes it can lead to what is traditionally seen as success – a high salary, good grades or a sculpted physique. But what most people fail to recognize is that an unrealistic pressure to be perfect is the unseen force behind this “success.” When perfectionists’ success is applauded, it acts as positive reinforcement for self-destructive behavior.
You may think perfectionists are happy with themselves, their creations and their relationships because they hold everything to such a high standard. However, the satisfaction they experience is transient. As Dr. Jennifer Kromberg writes, “Even when the brief satisfaction of ‘getting it right’ is achieved, it’s temporary. Then it’s on to the next level, achievement, or day of needing to make everything ‘perfect.’” This transient fulfillment leaves perfectionists with a feeling of exhaustion.
Additionally, the personality trait doesn’t always yield flawlessness. Research suggests that those obsessed with achieving perfection are not the best or most successful people in their respective fields. This is because anxiety over making mistakes gets in people’s way, ironically preventing them from doing their actual best. Interestingly, perfectionists tend to be more productive when they’re their own worst critics, as opposed to fearing judgment from others. While the root of their behavior is still detrimental, perfectionists are shown to achieve slightly better results when they’re not trying to please others.
This way of thinking can also affect relationships, causing high expectations to be held for romantic partners, friends and family that leave loved ones destined to disappoint. As a result, loved ones many times feel frustrated, inadequate and underappreciated. Additionally, because a comparison-oriented mentality is central to the perfectionist, they often become competitive with those close to them. And beyond competitiveness, they’re infamous for constant exhaustion from their incessant pursuit, making sustaining a meaningful relationship with them a near impossible feat.
Perfectionism’s micro-focus keeps people from seeing the bigger picture and, accordingly, living life. If someone is consistently lingering on their faults or finding new things to improve on, how can they truly be present? Obsessing over details forces one to exist in the past or the future, rarely able to enjoy the present moment for what it is.
Perfectionism is, in fact, an obsession. Dr. Ralph Ryback explains that someone with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be characterized as a “perfectionist paying excessive attention to detail, resulting in a poor work-life balance, rigidity, stubbornness, and preoccupation with lists and tasks that cause the person to lose sight of the big picture and often prevents the task at hand from being completed.” So, while the word “perfectionist” may carry a lighthearted connotation, it is not to be taken lightly.
When everything must be perfect, can anything ever be good enough?