Although perfectionists tell themselves that their determination to be perfect will win success, acceptance, love and fulfillment, the opposite more often occurs.
Though they may be high achievers, it is often at the expense of the very love, acceptance and fulfillment they seek. There are big differences between perfectionism and healthy striving. Those who strive for excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards while perfectionists are full of self-doubt and fear of negative judgment by others. Like the proverbial dog wagging the tail or vice versa, the healthy striver has drive; the perfectionist is driven.
According to Utopia, a publication issued by the Mental Health Counseling Center for the University of Texas at Austin, perfectionism takes a heavy toll. Perfectionists versus healthy strivers are more likely to experience decreased productivity, impaired health, troubled interpersonal relationships, depression performance anxiety, test anxiety, social anxiety, compulsive/obsessive behavior, loneliness, anger, frustration and suicidal thoughts.
Perfectionism is often made more difficult by holding on to certain myths about it. According to Utopia, common myths include the following.
I wouldn't be the success I am if I were not a perfectionist. While there is no evidence to support that perfectionists are more successful than their non-perfectionist counterparts, there is considerable evidence that given similar levels of talent, skill and intellect, perfectionists perform less successfully than non-perfectionists.
Perfectionists get things done and get them done right. Research informs that perfectionists struggle with procrastination, missed deadlines and low productivity, tending to be "all or nothing" thinkers, with nothing in between acceptable. Such thinking often leads to failure to initiate or an endless dotting of the "i's" and crossing of the "t's" with no or undesired results.
Perfectionists have an enormous desire to please others and to be the very best they can be. The reality is that a perfectionist's efforts often begin as an attempt to win love, acceptance and approval, but, in the process, esteeming the self and personal needs and wishes are often sacrificed with detrimental results. In truth, perfectionism is more likely to complicate than to enhance one's relationships.
Most of us have experienced brief periods of perfectionism, but if it seems that you are almost always dancing as fast as you can - striving, striving and striving - and just not getting the results you want, feeling under-appreciated, devalued or taken for granted by others and struggling against exhaustion, frustration and irritability, you may be a perfectionist.
Next week, coping strategies and a bibliography for perfectionists will be presented.
Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor in Covington. She specializes in anxiety, depression, problems with drugs and alcohol and recovery from traumatic experience. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.