Is Your Perfectionism a Problem?

perfectionism. illustrated woman holding her head surrounded by pink flowers and green leaves.

Is your perfectionism becoming problematic?

Read that again, maybe even write it down, print it out, and take it in. Perfect does NOT exist. There’s no such thing, yet we still drag our sorry bodies around in hope of achieving this.  

I’ve been there and I still struggle greatly with this, so I get it. I’ve spent the last 16 weeks having CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) focused on my perfectionism. I have my final session this week and thought I would share the top 3 things I have learned.  

In no particular order (otherwise, I would have spent hours deciding which order was best!): 

Identification: Am I a perfectionist?

I actually didn’t see myself as a perfectionist before starting therapy. However, perfectionism doesn’t just manifest as having perfectly folded clothes or a bed throw without any crinkles. It can crop up anywhere. For me, it’s my obsession with my health and trying to be the healthiest version possible. I also strive to save as much money as possible and want people to perceive me as hard-working, likable, and successful. I also prefer to have a nicely made bed or have my fridge contents in a certain order. But thankfully, those needs do not control my life. You might recognize some of these yourself. Stop and take a moment. Think about whether you have any areas in your life where you feel you must get it all perfect.

Depletion: Perfectionism = Draining

Perfectionism is draining, and for me, and many of you, is a strong driver for our eating disorders. Maybe it’s about being a perfect weight, or shape, following the perfect diet, or anything else, but this constant striving sucks the energy and life out of us. It’s like we’re constantly wired, unable to focus on anything else and then because of this, we might inherently perform poorly due to a lack of energy and concentration. I used to get annoyed at myself for feeling so tired despite not making any progress with my work, but I realized the whole reason I was so tired was that all my mental energy was used elsewhere, in trying to get everything perfect. Be aware of this and be kind to yourself. Your mind is working so hard, and we can’t do it all at once.  

Non-existent: Perfect does not exist

We’re all chasing something that doesn’t even exist! What is perfect? My perfect may be totally different from yours and so on. But even that aside, you will never know what perfect is, because there is only one decision made, so you’d never have the comparison to determine if what you did was perfect. I hope that makes sense, but for me, that made me stop and think. Perfectionism can really keep us hostage.

We will never know the best decision or perfect outcome, and what may appear to be perfect now, may not be in say 1 week’s time, 6 months, or 2 years.

We are constantly changing, as are our circumstances so we can never get there. One of the best strategies to help me with this was to challenge the way I do things and see if the outcome is the same.

For example, I want my supervisor to perceive me as intelligent, therefore, I must never send an email with a grammatical mistake. Otherwise, he may think I am incapable of my work. The challenge was to purposely send an email with a mistake and note my feelings and worries before, during, and after. It turned out he did not say anything, and I soon forgot about the issue. I’ve been adding in these little challenges to help me overcome my perfectionism.  

If you think you need more support with your perfectionism, please don’t feel ashamed to reach out to a specialist. It’s always nice to have someone to support and guide you, but alternatively, give the challenge in point 3 a go, and see if you can add in more and more.  

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