What Is Perfectionism?
We have all been taught to be the best in life. To get straight A’s in school, to win first place, and to that being average is anything but that. We are taught that being the best at something is what makes you valuable and worthy and this is what we should continue to strive for. Do you remember in elementary school how you got those blue or red first place ribbons for your achievements and how good it felt? This might have been the start of your perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the desire to be perfect or flawless both internally and in your surroundings. Perfectionism involves a state of mind where being “perfect” is the standard and should be strived for. You have high standards for yourself and your life. You strive for success in your relationships and work, which takes a lot of mental energy. It requires critical self-evaluation of yourself and doubt of others’ evaluations.
Two Types of Perfectionist
In my practice, I’ve noticed there are 2 types of perfectionist and believe each one deserves to be identified. I call them Covert Perfectionists and Overt Perfectionists. Covert Perfectionist hide their ideal standards and ideas and keep it to themselves, whereas Overt Perfectionist prefer to show their success and driven nature openly.
Overt Perfectionism – Success Driven
Perfectionism can feel black and white, either you were successful at the job or a total failure. Your work shows your effort and high standards and naturally your team will appreciate it. This can feel like reinforcement to continue to produce at high levels. Many people see this as a strength and don’t realize how taxing it can be to constantly evaluate your work, perfecting it several times before you produce it. The success can be addictive and not meeting those expectations can lead to anxiety. Work and success can get you so hooked that you might struggle with putting the phone down after a long day or find yourself constantly checking emails. This can lead to become addicted to the internet, more specifically email addiction.
The Covert Perfectionist – Paralysis By Analysis
Ever feel like you have great ideas but they end up staying ideas? Do you feel like you’re lazy because you don’t act on those ideas to bring them to fruition? I doubt the reason for this is because you’re lazy. People with perfectionism can be particular and want to get it just right. You’re an imaginative thinker and have a vision of how you want it to be. Some people with perfectionism avoid getting things done all together if they don’t have the resources to make it perfect. Leaving it to remain an idea for safe keeping. You might even wonder if you’re an imposter, as though maybe you’re not that great and you’re going to be found out at any moment. Read more about imposter syndrome here. Do you keep your ideas to yourself because you worry what other’s will think if you haven’t figured it all out yet, playing it in your mind and answering all questions that may arise? The underlying goal is to avoid failure due to fear of letting other’s down and being viewed in a negative way. If this resonates with you, you might be a perfectionist.
Pros and Cons of Being A Perfectionist
There are both positive and negative affects of perfectionism. On the encouraging side, perfectionism can be a motivating factor in achieving your goals, practicing self-improvement, giving tasks your best, and trying harder in future endeavors. People who use perfectionism in a positive way are often achievement focused and driven, which can help in reaching many aspirations in life.
The downside is that the success can come with a heavy price. Research indicate that perfectionism is strongly and consistently related to numerous detrimental work and non-work outcomes, including higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, isolation, and depression. The stress it takes to be perfect can also impact other areas of your life including relationship satisfaction, sexual dysfunction, internet addiction, and insomnia. Ever feel like you need a month off from work to enjoy some sun on a desert island away from everyone? This is the effects of anxiety and burnout.
You Can “Have It All”
Being a perfectionist has it’s time and place. There’s a way to feel successful and share your ideas and also not feel this has to be your standard at all times. There’s a way to give what it takes to produce meaningful work and still have enough to give to yourself and to your family at the end of the day. Being a perfectionist has gotten you far in life, but you get the feeling there’s got to be more. As a therapist in the metro-Atlanta area, I work with high-achievers and perfectionists to help them get to the root of the issue and also create work-life balance. As an internet addiction coach offering coaching across the US, I can help you learn how to find the balance between your achievements and also cope with the anxiety that it can bring. Together, we can work through the anxiety that comes from changing your habits and automatic negative thoughts that have kept you in this cycle for so long and to see that you can have success and be goal-driven and maintain healthy boundaries so you feel energized and excited about what’s to come. Call me to learn more.
Zulaikha Straight, MA, LPC, NCC, NCIAC, NCLC
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