Some people believe that in order to be a perfectionist your life must be perfect. However, many perfectionists’ lives are not perfect. They might think people who have imperfect lives are not perfectionists.
A perfectionist is a person who consistently finds fault in their lives. They might lament on how their life is not perfect and how it could be perfect. They are constantly trying to perfect themselves because if only the could _____, then they would be worthy of _____.
While the perfectionist might not have this straightforward thinking; they might think something like if I could lose 5 lbs then I will be desirable. Or if only I finished this project then I would be worthy of a raise.
Perfectionists often do not admit to their own inherent value. They believe that they would have value if only they changed some aspect of themselves.
If this sounds like you, then definitely keep reading! In the next few posts, I am going to talk about how to determine how you are a perfectionist, identify perfectionist thought patterns, the downsides to being a perfectionist, and how to reduce your perfectionist thought patterns.
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The Start of Being a Perfectionist
When I was in the first grade I can distinctly remember when my teacher gave me praise for being right. I found that being correct in class earned me praise from the teacher who I really admired at the time.
I also noticed how proud my parents were of me during parent-teacher conferences. My parents began comparing my brother’s grades to my own. I would receive praise and he would often receive scolding or punishment.
My young brain decided that it was good to do really well at school. And I began to search for other ways I could be good.
I continuted to do well most of my school. However, my parents and step dad put extra pressure on me to have perfect grades. If I recieved a 95 on a test, “Well why didn’t you get a 100”. The shame of not having perfect grades and not being able to get perfect grades led me to believe I was not good enough.
My self-worth became heavily tied to grades and accomplishments. This carried out into college and after. I started constantly trying to reach some never-ending goal.
When I lost weight I did not feel good enough. I then started a masters program I still did not feel good enough. When I had kept receiving a 4.0 in my masters program I still did not feel good enough.
In my second job, my boss noticed I was not performing very well. Teams that collaborated with us mentioned their concerns. I began to feel very inadequate, stressed out, and agitated with my boss. We started working from home and I became even more desperate. Eventually, my boss suggested I link up with a mentor. While at first, I thought this mentor was meant as a punishment, it was really my boss’s attempt to help me along. My boss knew she was not able to help me herself because our roles were drastically different.
She even confided that she also was a perfectionist who often struggled.
My mentor kept telling me to be kind to myself. To which I rolled my eyes. My brain was like “I need help, not advice about loving myself!” I continued to work with the mentor for a while. Soon, I was reading books about how to be more productive and a better employee. I took a class on dealing with stress at work.
There began to be some small improvements. There was not a strong system that worked for me. I simply just learned to manage my brain to help myself focus. Through some of the books, I learned to change my mindset manage my thoughts, and how being a perfectionist was making my problems at work worse.
I learned it was okay to not be good at something right away, ask for help, ask questions, tell people I did not understand, or I zoned out.
Lastly, I became more vulnerable with my boss, mentor, and coworkers. I became more pleasant to be around.
How to tell if you are a perfectionist
People often do not know they are a perfectionist. However, there are some signs that can help you notice you are a perfectionist.
1. You often judge others
Do you ever find yourself being hyper-critical of others who just did not live up to your expectations? Our culture has taught many of us to meet certain impossible standards. It has also taught us to size each other up upon seeing someone and judge them.
I am guilty of this and I practice extra care to try to eliminate judgment of others needlessly. I catch myself instantly judging someone based on hair, how meticulously manicured they are if their mask is on correctly, and whether or not they use their turn signal. Some of these judgments are totally valid such as wearing a mask correctly and coming too close to me while not having a mask on. However, I often judge girls for being too meticulously groomed as high maintenance and potentially catty. I am actively trying to work on these thoughts. Because my judgment might be wrong and totally unnecessary of that person. I might be discrediting a totally nice girl who just likes her nails done.
2. You procrastinate
My procrastination used to derive heavily from my desires for perfection. Sometimes I would not start a project until the last minute. I felt stressed out and overwhelmed by my expectations of things. I knew I could not achieve the utmost perfection so I often did not try. My boss gave me a book she found helpful and I also found it helpful that helped us reduce our procrastination.
3. Constantly worried about your flaws and try to hide them
Perfectionists find it impossible to be vulnerable or up front about their flaws, or shortcomings. My brain would tell me that if I talked to my boss about needing help I would lose my job and become homeless.
I spent a lot of time worried there was something wrong with me in my job. Often, I felt inadequate. These thoughts fueled my imposter syndrome.
I spend a lot of time worried that my flaws will make people, not like me. This makes it difficult for me to really bond with others because I am so caught up with the consequences of people not liking me.
4. You expect yourself to constantly improve because there is something wrong with you
“If I just lost 50 pounds, then I would be happy.” Often perfectionists feel the need to constantly improve themselves in some way. If I learned how to dress properly I would be more likable. I am so bad at make-up that is why I cannot keep a boyfriend.
My self-improvement began in this way. I found it difficult to get anywhere because I kept finding something new that needed to be worked on. Because I often told myself how bad I was at things and what my weaknesses were I actually found it difficult to make any improvement progress.
5. You feel like you are only as good as your achievements
My self-worth was directly tied to how much I achieved. I had a friend who liked me simply because I was always trying to achieve more.
While I never directly thought this many of my thought patterns showed I believed if I obtained a Ph.D. I would then be worthy of love, attention, and admiration. When I did not do as well as I had hoped I worried people would stop liking me.
6. You feel you are not loveable if you are imperfect
I still struggle here. Often, I worry if I step a toe out of line I will no longer be loveable. If I become too upset, send too lengthy of a text, I will be immediately abandoned.
The truth is that everyone is imperfect. My cat knocks water glasses over but I still love her. People who are in jail for horrendous crimes like mass murders still have people who love them.
7. You discredit your progress
Any progress you made does not count because of some reason you came up with. Well, I did not complete the race so the 10 miles I did run does not count. You might not feel like you did anything to reach your goal.
8. You use your mistakes to prove there is something wrong with you
People who do this never recognized when they do something correctly. These people will often become very upset when they make a mistake. Mistakes might make them feel less worthy of praise or love from others.
9. You think your limitations make you less deserving
An example of this sign would be feeling like you do not deserve your job. You might worry that you could be fired. However, there is no reason to suspect you would be fired except your own thoughts about your work. This might come because you are super critical of how much work you can complete. You might feel like you need too much time off. Women who have children might feel undeserving because they have child obligations even though they still work harder than their colleagues.
10. You focus too much on the end result
Do you find yourself caring more if you completed a task? For many of us, our parents asked things like: “Did you get an A?”, “Did you win?”, How many goals did you get?” After learning the end result mindset many people find it difficult to focus their attention on the process. However, with practice, it is possible to adopt new metrics of success. For instance, think about the process can help you adopt a more rounded mindset around success. . Did you have fun? What did you learn? What are you most proud of? What did you enjoy the most? What do you think you did well? How can you improve next time? These are all great new metrics of success. Researchers have found that people become more successful if they focus on metrics that are not the end result.
So, should you stop trying to constantly improve?
Today I was listening to a podcast where someone stated that perfectionists are always trying to improve themselves because they feel like they are not worthy or good enough.
This obviously struck a chord with me because I am always trying to improve myself. I am a firm believer in growth. I believe growth is one of the most important parts of life.
So I want to build on what that person said by adding an addendum. Self-improvement is not perfectionism if the person already feels they are good enough and are just improving simply for the internal experience of joy. For instance, practicing reading and writing is important to me because it fulfills an inner desire. I do not do it because I think it will make others like me more, or for the admiration. I do it simply because I like doing it. I improve my cooking skills simply because I like doing it. I improve my communication with others because I want to connect in better ways with others.
The difference between being a perfectionist and sucess
Many people believe that being a perfectionist is a badge of honor that will ultimately help them become successful. I once believed this as well. However, even though I strived for perfection. That perfection often held me back. I was constantly worried about how to make my work perfect I often did not do anything. Instead, I was often mentally exhausted and unmotivated to do anything.
Take the test
I recommend if you still are not sure if you are a perfectionist you take this test. Many of us might be some level of a perfectionist or have perfectionist tendencies. If this is the case for you your first step to getting out of that mindset is to simply acknowledge it and be aware of these habits.