Are you raising the bar with your evaluation reports, the birthday cake for your child, or the New York marathon? Striving for perfection is a good thing, but if it turns into perfectionism, it could cause problems. That is what psychologists and experience experts tell us all the time.
During job interviews, the inevitable question comes up “what is your worst quality?”. You grimly answer that you’re a perfectionist, trying to do your job the best you can. Bravo! Not the most original answer, but you’ve passed that threshold. So, why is striving for perfection ok and being a perfectionist is not? Hereunder is the explanation.
You are not bothered by perfectionism, but striving for it? Check out my last paragraph and become your own boss!
What is it like to really be a perfectionist?
Maybe you recognize this. To read each email six times before sending it? To spend two weeks on a one-day job because you’re afraid of making mistakes and your name is on the bottom? To spend an hour every morning on your office outfit before you go out? Experience experts know exactly what you are going through. Fortunately, being psychologists as well, some might be able to also explain the difference between striving for perfection and being a perfectionist. Here is one of them who has had the experience of trying to be a perfectionist.
How do you define perfectionism?
She asserts that with perfectionism, you set the bar so high for yourself and let it depend so much on your self-esteem that you achieve the exact opposite. You are going to do all kinds of exaggerated or even superfluous things. As a result, the end result is not perfect, but often worse. Setting yourself up for challenges and striving for perfection is really different from suffering from perfectionism.
Doing an exam well, improving your marathon record can be accompanied by very positive emotions, perfectionism will only make you feel bad. As a society, we think perfectionism is good quality, as long as you remove the sharp edge. Then people underestimate how bad it is. You also don’t say that someone has to drag down the sharp edges of depression!
Perfectionism is on the increase
A study of British-Canadian students showed that all kinds of perfectionism increased over the course of the last forty years. So now we know for sure about young people, especially in Western countries. Further study reveals that there are four reasons for this unfortunate increase. Here they are.
1.We live in a performance society, we are constantly compared with each other.
That always happened, in the old days you could be the best in your village. But now you are competing with the whole world. If you apply for an internship, candidates from other countries can beat you. Social media amplify this phenomenon. Everyone keeps up the appearance that their life is a dream. Also on LinkedIn, where people photoshop careers. “I enjoyed working together so much.” It’s all about winning.
2. We live in a meritocracy.
I am successful, therefore I exist. That also applies to holidays. One of the experts doesn’t really like holidays but went to Australia. Everyone thought it was fantastic, but that person thought it looked like Scotland. Why was she on the plane for 24 hours for this? She also participated in work. She had a column in a newspaper, but it should have been a different and better one. This is your typical example of thinking in a perfectionist mood.
3. Protecting children
She doesn’t have any children herself, so she doesn’t want to interfere with others. She only sees that if parents protect their offspring in everything and raise them only to avoid any conflict, it will ensure that children, later on, cannot cope well with adversity. You expect a perfect life for your child, and your child is going to expect the same. But sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, everyone has to learn to live with that. You might even go as far as to claim that perfection does not exist.
4. We feel responsible
Today we believe that we are responsible for everything that happens in our lives and in our careers. But luck and genes play a big role too. We should accept and know that countless factors affect our lives. Think of the tailwind principle: sometimes you are cycling well, you have pedaled hard. But when the wind is against you, you realize that you were lucky with the wind before and now have to work much harder. This should be anticipated by your children.
The rat race is on
A lot of people can’t participate in the rat race. If you have bad luck, then you are a loser, because luck or bad luck are homemade. Students can choose from any field of study imaginable, and if they fail, it’s their own fault.
As a result, you see increasing stress among students. In four years everything has to be perfect, they have no more room to make mistakes. By the age of thirty, you must have concrete success. Sixteen-year-olds have a LinkedIn profile! It fits in the rat race to increasingly higher education. Enormous stress whether you have the perfect study package, while it really doesn’t matter much: you will end up with an interesting job.
Perfectionism can disrupt
But now you are making perfectionism very broad. As if it is the underlying factor of many psychological problems.
In her field, they call perfectionism a transdiagnostic factor. There is an underlying factor in many diagnoses. On the surface, you see an eating disorder, but if you don’t address the underlying perfectionism, the disorder keeps coming back. Perfectionism can disrupt and influence your functioning in many ways. That is why it is such a difficult concept to grasp.
Just to be clear: striving for perfection is great. Think of a nice football coach who expresses his confidence in a team and gives good tips to beat the opponent. That coach strives for perfection. Do you have a fucking trainer who calls his team losers, ‘it won’t work anyway, I want you to win’, but then lists all kinds of handicaps… A perfectionist as a coach does not work.
Perfectionism is about avoiding confrontations.
That happens, for example, if she decides not to write for some magazine, for fear of not being able to deliver the perfect story. People get stuck in a job because they are afraid to take a step. Because they are never good enough. To play the piano? You are discouraged in advance because you can never become a concert pianist. Learning should be fun. Perfectionists are rarely happy.
How to live with perfectionism?
At some point, she learned to deal with it. A client hired her and paid for four hours. She wanted to deliver a perfect piece. She used to put two weeks into it, otherwise, she wouldn’t dare to hand it in. Now she thinks: this is what you get for four hours. Things will work out without you going to extremes. The best remedy: self-compassion. Look at yourself as such a nice coach, you are only human. If something goes wrong, don’t worry, you’ve put in the effort. It is not the intention that you do nothing anymore, but that you formulate your goals realistically.
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