What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a compulsive pattern of behavior and thought that may begin in childhood as part of one’s natural traits or arise through circumstances and stress. It is only a problem if it has a detrimental effect on one's quality of life or conflicts with personal values. Those who have a serious problem with perfectionism often struggle with low self-esteem, repressed feelings, insecurity or shame. Trying to be perfect is not a conscious choice and, for those who are coping with chronic stress, it may become a long-term pattern of trying to maintain excellence in many areas of life.
Are all perfectionists the same?
There are two types of perfectionists. Overt perfectionists are easy to see; they are orderly, organized and a little uptight. They may be critical of others and hard to please. Some overt perfectionists are focused on social standards and how others should be.
Covert perfectionists do not appear perfect in many areas of life but have mental committees of critics. Covert perfectionists pressure themselves to be better, are very self-critical, make comparisons to others and often feel that they don’t measure up. They are especially challenged by relationships in which they do not feel adequate or good enough. Coverts tend to be more self-oriented—more concerned about their own performance than others.
How serious is it?
Perfectionism has been linked to anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. It is also related to lower relationship satisfaction and fear of intimacy.
How does perfectionism hurt relationships?
Perfectionists are sensitive and defensive about making mistakes or being blamed or criticized. They avoid vulnerability and openness and try not to appear flawed or bad. Since intimacy requires openness with emotions, their relationships may be superficial and focused on doing things for their partners rather than just being close. Some may also appear superior, expecting things to be done a certain way to the point of demeaning a partner.
How does it affect children when a parent is a perfectionist?
The overt perfectionist may become an enforcer or teacher rather than a loving parent. They value doing what is right or correct rather than allowing children to learn from mistakes and develop their own identities. At times it may seem that the parent's self-esteem is dependent on the success of the child. Some children will rebel; others will try to comply while hiding their imperfections and doubts from their parent.
How can this pattern be changed?
Change is a three-stage process. First perfectionists need to see and evaluate the pitfalls of perfectionism and how it began. If it is not a problem, it doesn't need to change. If it is causing problems or is not a reflection of your values, it is important to make changes. The second step, called Becoming Me, charges perfectionists to looks closely at who they really are. It is important to be real and slowly practice letting others see who you are. The third step is to let go of expectations and forgive yourself for past mistakes. It is a time to begin accepting yourself and others.