Perfectionists see themselves as ambitious people. But too often, they cross the line being driven by anxiety or a lack of self-esteem. How do you know when your quest for perfection has gone too far? Here are 10 signs that indicate you’ve lost control.
What is perfection?
Although perfection looks inviting, most people know that perfection is fantasy. There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, job, or children. It’s easy to spin perfectionism as a positive quality as if it’s a badge of honor for those who seek it. But studies show that perfectionists have a higher risk of the following outcomes:
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
When is it time to say enough is enough?
1 – Lack of creativity
Creativity can be messy. It’s filled with trial and error. When you’re a perfectionist, there is no room for messiness or opened-ended projects. Everything must be neat and tidy. If you do pursue something that seems creative, it will get stifled by your need to finish it. In fact, the need to finish the creative project becomes more important to you than the inspiration behind the creativity. Some have said that perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. You know that your quest for perfection has gone too far when you lack creative thoughts and inspiration for projects at home, work, or school. You’ve bought the lie that it’s not worth pursuing if it isn’t perfectly done or successful by your own standards.
2 – Can’t take criticism
No one likes criticism, but generally, you can accept it when you know it will help you improve at what you’re doing. But if you’re on a quest for perfection, you’ll see criticism as destructive. You’ll have a hard time hearing you made you blundered because even though you may feel like a failure, you don’t want anyone to criticize you. If someone points out a mistake to you, you’ll feel like you have a defect. How can you not be perfect? It’s too disappointing to consider, so you refuse to accept others’ advice or critics because it’s too painful for you to accept.
3 – Blame yourself for things
Perfectionists tend to have distorted thinking about themselves. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll blame yourself for everything. Any mistake gets blown out of proportion, causing you to belittle yourself with words like “loser” or “stupid.” You will be more aware of your faults than your good qualities and assume that everyone sees your imperfections. You live with guilt because you feel like you’ve let yourself and others down. This often shows up in parenting. You feel responsible if your child does poorly in school. If you were a better parent, your child would have done better.
4 – Very Critical of Others
If you’re on a quest for perfection, you feel as if you know what perfection looks like and when others don’t perform the way you think they should, you’ll be upset. You will constantly suggest ways for others to improve themselves. You’ll never be happy just accepting others, but feel responsible for pointing out their weakness because you assume they want to be perfect like you. This puts a burden on your friendships and your family, often driving them away because they feel unaccepted by you.
The sad thing is that you may have experienced this lack of acceptance as a child, and now you continue to perpetuate it with your kids. Unless you see how dangerous perfectionism is, you may destroy your relationships.
5 – Unrealistic goals
In your quest for perfection, you have an all-or-nothing approach to your life. If you can’t do something perfectly, you’ll feel like a total failure. There is no room for error in your pursuits because you have a warped sense of what is realistic. Perhaps you’ve had success in an area but haven’t reached the success level you want.
Second place is never good enough for you. In fact, second place is basically losing in your mind. Many performers who struggle with perfection feel this way. They create an amazing song, yet even though it’s wildly popular, it won’t be as perfect to them.
6 – You procrastinate
Another characteristic of overboard perfectionism is the paralyzing fear of failure. Because of this, you will put off doing things. If you don’t do the project, it can’t fail. Others may think you’re lazy or don’t care, but the real problem is that you care too much.
Your reputation and self-esteem are so tied up in your perfect performance that you can’t do anything without worrying it will be a disaster. You live with the stress of endless unfinished projects. And if this leads to losing your job or failing school, you will feel justified that you didn’t try since you have failed, anyway.
Reality gets so twisted for the perfectionist that they don’t know what’s true and a lie. Sometimes perfection leads you to be extremely detailed so that you can’t get started on something. For instance, when you start to work, everything needs to be perfect or can’t work. This obsession can lead you to not putting off the project since it’s already not perfect.
Sometimes perfectionists are so caught up in achieving their goals. They disregard their health or self-care. Have you ever noticed pictures of famous painters who had overgrown beard and hair? They look like they just crawled out of a hole into the light of day because they’ve been busy working on the perfect painting.
It’s common for a perfectionist not to sleep or eat for days. Insomnia may be common for you if you’re a perfectionist. Perfectionistic athletes may get injured because they push themselves too much.
Perfectionists can also suffer from the following, according to studies:
- Stress-related illnesses
- Heart conditions
- Crohn’s disease
- High blood pressure
- Bipolar disorder
8 – You need approval before you decide on things
Perfectionists crave approval from others. Their need for approval is important because they feel like it’s a gauge for how they’re doing. Approval means acceptance to a perfectionist. If you are on a quest for perfection, you may see others’ opinions as extremely important and seek them out whenever you can. Perfectionists often use social media to gain approval from others. Lots of likes on your blog must mean you’re acceptable and worthwhile.
9 – Give up easily
Like everyone else, perfectionists of set goals for themselves. But a perfectionist often gives up before they reach the goals. They either give up quickly or won’t stop trying until they almost kill themselves. This all-or-nothing attitude is common. They feel every difficulty taking it personally. Failure hangs over them, and they respond emotionally by simply giving up.
10 – Feel unhappy
In the end, most perfectionists are unhappy people. Their internal struggles are many. They beat themselves up, hating themselves for not measuring up to standards that are so high, no one could reach them. Their expectations of themselves are sky-high, yet they struggle with procrastination.
Perfectionists believe that being perfect is the goal, yet they fear trying to reach it since they worry they will fail. The pain of all the perfectionist twists makes causes unhappiness with yourself and your life.
What causes perfectionism–and how can you overcome it?
People who struggled with perfection probably had this attitude reinforced when they were young. They probably received acceptance based on their performance rather than for just being themselves. They may have been expected to be smart, athletic, or beautiful.
Perhaps their parents withheld acceptance if they didn’t reach these goals. If you didn’t understand the dysfunction of this type of thinking while growing up, you’d take your need to be perfect into your adulthood.
So that brings up this question.
How can you begin to break free of perfectionism?
1 – List the pros and cons of being a perfectionist
Ask yourself, does being a perfectionist make your life harder or easier? Are you having relationship problems because of it? Work problems? Eating disorders or substance abuse?
2 – Try to lower your expectations
If possible, try to lower your expectations about stuff. Find ways to free yourself from the tyranny of doing things perfectly. Give yourself some slack, knowing you won’t change overnight.
3 – Step back from your attitudes
If you catch yourself drifting into perfectionist behavior or thoughts, step back and take note. What was it that caused you to slip back into perfectionism? Keep a journal about these times. Figure out your triggers and, if possible, avoid them or at least be ready for this trigger.
4 – Talk about your struggles
Find a trusted pastor, friend, or family member to talk to about your struggle with perfectionism. Ask them for accountability and help.
5 – Don’t hate criticism
Try to remember that criticism helps you grow and improve. See it as helpful, not hurtful. It may take time to start really believing it, but you can learn not to hate it over time.
Perfectionism is valued in our society, but that’s probably because it gets mixed up with doing a job with excellence. But perfectionist people have an extreme need for approval and success to feel worthwhile. It’s a slippery slope for those who suffer from it. They constantly compare themselves with others and never feel like they can reach the perfection they want. Of course, perfection isn’t a possible reality, and once you realize this, it can help you let go.
If you struggle with being a perfectionist and feel like your life is getting out of control, be sure to find someone to talk to about your struggles. Whether it’s a counselor or pastor, they can help you break free from the quest for perfection to find true happiness.