My clients often identify with the description of perfectionist. And rarely do they see anything wrong with it. It is almost a personal value, like honesty. Or being on time. Always hoping to be their best, do their best…that’s what we should all be doing all the time, right? Many people attribute their good grades to their habit of striving for perfection. Some have even won awards that prove they are great when they set their mind to something. But what about the downsides?
Let’s explore how perfectionistic habits
can unintentionally add stress and conflict to your life.
While there isn’t anything wrong with setting goals and reaching them, perfectionism can seep into unintended areas of our day to day lives. For example, perfectionism can unfortunately contribute to conflict in relationships. How? Well, those that are always wanting to be their best are expecting that of themselves all the time. And usually are expecting that of their friends and family all the time too. And the perfectionist can forget that not everyone has signed on to these high expectations. Any time another person doesn’t meet our expectations we can be left with frustration.
At the very least we can feel unheard, unimportant, and lonely. If we are already struggling with excessive worry or low self esteem, our brains can take the experience and use it as proof that we aren’t important and our feelings aren’t valid. As you can guess, that is closely tied to our self esteem and our behavior in relationships.
Perfectionism gone wrong…
As an example, have you ever cleaned your apartment with your roommate? In your mind, cleaning meant going room by room with your supplies and methodically taking care of each thing in a room before going to the next? You like doing this with soft music on or maybe a podcast in your earbuds. But when your roommate talks about cleaning the apartment they picture all the windows open, loud music playing throughout and an approach that covers all the counters and all the floors first, rather than a room by room approach. In their experience, your strategy wasn’t necessary because the end result was clean enough for their standards. You both have the same end goal: a clean apartment. But their definition of clean is not the same as yours. And their plan is the opposite of your plan.
Next, you start arguing about this. The simple task of cleaning has resulted in a fight with your roommate. Over a shared goal. Hopefully, this is the point at which you realize that your plan isn’t the only acceptable one. Neither way is really the wrong way to clean. Then you might feel silly about being inflexible about something so unimportant. Or you may start to feel confused. If your intention started out so well meaning, but this situation is going wrong, what does that mean about you?!?!
Does that sound familiar? Perfectionists often get overly upset about small things. Sure, one of those cleaning strategies mentioned above may sound better or worse to you. But neither of them are actually wrong. If you were to slow down and take a moment, you might notice that this situation doesn’t have anything to do with your success or failure as a person. In other words, no one is giving out clean apartment awards (that I know of!).
How can we be more flexible about these things? We just want things the way we want them! That isn’t too much to ask, is it? Not exactly. It is important to remember that placing rightness above the quality of our relationships is a sign that our investment in perfectionism has gotten off course. People and their feelings are ultimately more important than routines, order, and expectations. Perfectionists often struggle with this.
Look, I know you mean well. Oftentimes sharing our ways of doing things is intended as a sign of love. The message we are trying to send is that we care. How about this? Consider that showing you care may come through in stepping back, allowing others to voice their needs and wishes, and every now and thing doing things a different way. Even when they seem wrong to you.
Never fear, perfectionistic friend.
This may sound very difficult. But there is hope. Contact me and we can work on finding flexibility in your day to day life. I provide online therapy in Tennessee to young adults with anxiety and panic attacks as well as related concerns such as perfectionism. In the end, others may feel more cared for and better yet, you may end up enjoying your own company more too!