We often receive the message that perfectionism is strength, an indication of strong character, and something we should all aspire to. These messages are misguided at best, often downright delusional. In truth, perfectionism can be debilitating. Perfectionism is often a significant contributing factor to the development of disorders such as social anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and personality disorders. Listed below are five reasons why perfectionism can be your worst enemy.
There’s no such thing as perfect. Perfect doesn’t actually exist. So when you set out to attain something unattainable, guess what? You’re going to fail. And then you will be disappointed. You will be disappointed in yourself and disappointed in everyone else who failed to live up to your outlandish expectations. You end up disheartened, frustrated, and feeling as though you have nothing good, and no one, good enough for you. Now that is depressing.
Perfectionism leads to low-esteem. Perfectionists focus on what’s wrong, they don’t see what’s right. Or they may even say that right is wrong, or up is down, or good is bad. Whatever, you get the gist. It’s all black and white thinking. Which means that if things aren’t good, then they have to be bad. And this includes the way they perceive themselves. Perfectionists don’t seem to understand that we are all multi-faceted and flawed and wonderful and complicated…and far from perfect. And that’s what makes us unique, lovable, and most importantly, able to love ourselvesJ
Perfectionism keeps you from growing. C.S. Lewis said “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” I think C.S. was on to something here. Perfectionists can’t tolerate failures, mistakes, rebuffs, or any of the very experiences that are vital to our growth and development. In fact, perfectionists often find ways to avoid these experiences, which only makes things worse in the long run. Especially when they begin to realize that while they were busy hiding, all the imperfect people of the world were making mistakes, falling down, picking themselves up, and living life. Let’s face it, life is full of disappointments, rejections, and otherwise unfavorable circumstances... there’s no way around it. So get used to itJ
Perfectionism sucks the joy out of life. Perfectionists have a hard time enjoying the natural eb and flow of life, which makes it such an enchanting journey to begin with. It’s difficult to really enjoy life when all you see is flaws and feel compelled to change them. It seems perfectionists are missing the boat here. Life is about the challenges we face, the relationships that turn our worlds upside down, and the very human experiences that reveal our vulnerabilities….this is where we find true joy and connection.
Perfectionism blocks creativity. This one is the most insidious of them all. Perfectionism has a way of destroying our ability to think creatively. In this case, perfectionism takes the form of the relentless inner critic, tearing apart ideas before they come to fruition, hijacking our thought processes, and robbing us of the very capacities that could otherwise lead to greatness. Exaggeration? I don’t think so. Creativity is responsible for our successes in business, science, education, art, literature, theater, dance….everything that moves us and in turn, inspires us to move others.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in. “
- Leonard Cohen