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Perfectionism Poison

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Children and pets rush through the kitchen spreading mud in their wake. Mom just laughs at their youthful enthusiasm. She pulls out the wonder mop and in no time her kitchen looks perfect.

Children and pets rush through the kitchen spreading mud in their wake. Mom just laughs at their youthful enthusiasm. She pulls out the wonder mop and in no time her kitchen looks perfect.

Despite their hectic schedules, jobs, and families, TV parents make perfect living look easy. As people try to live up to these impeccable images, perfectionism is driving them up the wall. Being constantly reminded that they don't cut it, in more ways than they can count, far too many people reach for anti-depressants or try to cope using some other crutch.

What is Perfectionism?

Webster's defines perfectionism as "a disposition, which regards anything short of perfect as unacceptable." In 2004, York University psychology professor Gordon Flett and a team of researchers developed a 45-item questionnaire to identify the three types of perfectionists: self-oriented perfectionists, who expect themselves to be perfect; other-oriented perfectionists, who demand that others be perfect; and socially prescribed perfectionists, who think others expect perfection from them.

There is quite a difference between aiming for a successful life and trying to achieve perfection. Contrary to popular belief, perfection is not required to succeed. In fact, the perfectionism trap has serious negative consequences, particularly for the perfectionist. According to Flett, perfectionists often have health problems because of the constant stress they put upon themselves. Perfectionists have unrealistically high standards and judge themselves or
others as always falling short.

The perfectionist believes that without perfection, success and love will be elusive. The biggest cost of this is the failure to live in alignment with one's authentic self. Instead of cultivating existing positive qualities, the perfectionist is busy fixingeverything that's seemingly imperfect. Driven to live up to the perfect ideal, many become pretentious, self-promoting, and critical human beings. Focusing on achieving goals makes it difficult to enjoy the journey of getting there. As a result, the irreplaceable experience of being present in each moment is lost.

Stuck in the Starting Gate

Every day, some people focus less on attaining a goal and more on the journey, yet they succeed. Perfectionists, on the other hand, operate on the assumption that unless they can give 100 percent to a task, they won't even start. As a result, they become occupied with trivial details and put off tasks until they can make an all-out effort. This turns them into procrastinators with endless to-do lists and dreams on hold.

In relationships, perfectionists don't do that well either. Single perfectionists keep on dating without making a choice, thinking someone more perfect will be around the corner. Those in committed relationships tend to focus on their partner's imperfections and, consequently, create a frustrating and critical atmosphere.

The entire perfectionist-trap becomes a vicious cycle. The more one attempts to be perfect, the more anxiety develops. This anxiety, coupled with feelings of inadequacy, makes the perfectionist concentrate even more on what is wrong and what was not accomplished.

Less Than Perfect Will Do

The great torment, of course, is that nothing perfect exists. Consequently, perfectionists suffer from social and personal anxiety and strained relationships. To accept and nurture themselves, they must overcome perfectionism and

  • Use mistakes as opportunities for growth
  • Set goals in line with their capabilities
  • Accept themselves as humans with flaws
  • Give less than 100 percent and still experience success
  • Enjoy the journey instead of focusing on the goal
  • Recognize that anxiety arises because of unrealistic goals
  • Understand that more gets done if perfection isn't necessary
  • Give up the irrational belief that relationships must be perfect
  • Stop second-guessing themselves
  • Be compassionate with themselves and others

While doing one's best is admirable, more often than not, doing a good job is enough. Life rewards the passion and spirit we bring to the table as genuine human beings and not the unflappable and impeccable images the television portrays.

Negative Aspects of Perfectionists

  • Valuing people based on their achievements
  • Believing that doing their best doesn't cut it
  • Taking mistakes personally and hesitating to try again
  • Being vulnerable to rejection
  • Setting impossibly high goals
  • Being critical of others and themselves
  • Expecting perfection of others
  • Fearing realationship failure and having difficulties being intimate
  • Not pursuing a relationship for fear of it not being perfect
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