The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Inadequacy. Striving. Shame. Worth. Measurement. Anxiety. Criticism. Comparison.

I am betting you do not want to read that string of words again…yikes! I notice sensations in my body just as I read those words. There is a sinking feeling in my stomach and heaviness on my shoulders. Unfortunately most of us are all too familiar with those words and their heavy meanings. Most often they are a result, or variable in the equation of perfectionism.

According to Merriam-Webster, perfectionism is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” Unacceptable. Let that sink in. A perfectionist is someone who lives by this disposition and holds himself (and sometimes others) to this impossible standard. We (yes, I include myself in this) will not accept anything less than perfect. We do not place this standard on others or ourselves because we enjoy being critical or mean or controlling, but because we often feel it is the necessary thing or the expected thing to do. It is a philosophy that resides deep within us, sometimes so much so that we don’t even recognize it. Much to our dissatisfaction though, nothing in our life is perfect. So what are we left with? We are left with a constant state of dissatisfaction and striving. It is exhausting!

The antidote to perfectionism is a change in our philosophy about how we define success, and more importantly, how we define our intrinsic worth as human beings.  It is possible that many of us may have grown up in churches or religious communities that emphasized the “fallen condition and sinfulness of humanity”.   While it is true all humans have their own set of strengths and shortcomings, it is equally and maybe more profoundly true that humans are Divinely inspired and uniquely created. Our desire for perfection and harmonious relationships resides deep within us.  Our desires and strivings are not intrinsically bad and often times they come from a good place. However, we sometimes get confused and use our desires and goals as the measuring sticks for our worth, which leads to shame and dissatisfaction…and the cycle continues.

Acceptable. Content. Worthy. Valuable. Satisfied. Peace. Hope.

There is hope. We can learn to break the cycles of perfectionism by developing new ways of seeing ourselves and defining success differently. It is so important that we cultivate safe relationships that welcome vulnerability. When we are honest with each other about our shortcomings and our fear of failure, then we are leaving no room for shame to take hold. This work is not easy and many times a therapeutic environment is a recommended safe haven for perfectionists, strivers, and fellow strugglers. It is a place where discovery and new learning can begin.

Written by: Taylor Garcia M.A., LPC-Intern

Under the Supervision of Julie Summers M.A., LPC-S

One thought on “The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

  1. Great blog! I’ve fought with perfectionism since the birth of my son 26 years ago. Started with cleaning obsessively and moved quickly to folding clothes and towels a certain way. All tasks had to be performed in a timely manner. Age hates if this, it became way too much for me to handle and I wasn’t connecting with my son nearly enough. I had an epiphany when talking to my aunt while we were cross stitching together and I messed up and felt the need to start the project over from scratch. My aunt told me how Native American people would purposely add mistakes into tapestries because they believed that only God/gods were perfect. That one phrase changed my life. I was able to look at life with a different perspective through forcing myself to work and add mistakes on purpose. Life has been much easier.

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