The to-do list never seems to end. You’re constantly on edge both at work and at home. You find yourself painstakingly obsessing over tiny flaws and mistakes while disregarding milestones and victories. You feel physically and emotionally exhausted, and you also feel dissatisfied and restless. Sound familiar?
You may be struggling with the nasty perils of perfectionism. In a fast-paced world that readily piles on excess demands, perfectionism can be challenging to detect. After all, you may be telling yourself that hard work and getting things exactly right are what get you ahead in life!
Unfortunately, perfectionism can cause far more harm than good. Let’s explore how perfectionism treatment can help you experience more overall balance and find greater peace within yourself.
While perfectionism isn’t a specific mental health condition, it does take on many characteristics of both anxiety and depression. It is a phenomenon that can undoubtedly impact your emotional well-being. Typically perfectionism manifests in one or two areas of your life. It could be self-oriented perfectionism, or having an unrealistic need to be perfect in looks or accomplishments. Other-oriented perfectionism, or the desire to impose standards of perfection on others. Or, socially-prescribed perfectionism, which is the belief that others are imposing unrealistic standards of perfection on you. Common symptoms of perfectionism include:
The pervasive feeling that you fail at everything you try
An inability to let go or relax in most situations
Wanting to control and manage most areas of your relationships
Obsessing over lists, rules, and procedures
A feeling you must look a certain way or have no physical flaws
Feeling completely detached and apathetic about your work (often a sign of perfectionism burnout)
Perfectionism doesn’t emerge overnight, and it isn’t a random trait. In fact, many people start exhibiting perfectionistic tendencies in their childhood years.
Perfectionism may result from parents having overly unrealistic expectations about your capabilities. Perhaps, whether consciously or not, your caretakers criticized or shamed behavior that didn’t fall within this set of expectations. Likewise, they may have only praised you when you succeeded at certain tasks, or were overly complimented for how you looked - thus reinforcing a false notion that your self-worth is determined by your external accomplishments or physical appearance.
Nobody likes the experience of failure. However, perfectionists often fear failure to the point of affecting their lives in detrimental ways. For example, you may avoid trying new things because you anticipate that you won’t be immediately successful. Or you may feel resentful or jealous toward people who you deem as more accomplished.
Perfectionism can feel like you’re running on a treadmill that doesn’t stop moving. You’re tired and spent, but you have to keep going. This pace, of course, is unsustainable. The more you keep running, the more you hate the run itself.
How Perfectionism Keeps You Feeling Trapped
Perfectionists can be very high-achieving. They often excel in school and the workplace, and on paper, they may appear to “have it all.”
Maybe you relate to this success story. Maybe you feel confident that you can conquer anything that enters your path. Maybe people continue to validate your hard work and accomplishments, and you’re the one causing envy in others.
With that in mind, it’s a misconception that success equates to happiness. A stellar resume, a perfect body, a beautifully decorated and well kept home are all wonderful, but they don’t necessarily correlate with higher self-esteem and self-worth.
Many perfectionists feel a pervasive sensation of being stuck. They believe they have to accomplish certain tasks or look a certain way to feel loved and worthy. The notion of taking a break or even taking it easy often seems foreign and foolish and triggers feelings of anxiety. Worse, when you don’t meet your own unreasonably high standards, you may find yourself in an endless cycle of disappointment, self-criticism and judgement.
As a result, the stakes often become higher. The more you achieve, the more pressure you feel to maintain the pace. The more milestones you reach, the more you want to keep climbing. It can be an exhausting and relentless pressure cooker.
How Perfectionism Treatment Can Help You
Identifying your struggles is the first step towards making positive, lasting changes in your life. Just like you have conquered many tasks in your life, you can also overcome your perfectionistic tendencies.
Therapy can help you understand the root of your perfectionism. Sometimes, this entails diving into parts of your past to explore the early messages you received about success and worthiness. While this work may feel uncomfortable, it can be necessary for increasing your self-awareness.
Therapy also helps you learn how to tolerate distress and accept more of a middle ground, balanced approach to life. Dismantling perfectionism requires that you learn how to embrace the fundamental notion of being good enough is enough.
Working through perfectionism takes time (which can be challenging for a perfectionist to accept). In therapy, you will learn new coping skills for managing your emotions. You will also learn how to find and harness intrinsic self-worth - that isn’t reliant on how you look, or what you do or do not achieve.
Do you feel like you could benefit from perfectionism treatment? Let's talk about how we can work together to get you back to living a balanced and fulfilling life.