Ever had a friend say ‘Urgh, you’re such a perfectionist’, because you took too long fixing your hair?
‘Perfectionist’, when used as a playful insult, makes me so mad! I know, it’s only a word, but actual perfectionism ruins the lives of those who live with it. You want to know the worst part… Most people living with it don’t even know!
In this post, I’m going to walk you through:
- what perfectionism actually is…
- how it affects those who live with it…
- where it came from, and…
- the first step to loosening its grip.
You’ll be well versed in spotting perfectionism in both others and in yourself.
What people think perfectionism is…
People think it’s this cutesy, harmless quirk some people have. One that makes them micromanage everything around them. It has to be the right shade of yellow, the right font, FFS these are two identical throw rugs, kind of thing. The only downside they can imagine is a grumpy face if you ask them to hurry up.
What perfectionism actually is…
REAL perfectionism is a default thought pattern an individual has. One that makes them want to do everything the ‘right’ way all the time. Often, ‘right’ is completely unachievable due to the high standards a perfectionist has. Yet this fact isn’t recognised by the perfectionistic individual.
You’re locked in this never-ending battle with yourself. It sucks.
Ninja perfectionist, yo!
Perfectionism is a master of stealth. Most don’t realise the extent of their own struggles.
This default pattern of thinking is so deep, the patterns go unnoticed. The individual is often confused about why the negative consequences are there.
What are the effects of perfectionism?
Perfectionism can manifest in many ways. Here are some of the common ones:
Not starting things until you know you can finish the task with a very high standard. (And how often does that happen?)
Poor time management
A common theme amongst perfectionists is underestimating how long a task takes.
High levels of frustration
This can be one of the first tip-offs, though not in my case. You know when you’re feeling the need to stamp your feet because nothing’s going right? That’s the time to pay attention to the real source of frustration.
This level of unattainable perfection is likely to cause anxiety and depression. Not only that but it can take it’s a toll on your body too. Prolonged stress can have very real, tiring and painful effects on our bodies.
Woe betide anyone who interrupts when you’re focused on doing the best damn job you can. They’ll likely unleash a side to you that even the Hulk would be proud of!
What perfectionism isn’t…
People assume perfectionism is the same as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a common misconception. It isn’t.
Here’s the thing though, if you’re showing signs of perfectionism that makes you more likely to go on to develop OCD later on. Which is all the more reason to get your perfectionism under control ASAP!
A perfectionist isn’t just someone committed to just doing a good job.
The difference? People with perfectionism experience a negative impact on their lives, as described above. Plus, they are unable to identify when enough is enough.
Let’s look at the difference in someone who’s simply detail-oriented. They know when they’ve spent enough time on one thing. Detail-focused individuals are realistic about whether someone will perceive their work as flawed. They can also walk away even when something isn’t to their liking.
It’s all about perception…
Perfectionists have the illusion that everyone views their work as they do. They believe that others spot the glaring mistakes that they can. Let me tell you, this is not true!
Let’s take the messy bun as my case study. I love the messy bun, big jumper casual look. I’d see moms dropping their kids off with their messy bun and I wanted that! But I could never achieve it. Why? Because of my perfectionism. Any loop, bump or kink in my hair left me thinking people would be staring at me. That they’d be wondering if I’d been dragged through a hedge. The result was a tight bun that pulled my hair so tight I gave myself a facelift!
As I was processing my perfectionism and coming out the other side I realised something. I was being wholly unreasonable. Instead, I forced myself to look at other people’s hair with the same criticism as I would mine. I imagined what thoughts would go through my head if that messy bun was on my head. To my disbelief, these women were rocking their messy hair! The same hair that would make my perfectionism cringe. AND THEY WERE HAPPY ABOUT IT!!
I took myself home, threw up my hair and, with the help of a few YouTube tutorials to polish, I made a messy bun. You know what? I couldn’t pick fault with it! Actually, I wouldn’t because I had lowered the unattainable bar simply by opening my eyes.
You can too.
Who is prone to developing perfectionism?
Perfectionism can be something that is seeded into us from outside. People raised with a perfectionist parent are often taught ridiculously high standards. Because they are always trying to meet their parent’s ridiculously high standards.
Those with parents who have a competitive edge and put pressure on a child to perform. Sports, education, popularity or anything where being top of the game is an advantage. Second place is not good enough for them. Second place feels bad to us. “Only the best is good enough” and our best is often not up to scratch. We are in pursuit of a phantom.
You may also like: How to boost your child’s positivity without feeling awkward.
Creative people can swing towards perfectionism. Again, it is the discrepancy between the lens through which we view our work and the one others do. Or it could look like creative freelancers driven by the need to please the client at all costs to earn a living.
People with neurodiverse conditions can be prone too. In many ND people, there is a tendency to hyperfocus. In this state, details can steal all our attention, even to the detriment of everything else. Then there’s the fact that ND people struggle to meet the standards of the neurotypical peeps. Which means by default we are perpetually working harder to meet ‘normal’ by default. This can kickstart the anxiety and need to please cycle which can lead to perfectionism. Most of us dream of a day where the ND standard is good enough for everyone.
Finally, the pressure to lead lives that are Pinterest or Instagram worthy. social media shoulders a huge responsibility for increasing perfectionism. The problem lies in the fact that all social media is skillfully curated. Often to create an illusion of perfection in the hopes you will buy whatever they’re selling. “You too can taste this lifestyle” is the promise. Perfect skin, perfect home, perfect kids. ‘Look I burnt my eggs’ never sells and so it never gets seen.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel…
The upside of perfectionism is that it’s a thought process. That and it’s only perpetuated by your inability to recognise it. Your brain has made a pathway which your thoughts go down as default. Want to know the amazing thing about brains? They build new pathways and cover up those that are no longer used.
This means that with conscious effort, you can pick up on how it feels when your perfectionism kicks in. Then, you can lead your brain down a different route. Like a kid riding a bike with stabilisers, enough practice and your brain will be doing it on its own in no time!
The very first step to take is identifying frustration/anxiety/hyperfocus. When you do, take a moment to ask your body how it feels.
I have my journey with perfectionism but I want to hear it from you… How has perfectionism crept into your life? Can you identify what triggered it? How do you feel when your perfectionism creeps in and how far along the healing path are you?
Remember, there might be someone out there who needs to hear your story. <3