By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained, The Mental Wellness Center
We often view perfectionism as a positive personality trait. After all, if you hire someone to paint your home, do your taxes, provide a surgical procedure, or numerous other tasks, you want them to do it right—to get it perfect! But perfectionism—which is described as a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable—also has a dark side.
According to Psychology Today, “Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. When healthy, it can be self-motivating and drive you to overcome adversity and achieve success. When unhealthy, it can be a fast and enduring track to unhappiness. What makes extreme perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, resulting in a negative orientation. They don’t believe in unconditional love, expecting others’ affection and approval to be dependent on a flawless performance.”
So, when is perfectionism unhealthy? Let’s look at where perfectionism is showing up in your life and what it looks like. Following are the common symptoms of extreme perfectionism:
- You have difficulty not being THE BEST.
- If you can’t do it perfectly, then you don’t or won’t do it at all. In children, this is often the reason that they won’t even try to tackle a new or difficult problem.
- You will sacrifice your own well-being to make something perfect.
- You are highly critical of your own mistakes—even unimportant mistakes such as a recipe that didn’t turn out the right way.
- You frequently obsess about past mistakes.
- People describe you as a “people pleaser.”
- You struggle to emotionally connect with people.
- You need to be in control.
- You frequently have all or nothing thinking.
- You typically have unrealistic standards.
- You have a significant fear of failure.
- You engage in procrastination.
- You live with low self-esteem.
For many people, these symptoms have just become a normal part of life. However, you should not settle for anything less than a life that is extraordinary! There’s no reason why you should be stuck living with perfectionism for the rest of your life. Which is why I am focused on healing perfectionism. Following are some tips and tools to begin the journey for healing perfectionism.
- Identify the fear: One of the driving forces for perfection for many people is oftentimes fear. Often the fear is not being good enough, having done something wrong, or fear of stepping out of line somehow. It’s important to recognize that our minds run on a belief system that is designed to keep us safe which is not always consistent with keeping us happy.
- Change Your Internal Chatter: If you are working on healing your perfectionism, you need to make sure that your internal chatter supports that. What does your internal chatter sound like? Is it supportive? Does it encourage you? Is it cheering you on? Or is it destructive? Is it tearing you down? As we are working on healing perfectionism, we always talk about changing your internal chatter. I often talk with my clients about how to change your internal chatter and how to challenge that internal chatter.
- Self-Love: When working to heal perfectionism, I typically add a component of self-love. I believe it’s one of the foundational pieces that are crucial to address healing perfectionism. When you have a foundation of love, it colors everything just a bit differently. When you are operating from a place of self-love you begin operating from a place of compassion. It shapes everything you think, say, or do and every interaction you have.
It is possible to heal perfectionism and I am working with people to achieve this every day.
For help with any mental wellness issue, contact the Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail at info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. They have therapists on staff who specialize in children, adolescent, and adult issues. Their office is located at 205 N. Williamsburg Drive, Suite D, Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to — or achieve possibly for the first time ever — a state of complete mental wellness.