Lifting off the Burden of Perfectionism

"They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds."

If you asked a perfectionist why they are constantly striving for perfection, they would probably respond with one of the following:

  • Perfectionism helps me keep improving.
  • Perfectionism prevents failure, as it forces me to always excel.
  • Perfectionism makes me happy as I meet the high standard I set for myself.
  • Perfectionism is a remedy for potential mistakes.

What is Perfection?

The truth is perfectionism is not only useless; it causes immense mental and functional damage. Perfectionism is an illusion, a philosophic fraudulent fata morgana. It promises you guaranteed success, yet often it haunts you with misery. In real life, a closer look at any item with a powerful magnifying glass will inevitably reveal flaws. Think about it: is your skin perfectly smooth? Is your hair perfectly trimmed? Is everything perfect with your job or your relationship? Let’s acknowledge the truth, perfectionism is an illusion.

Picture this...

Picture yourself standing in front of two doors: one that is a fancy fantastic entrance gateway with the sign “Perfect” posted on it, and the other a simple, shabby door with a sign reading “Normal”. For many, and perhaps to you as well, the “Perfect” door would be much more appealing. Now picture this: when opening the “Perfect” door, a thunderous voice announces: ”Entry allowed only to perfect people”. As a proud perfectionist, you walk right in. As soon as you step in though the door, an impenetrable wall with jagged rocks is blocking the way. Any attempt to climb up the wall and get to the summit will result with wounded hands, sore muscles, ending with failure, hopelessness and despair. What is the other option? Those who choose to walk through the “Normal” door will walk into vast green meadows, the likes of which you have never seen before, being too busy trying to make it to perfection. Choosing to walk through the door of normalcy will usually lead to two main insights. First, the realization that one does not turn into a mediocre by abandoning perfectionism. Performance is still meeting high standards, if not excellence. Second, despite the expectation that life without perfectionism is dull, in reality, a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and gratification will soar, without the self-beating associated with perfectionism. Not only that, the more one is able to center themselves on reasonable expectations, avoiding the slippery slope of perfectionism, the more satisfaction will intensify.

From Perfectionism to Green Meadows

Proposing to a perfectionist to consider replacing their perfect suit with a plain, “Normal” T-shirt can initially sound frightening, as it jeopardizes their perception of self-worth. But with deeper understanding of perfectionism – its cognitive roots and the damage it inflicts on perfectionist people – you will see things more clearly:

  • Perfectionism causes paralysis.
  • It doesn’t prevent failures, rather it prevents success.
  • It doesn’t make you happy, rather constantly worried and restless.
  • It is not a vaccine against errors and mistakes, rather an illusion which blocks productive action and leads to procrastination.

Perfectionism and Cognitive Therapy

Perfectionists hold to a self-defeating core belief, which can be phrased as: “The only way to live joyful happy life is by being a perfect human being, and a perfect performer”. In the perfectionist’s mind, there is a linkage between their execution level and their well-being. That is a cognitive distortion that can be treated and changed. The most precious assets we have are our mistakes and imperfections. We must not relinquish our ability to make mistakes and be wrong. Progress stems from errors. Had we been perfect, we would have never experienced the satisfaction of overcoming difficulties, neither would we learn new things. Had we been perfect, we would have already known everything and lack all sense of curiosity. If you are impacted by perfectionism and need help lifting the heavy burden off your shoulders, call to get help and start benefiting from the joy of normalcy.


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