Bill Abbate

Do you ever struggle with perfectionism or perfectionistic tendencies? You are not alone.

Some sources claim that 30%, or nearly one in three people, are perfectionists. When it comes to the gifted, the number is even higher, with 87% of them being a perfectionist! And these numbers say nothing about how many of us have perfectionistic tendencies.

With such a large percentage of the population struggling with perfectionism, let’s look at its different kinds and what you can do about them.

What is perfectionism

From where do perfectionistic tendencies come? Perfectionism is often the result of internal pressures from the fear of disapproval from others. It usually comes from self-defeating thoughts that push us to attempt to do the impossible — achieving perfection.

The definition of perfectionism in the Oxford Languages dictionary is:

perfectionism (noun) — refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

For most of us flawed and imperfect human beings, there is little good in perfectionism. Before looking at ways to tame the perfectionist in our personality, let’s dig a little further into understanding its types and forms.

Two types of perfectionism

Two types of perfectionism are commonly recognized — adaptive and maladaptive.

  • Adaptive perfectionists tend to be more optimistic, seek excellence in their work, and desire to improve. While adaptive perfectionism is considered healthier than maladaptive perfectionism, it is not ideal and still has issues.
  • Maladaptive perfectionists lean toward setting unrealistic goals. They spend excessive time trying to make something perfect and usually give up. As a rule, they do not handle criticism well, are often stressed and anxious, fear making mistakes, and apply unrealistic standards to others’ work. Because of these traits, they find it difficult to delegate.

Which of the two types do you identify with most?

Three forms of perfectionism

Research by P.L. Hewitt and G.L. Flett shows at least three forms of perfectionism — Self-Oriented, Other-Oriented, and Socially-Prescribed.

  • Self-Oriented perfectionism is about holding yourself to high standards of perfection.
  • Other-Oriented perfectionism is about holding those around you and others to high standards of perfection.
  • Socially-Prescribed perfectionism is about trying to fit into other people’s expectations of high standards of perfection.

Which of the three forms do you identify with most?

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Confucius (551–479 BC)

Signs of perfectionism

If you have more than a couple of the following signs of perfectionism, you lean toward being a perfectionist. It will behoove you to control these tendencies, as they can detrimentally affect your work and life.

  • Your standards are incredibly high, setting exceedingly high targets that cause significant stress.
  • You are extremely hard on yourself when something goes wrong, whether it is your fault or not.
  • You fear failure because of your unrealistic expectations of achieving perfection.
  • You are often unhappy, self-critical, and have low self-esteem.
  • You procrastinate because you worry about not doing something perfectly, making you wait until the last minute to start.
  • You become defensive when confronted with honest or constructive criticism.
  • You are highly critical when you spot a mistake. You find mistakes easily, even when others do not, whether real or imagined.
  • It is all or nothing to you, with no middle ground between complete success and failure.
  • You spend excessive time trying to perfect something, sacrificing personal time and sleep, possibly affecting your health.
  • Mistakes are not allowed. When you find an error, you stop everything in an attempt to fix it.
  • Things must be done in a particular way to satisfy you; otherwise, it’s a no-go.
  • You get depressed in some way when you miss a target or goal.
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” Michael Law (1962-present)

There are many free assessments online. I find the online evaluation at Psychology Today to be very handy. Click here for the link to take the fee test.

Dangers of perfectionism

Since absolute perfection is absolutely impossible, attempting perfection can result in many issues at work, home, and life. Some of the adverse outcomes created by perfectionism include:

  • Poor job or academic performance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Procrastination
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Strained and fewer relationships
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Conflict
  • Depression
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Toxic comparisons
  • All-or-nothing thinking
  • Avoiding challenges
  • Lack of creativity
  • Lack of drive
  • Unrealistic/unreasonable expectations of yourself and others

Which of these has affected your life?

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen (1934–2016)

What can you do about perfectionism?

The first thing you can do about perfectionism is to come to terms with the fact that you are not and will never be perfect. Nothing on the face of this planet is perfect, so how could any human being be perfect?

From what I can find, there has only been one perfect being in all of humanity, and he was the Son of God! No one before or since has been perfect.

Knowing these truths, why would anyone attempt to hold themselves to an impossible to maintain standard? Yet some of us try anyway!

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Harriet B. Braiker (1948-present)

Perfection exists only in fairy tales. You live in the land of reality, so can you accept you are not perfect and cannot do everything perfectly? To be truly mature is to accept responsibility for your imperfect self.

Since most perfectionism outside of a legitimate medical condition is behavioral-based, find a good therapist or coach to help if it affects your work or personal life. If there is a physiological/psychological/medical reason for it, please seek the appropriate medical help.

From first-hand experience, the easiest way to overcome perfectionism is to:

  • Accept you are not and never will be perfect
  • Be kind and forgiving to yourself
  • Give yourself permission to fail and make mistakes
  • See mistakes and failure as opportunities to learn, not the end of the world
  • Realize failing does not make you a failure; it makes you human
  • Do what you have time to do or what you can, then release it/let it go/hit the send button
  • Realize no reasonable person expects you or anyone else to be perfect
  • Cast your fear aside and press on to the next task
  • Slow down, and open your eyes, ears, and heart. Allow yourself to breathe slowly and deeply. Relax.
  • Watch this video and heed its message. It may make you laugh, but the message is serious!
“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali (1904–1989)

The best way to deal with perfectionism is to take the above suggestions to heart and experiment. Start small, try to complete one thing, and let it go. once you achieve one victory, move to the next. The more effort you put forth to conquer perfectionism, the more peace you will find. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn you can live with being less than perfect. After all, do you really have a choice?

To further strengthen your progress, find someone you trust to work with on overcoming perfectionism. You will each benefit as a result.

Final thoughts

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do something perfectly?

Does the world end? Does your life end? Will everyone humiliate you? Will everyone laugh at you? No, no, no, and NO!

There you go! You are only “horribilizing” the outcome. STOP IT (please see the video)! The outcome may not be perfect, but it is highly doubtful it will be horrible!

Before attempting to do anything perfectly in life, work on yourself first. I challenge you to permit yourself to be imperfect, enjoy your life, and live free from perfectionism!

“Perfectionism is a delusion that can rob one of a very succe

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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