Anyone who has ever dealt with (or currently facing) perfectionism knows the mind games it tends to play. The idea of a thing being perfect can be a daily challenge. From seeking order in the arrangement of objects like glassware to spending hours in the mirror fixing one piece of hair, a perfectionist's behavior can be very intrusive; impacting relationships, work life, and even self-esteem. Perfectionism is a type of rumination that can leave an individual stuck in the past and worried about the future. It’s a cyclical way of thinking, producing loops, that never lead to a finish line.
Perfectionism. Perfectionism itself is the act of striving towards an ideal objective that's not fully obtainable. Ism denotes a practice, system, or philosophy. What many dealing with perfectionism don’t realize is that it is a mindset and practice. Meaning, it doesn’t just pertain to external occurrences or objects. It's not based on events but on how one thinks. So, the issue with arranging kitchenware has little to do with the kitchenware, but much to do with how the mind perceives it. How we perceive things is oftentimes, how we experience them (and this is not one of those “it’s all in your mind rants”, either). What a person is experiencing is real to them, but it is also a matter of thought processing. Understanding this assists in getting off of the hamster wheel.
It helps to know what perfect actually means. To be perfect is to be whole and complete. There is no ism in perfect because perfect itself is completion. The struggle is really rooted in the root causes of “perfectionism”.
Causes. Perfectionism is oftentimes a coping mechanism for a strict environment or a tool of safety in a condemning space. It's essentially a thought process that has been practiced overtime.
For example, parents who set high or unobtainable standards for their children can plant the seed of perfectionism. One could even find themselves trying to please (or prove themselves to) an absent parent. The same is true for parents who may only acknowledge “flaws” or reward for “accomplishments”. Children (and adults) thrive in spaces where they are accepted and loved just as they are. Reward systems, although they may seem healthy, can actually send the message: I am only loved when I perform “well”. This creates a performance mindset which can lead to perfectionism.
Another cause can be a competitive personality. When one is constantly seeking to “win” they position themselves for inner-criticism. Acceptance is also a root cause behind the need to be “perfect”; those who may have been ostracized or bullied tend to become people-pleasers that aim to please the very individuals who have rejected them.
Confronting Perfectionism. Confronting perfectionism requires a shift in our perspective. To do so, we must revisit the definition of perfect (without the ism). Remember, it means to be whole and complete. People tend to connect what they do or how well they perform with who they are. Would we devalue a baby who stumbles while learning how to walk? The child’s value doesn’t change.
If you find yourself obsessing over a thought or event, take a step back and look at the situation in its completion. Relax without seeking to “fix” or alter it. Just take it in, breathe it out, and then leave it there. If the urge to alter arises, allot three minutes without responding. Pay attention to relaxing and what is or is not occurring as the result of this pause. Begin to increase the minutes as you progress forward.
Another skill is to find where that keen focus is useful. How can you apply your knack for organizing, making straight lines, or finding “errors”? Could it be in editing a friend’s independent book, designing a website, or overhauling closets and wardrobes?
The skill you have of precision can be utilized in a variety of ways. It’s just not very helpful when it comes to the inner being. We are designed intricately (both physically and non-physically). To be a perfectionist is to say we (or those who may expect it of us) actually know what perfect is. The more you dig within, the more you realize how whole and complete you already are.
Consider the definition and potential causes of perfectionism.
Note which resonate with you and other events that may arise.
Reread the ways to confront perfectionism and begin to practice them in thought and in response. Be sure to note the thoughts and emotions that surface.
In addition, ask: what does wholeness and completion look like within and in my life.
Then, make it a practice to say the following at least once per day: I am whole. I am complete.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.