Hidden Losses

Perfectionism Can Create Environment of Loss

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Consider how much you lose by being a perfectionist. Then, think about what you would be doing with your time and energy if you were not focused on trying to make everything in your life be top of the line, above what is expected from others and without mistake. Whew! Perfectionism can act as a ball and chain that isolates you in life, robs you of enjoyment and can interfere with your ability to get close to someone you love.

Take this quiz to determine whether you've been effected by a drive to be perfect.
1. I often put off projects or contacting people because I want everything to go just right in the conversation, and I'm unsure of how it will turn out.
2. I think I must put at least 100 percent into everything I do or I will be mediocre and a failure.
3. Average is not good enough for me.
4. I often feel that whatever I do it is not quite good enough.
5. I often get overwhelmed because I have too much to do.
6. I don't trust anyone else in a project because they won't meet my standards.
7. I have so many "shoulds" in my life that I rarely enjoy myself or pay attention to my wants.
8. I'm a martyr.
9. I'm afraid if others saw I was less than perfect, they would reject me or disapprove.
10. If I make a mistake, I am a failure. There is something wrong with me.
11. I miss some opportunities for advancement and opportunities for intimacy in relationships because I am afraid to take a risk unless I think I can control the outcome.
12. I feel inadequate.
13. It seems as if no one else puts as much into completing projects as I do.
14. I react negatively to suggestions related to me or my work because I take it as criticism of me as a person.
15. If someone is unhappy with what I produce, they are unhappy with me.
16. I often burn out.
17. What would you add to the list?

You'd experience new freedom if you let go of your need to be perfect all the time. Take a moment and jot down five losses you have experienced as a result of being a perfectionist.

Would you like to enhance your life? Here's some steps to change your outlook.

1. Look at where the perfectionism started, and how it began to effect you. For example, it may have started in childhood. Sometimes parents put too much pressure on striving to be the bes because they think that will make their child's life easier in the future. Other times perfectionism grows when a child feels like he is living in a fishbowl, with eyes of others in the community upon him. For example, children of preachers, therapists, politicians and others who have a public persona are often cautioned about how their behavior effects the perceptions of others upon their parents. If you grew up in an alcoholic home or a home where a parent was not emotionally available, you probably spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out the right moves to keep the peace, or keep everyone happy. Though you really had no control over your troubled parent, that childhood illusion often sets up a pattern in life, where you think you have to painstakingly analzye and work toward controlling outcomes. Of course you could never have been perfect in achieving that goal because a troubled home is very unpredictable, and you can't control what other people do, anyway. Yet, children are not able to screen out or even understand intent. They often perceive that their job is to please parents and other authority figures. Sensitive kids also just put on an unusual amount of pressure upon themselves. Learning where the drive to be perfect began, then start to work in a healthy way on disconnecting from the loss it contributed to your life. Body Sense devotes a chapter Owning Your Hidden Losses that may be especially helpful. It also contains specific information on identifying how those old core feelings can continue to sabotage your life today.

2. If you are a perfectionist, you probably spend a fair amount of time feeling not good enough. That's one of the core feelings discussed extensively in Body Sense. Unfortunately, when you can not be perfect at everything that message may be triggered and you could be overwhelmed with a belief that's not really true. However, if that sits deep inside think about what you have lost. If you grow up believing you are not good enough, can you see how you would be attracted to relationships where your partner reinforced that message? Or, a relationship where yuou kept trying to prove yourself by chosing a partner that you have to keep trying to fix. Not likely to happen.

3. Identify other core feelings and messages that have influenced your life. Perfectonists have reported feeling alone in the world, worthless, hopeless, less than and an urgency to keep trying harder. (For hands-on techniques to attack the impact of these messages and stop their interference, reach Chapters 3-8 in Body Sense.)

4. Identify the physical and behavioral changes that occur when you are getting lost in perfectionism. For example, you might have a racing heartbeat, begin eating more or not eat at all, increase the amount of multi-tasking you do, feel overwhelmed, change your sleeping habits and more. Write down your own changes and check them once a week until you are able to reduce your perfectionism stress.

5. The next project you start, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Can I set different standards for completion or success, based on the project? Do I need to give this project 100% of my energy, or could I give it 80%, in order to leave more time for myself.
  • Am I setting up unreasonable expectations for myself, or others?
  • What am I afraid of in not meeting my old standards of being perfect? What is the worst thing that could happen if that fear becomes a reality. (You'll often discover that the worst thing that happens as a result of you facing that fear, will actually be a God send.)
  • How important is this task compared to other projects or things that are going on in my life right now?
  • Am I getting into rigid, black and white thinking, or it is all-or-nothing thinking?
  • Am I spending too much time on the little things when I could meet my goals with less effort and less emotional drain?

If you've answered yes to any of these questions, you want to step back and consider the most crucial. How important is this (task, event, etc) to the rest of my life? That can put things into perspective very quickly. If you spend too much time at work and neglect your family, you may set yourself up to lose not only wonderful enriching years as a spouse or parent, but your perfectionism could ultimately lead to the loss of a marriage and broken relationships with your children. You also would be modeling how you want your children to approach relationships. So, step back and consider what is most important.
When you're near the end of your life and reflecting back, you'll probably recognize that a "perfectly" completed project for a company has been long forgotten, yet the moments you spent with your family continue to sustain you.

6. Finally, make a conscientious effort to let go and enjoy life!

Brenda Crawford-Clark, LMHC, LMFT, NCC
Author: Body Sense Balancing Your Weight and Emotions 
ęCopyright 2001 Brenda Crawford-Clark