Perfectionism itself isn't necessarily a
problem--there are many instances in which a perfectionist
attitude can be desirable. If I owned a factory, I would be
glad to have perfectionists working for me, for I would know that
the quality of the product that we produced would be very high,
indeed. The perfectionist rarely will bounce checks, for the
checking account always will be balanced. The perfectionist
in research won't let any possibility go unchecked, won't let any
doubt go untested. In many cases, the perfectionist has an
advantage over the person who is content to allow mediocrity to be
Perfectionism often becomes a weight around our necks, though,
a burden that hurts us and the people we live and work with.
When perfectionism becomes an obsession, or when a person expects
everyone else to live up to his or her perfectionist ideals, then
we have major problems--problems that hurt many people and that
dim the lights of the lives of many people who must deal with the
Unfortunately, when perfectionism gets out of hand, it has
strong effects in two ways: first, on the perfectionist him
or her self, and second, on the people who have to deal with the
perfectionist on a regular basis. Perfectionists can be so
critical of their own efforts that they're critical of themselves
before they even start. I've known students who had this
problem so bad that they wouldn't even start papers and would end
up failing them when they didn't turn them in.
ran thusly: It's not going to be good enough, so why even
bother? They often expect their first drafts to be perfect
"A" papers, even though most writing teachers stress the
revision process that requires at least three drafts. When
those first drafts don't get the high grades, they consider
themselves to be "bad writers."
who feel that everything they do has to be perfect are out of
touch with two great truths in life: first, nothing's
perfect, and second, almost nothing needs to be perfect. The
first one's obvious, but the second one takes more thought.
When we painted our living room, we got some blue on the white
trim, and we got some white on the blue walls. It's not
noticeable, though, unless you look very closely, and in the three
years since we painted, not one person has even noticed the
"flaws." No one cares. It's that simple, and
it's that way for most of the things we do. Some people take
hours perfecting something when it would have been perfectly
acceptable with much less work. We could have spent a few
more hours painting our walls to make them perfect, but the
trade-off of our time for "perfection" wouldn't have
been worth it.
perfectionists affect others, though, things tend to get
ugly. They become micromanagers, trying to control every
facet of every process in order to make sure there are no errors,
no mistakes. Everything has to be explainable and
quantifiable, and everyone is held to the same standards, no
matter what their job. I even have a book called How to
Live with a Perfectionist, a title that illustrates the
difficulties involved when "normal" people have to deal
with abnormal expectations. This can be especially harmful
for children, who always have unattainable expectations to live up
to, and who can grow up with low frustration tolerance,
unrealistic expectations of others, and many other problems that
will harm them when they try to make and keep friends.
Perfectionist take the light out of the brightest situations, and
they take the satisfaction out of the tasks that we do because we
love to do them. When standards get too high for normal,
everyday situations, our normal everyday lives become trials
rather than joys.
As Naomi Remen
says below, perfectionism is "curable." It's not
something that we have to resign ourselves to as a permanent part
of our lives. But we have to recognize it and deal with it
effectively if we want to make our lives--and the lives of those
who have to live and work with us--brighter and less stressful.
When we get caught in the myth of perfectionism, we see our
as glaring and horrible reminders that we are not as we should be,
that we have failed and are indeed ourselves failures. This point of
doesn't leave much room for humility, forgiveness, love, acceptance,
In short, this view is pretty self-destructive. Our
imperfections are not the problem;
our attitude toward them is. This
negative attitude toward the reality of imperfection
is fertile ground for
self-hate and negativism toward others.
Anne Wilson Schaef
people behind the words
Two - Year Three
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The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.
pursuit of perfection has become a major addiction of our
perfection is learned. No one is
born a perfectionist, which is why it is possible
recover. I am a recovering perfectionist. Before I
began recovering, I
experienced that I and everyone else was
always falling short, that who
we were and what we did was never
quite good enough. I sat in judgment on
Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken. . . .
Few perfectionists can tell the difference between
love and approval. Perfectionism
is so widespread in this
culture that we actually have had to invent another word
love. "Unconditional love," we say. Yet, all
love is unconditional.
Anything else is just approval.
does it mean to be "perfect"? Would we recognize it?
to the near-perfect performances of star athletes and entertainers every
Yet they miss shots on the court, putts on the green, and high notes on
despite working hard to perfect their chosen skills.
Being human precludes the possibility of being
perfect. But how often
do we get mad or ashamed of ourselves for making a mistake? Errors
unforgiven multiply. That's because the shame we harbor over our
imperfections affects our attitude. The more we think we should be
the greater our chances of failure.
idea of perfection frightens me. We're almost afraid to do anything
because we can't do it perfectly. Maslow says there are marvelous
that we all should be experiencing, like creating a pot in ceramics or
painting a picture
and putting it over here and saying, "That's an extension of
me." There's another
existentialist theory that says, "I must be because I have done
something. I have
created something--therefore, I am." Yet we don't want to do
this because we're
afraid it isn't going to be good, it isn't going to be approved of.
If you feel like
smearing ink on a wall, you do it! It's you, and that's where you
are at this moment,
and be proud of it. Say, "That came out of me, it's my
creation, I did it,
and it is good." But we're afraid because we want things to be
We want our children to be perfect.
I've yet to meet an absolute perfectionist whose life was
filled with inner peace.
The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with
Whenever we are attached to having something a certain way, better than it
already is, we are, almost by definition, engaged in a losing
battle. Rather than
being content and grateful for what we have, we are focused on what's
something and our need to fix it. When we are zeroed in on what's
it implies that we are dissatisfied, discontent.
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|Reaching for the stars, perfectionists
may end up clutching air. They suffer
from mood disorders, troubled relationships, and stress.
They may even achieve less than others.
pursuit of excellence, the genuine pleasure of meeting high standards,
is often confused with perfectionism. Perfectionism is based on a
the illusion of personal perfectibility, people measured entirely by
accomplishment. Perfectionists lose sight of the quality of life in
their search for
quantity. Order ends up taking precedence over relationships.
are more important than acceptance and love. They can see only
imperfect, so they are unable to enjoy any activity or person that would
them in between. Perfect performance becomes confused with perfect
are never satisfied. They never really feel safe or loved.
Recognize perfection as an illusion, not a desirable way to live.
it with excellence. Enjoy your successes, laugh at your failures and
them. Relax, become less competitive and critical. Enjoy life
instead of controlling it.
Perfectionism has its roots in the desire... and need... to be
Perfectionists have been trained to approach
everything they do in
ways that will impress the people they care
about. They want to
impress them so much so that those
people will want to take them
to themselves and never let them go.
Rather than being taught to
accept themselves, they were trained
to make themselves SO
socially acceptable to others that that is
their only focus.
Understanding the difference
between healthy striving and perfectionism
is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research
shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path
to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.
The Gifts of Imperfection
culture has a serious mental health problem:
perfectionism. The belief in the illusion of perfectibility.
A perfectionist's inability to accept human frailty and error
causes serious emotional problems.
Adult perfectionism has its roots in unrealistic parental demands
and conditional love. You will be loved only if you perform.
Parents who are never satisfied with their children's
accomplishments raise children who are never satisfied with
The issue is not high standards, which we all would support.
The issue is a pattern destructive to health and relationships.
Perfectionists can change. See if you can identify the
critical voice in your head. Try to be less
competitive. Stop keeping score.
Try not to pass it along to others, especially your
children. You may find that if you allow others more
consideration, you may also be able to give some to yourself.
success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong,
because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move
forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind
perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the
to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and
more productive person.
David M. Burns
told me of a recent visit to her sister, a daughter of the same mother.
"We were sitting together in the kitchen drinking tea and talking,
happened to look in her living room. She has one of those carpets
shows every footprint. It had been vacuumed so perfectly that every
fiber was pointing in the same direction. At one time, this would
given me a deep sense of satisfaction. Now it just looked sad and
untouched by life." She began to chuckle softly.
"There is so much more
to life than a perfectly clean kitchen floor, Rachel," she told me.
Rachel Naomi Remen
My Grandfather's Blessings