Have you ever thought of yourself as a perfectionist? According Paul Hewitt, a Psychologist from Vancouver, BC, there are three kinds of perfectionists (CNN, 2000):
· Self-oriented perfectionists, who believe they must be perfect.
· Other-oriented perfectionists, who want others to be flawless.
· Socially prescribed perfectionists, who feel they must be perfect because someone might be watching.
Hewitt and Flett (1993) explain that self-oriented “perfectionists tend to equate self-worth with performance, any interruptions in meeting the standards may be interpreted as a failure with implications for the self-concept” (p. 62).
From my experience, since many people equate worth with performance they tell themselves one of two things: “I must perform to a certain standard to have worth and value” or “I must be liked and have approval to have self worth.” So, as a result, the perfectionist keeps on working and meeting everyone else’s needs until he or she is bitter and resentful or just burned out and tired. “The emotional distress that is experienced by the perfectionist may be magnified by distorted thinking, ruminations with perfectionist themes, and active processing of information about the ideal self” (Hewitt & Flett, 1993, p. 62).
To “recover” from perfectionism, first you need to recognize there is a problem! I know it sounds like a 12 step-program…but seriously, many people don’t think their perfectionist ways are a problem or they don’t think they are perfectionists. So, let me stop and give you a list of some “symptoms”:
· thinks it is all or nothing (I’m all in or won’t even try if I can’t do it right)
· sets unrealistic goals
· breaks promises
· forgets about past success
· lives by “I should or must”
· worries about losing control
Do you identify with any of these symptoms?
If you said yes to any of these, keep reading…
Now, that you are ready to say, “Hi! My name is_______and I’m a perfectionist” we can move on to the next step, which is acknowledging the cause. Usually there are one of two roots, a fear of failure or a fear of rejection. To try to reduce the fear, there is desire to stay in control. The problem is that the more you try to control the more tied up you get. Instead, you need to develop an accurate picture of God’s love and acceptance of yourself and develop a relationship with him. Romans 5:1 & 2 says, since by faith we’ve been made right in God’s eyes, we should have peace with God because of Christ’s work on the cross. Our faith in Christ has brought us into a place where we can stand confidently and look forward joyfully to sharing God’s glory. We should now find our self worth in a quiet acceptance of ourselves in Christ. Acts 17:25 says, Christ gives life and breath to everything, and He will satisfy all of our needs.
So, now that you know the cause, take the next step and challenge those beliefs! Once you are able to recognize your perfectionist thoughts, you can move to refusing them. When you hear yourself start to say, “I should…” say “NO! Stop it!” ( Click here to learn more about stopping) Then, take a deep breath, relax, and start telling yourself the truth. Look at the chart below. It gives you a great example of pursuing excellence vs. perfectionism. You can use the excellence side as the truth you want to live by!
CNN. (2000). What price perfection? Study aims to find out. Retrieved July 1, 2010 from http://www.cnn.com/TECH/science/9901/21/t_t/perfectionists/.
Hewitt, P. L. & Flett, G. L. (1993). Dimensions of perfectionism, daily stress, and depression: A test of the specific vulnerability hypothesis. Journal of abnormal psychology, 102(1), 58-65.