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Can perfectionism help or hurt you?

Can perfectionism help or hurt you? Let’s explore this question by looking at the definitions, advantages and disadvantages of this very complex trait.

Words associated with perfectionism include: flawless, faultless, extreme, obsessive, supreme, excellence, ideal standard, extremely high standards, and doing something well. At first glance, perfectionism should be a virtue, but there’s a lot of pain and frustration associated with it. Depending on how you use it, it can help you excel, or it can immobilize you.

Perfectionism is a result of what we learned in childhood. Social pressure, personal pressure, unrealistic expectations, impossible role models, and a competitive, workaholic society all contribute to perfectionism.

Advantages of perfectionism include:

  • You’ll have an excellent reputation for producing quality results. People won’t be afraid to count on you to do a good job.
  • You’ll pay attention to detail and be well prepared for any project or event.
  • You’ll likely be rewarded at school with good grades or at work with promotions or higher pay.
  • You’ll be motivated to get things done and will appear to others as a responsible person.
  • You’ll have the satisfaction of doing your best. You can to take pride in your accomplishments.

Disadvantages of perfectionism include:

  • You may take too long to do things, since you’ll be trying so hard to make everything perfect. You’ll tend to focus as much on things that don’t matter as you do on the important stuff.  These delays can cause conflict at work or for those who are depending on you to get something done.
  • You’ll set standards for yourself and others that are impossible to meet. This will create undue stress on everyone involved.
  • You’ll likely have trouble delegating work to others and try to do everything yourself. This will put a huge burden on your time and productivity.
  • You’ll tend to maximize your failures. You’ll constantly regret your mistakes. Phrases such as could have, should have, and would have will be part of your everyday vernacular. You may abandon projects when you face difficulties.
  • You may have trouble making decisions because you fear experiencing a negative outcome. Avoiding decisions is another factor that may result in unfinished projects.
  • You won’t savor the successes for very long. You’ll immediately look for the next project.
  • You may become an all-or-nothing thinker, not bothering with things that you can’t do perfectly or taking credit for things that were done well, but not perfect. You could be reluctant to try new things, fearing failure.
  • You’ll needlessly compare yourself to others and may obsess over what they’re thinking about you.
  • You might put goals over health. You may not engage in the type of self-care that promotes wellness.
  • You may suffer physical of emotional problems. Perfectionism can cause eating disorders or stress related physical symptoms, like headaches.
  • You’ll frequently have strong negative feelings and states of mind. You may experience frustration, chronic worrying, guilt, unprovoked crying, depression, exhaustion, writers block, and test anxiety.

Can you relate to any of these? Have I left anything out?

Some interesting tidbits about perfectionism:

  • Perfectionists are often disappointed in the quality of other people’s work. In a team setting, they don’t want the failings of others to reflect badly on them. They also hate to see the imperfections in others because it reminds them of their own imperfections.
  • Perfectionism often have control issues. They feel that their lives are not under control. Being “perfect” is a way to get a positive, expected outcome.
  • Perfectionism can cut down on the amount of friendships that you have. They may not leave enough time for friends or drive others away with their unrealistic expectations.
  • Perfectionists are not always high achievers. Working slowly, not finishing projects, and fearing rejection and change are common issues that can get in the way of success.
  • Perfectionists may have low self-esteem. They may use their accomplishments to seek the approval of others.
  • Perfectionists are often first-born or only children, though not always. Parents tend to be by-the-book caregivers to their first child. They’re apt to be highly attentive, strict with rules, and neurotic about the minutiae. This may cause the child to become a perfectionist, always striving to please the parents and others.
  • Perfectionists often have Type A personalities. They are very driven, competitive, people who always want to be the best.

Can you relate to any of these? I can, especially being a first-born and having a type A personality! Perfectionism has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Awareness of the negative aspects of perfectionism has helped me to use it to my advantage and not to my detriment.

Can perfectionism help or hurt you? I’m interested in your experiences or any thoughts or comments that you have.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Njora

    Hallo Cliff. Thank you for sharing the information on Perfectionism. I also believe that one advantage of being a perfectionist is that it wards off pride because one knows that they are never as good as they would want to believe. I also believe that with anything, there is a good and a bad side. The key is maximizing on the advantages and minimizing the disadvantages. Thank you.

    1. Cliff Harwin

      Hi Elizabeth,

      There is a good and bad side to everything. The key is to utilize the best part of being a perfectionist. I need to constantly remind myself of that!

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