Are you a Perfectionist???
Category : Mental Health and Addictions
6 Signs You’re a Perfectionist (and How to Lighten Up)
By Everyday Health Guest Contributor
Published Oct 1, 2014
By Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, Special to Everyday Health
My name is Elizabeth, and I am a recovering perfectionist.
From striving for As in school to making dramatic efforts to be thin, I always pushed myself to be better, relentlessly seeking perfection. My perfectionism helped me achieve some significant things — academic awards, degrees, honors — that furthered my career. Because perfectionism is often rewarded in our society, I thought that if I were perfect, if I achieved all my goals, I would be happy.
But to the perfectionist, nothing is ever enough. The sought-for happiness never arrives because we’re so focused on what we haven’t accomplished, what we should have done. I constantly judged myself as not being good enough, and beat myself up for my failings. Because my sense of self-worth was conditional, my self-confidence was as well. I feared failure, and I feared how others saw me.
My strict demands on myself even carried over to my expectations of others. After all, we often treat others the way we treat ourselves. For a perfectionist, that entails judgment and disappointment when people don’t meet the standards we set for them — whether we let on about these standards or not.
I’d been striving for pride in my accomplishments, confidence in my abilities, and strong, loving relationships with those around me. Instead, I had sleepless nights, overwhelming stress, and unnecessary tears, tension, and trials for me and those I love. Ironically, my dedication to perfection made me unable to be the person I truly wanted to be.
As a clinical psychologist, I have come to realize many people suffer from perfectionist tendencies without knowing it. Though they strive to succeed, their perfectionism instead hinders their success, often leading to depression, stress, insomnia, strained relationships, health problems, and work concerns.
Take the Perfectionist ‘Test’
Pushing for perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. The good news is that we can ditch the perfectionism and still achieve what we set out to accomplish. We can become better than perfect.
Are you a perfectionist? Below are six signs of perfectionism — and what you can do about it if you see yourself in this list:
1. You think (and act) in all-or-nothing terms. You ate one cookie, blowing your diet — so you might as well eat the whole package! Since you can’t meditate for 30 minutes, you don’t meditate at all. If you’re not skinny, then you’re fat. If you’re not beautiful, then you’re ugly. All. Or. Nothing.
What to do: Acknowledge that the world doesn’t work in terms of black and white. Try to get comfortable with shades of gray.
2. You have strict “rules” about how you and others should act. Do any of these statements resonate for you?
“I should be more successful.”
“I should be in better shape.”
“She should call me more.”
“I cooked dinner; he should do the dishes.”
Such statements create the opposite effect of what we want, and can leave us feeling guilty, ashamed, disappointed, or angry.
What to do: Focus on appreciation rather than judgment. Consider that there might be positive motivations behind people’s actions.
3. You hate feedback. You view constructive remarks as an attack on your core worth, invoking intense shame. Even a simple comment like “You might have tried X…” translates in your mind to “You are worthless.”
What to do: Stop personalizing feedback and use it to your advantage. If you had a big black thing stuck on your tooth, wouldn’t you want to know so you could get rid of it? We’re all works in progress. Give yourself a break.
4. You beat yourself up. Now, how about your feedback about yourself? Everyone has an inner critic, but yours is as strong as Ms. Universe. You find fault in almost everything you do, berating yourself for what you “should” have said or done, what you should or should not be.
What to do: Self-criticism derives from fear. Focus instead on passion: Concentrate on what you want to create in your life and what you feel grateful for right now. When we focus on the positive, we find there are more positives to see.
5. You define yourself by your accomplishments, which you rate with increasingly higher standards. You constantly judge yourself by how much you have achieved rather than by how much you have strived, and you’re rarely satisfied with either. You think, “I’ll feel good about myself when I ….” Once you achieve that goal, you raise the bar, determining that it’s actually the next goal that will finally satisfy you.
What to do: Recognize that conditional self-worth is ultimately counterproductive. Instead, try to embrace your soul-worth. No matter what you do or say, whatever you look like or however much you accomplish, you are an amazing person because you are you. Stop focusing on what you aren’t and instead cultivate your values and strengths: what you are. With this comes unconditional love for yourself.
6. You have “no time” for you. You prioritize other people’s needs above yours. You tell yourself you will sleep, meditate, relax, have fun, etc., only after you finish all your other responsibilities — when you have time. But you never find that time.
What to do: In short: Put your oxygen mask on first. Schedule daily time for yourself — even if that’s just five minutes of meditation or a warm bath. When you address your own needs, you’ll be in a better position to address all the things you value.
It takes some effort, and lots of patience, but if you work toward freeing yourself from perfectionism, you can become happier and more energized to create the life you want. Ditch the perfectionism: Be better than perfect.
Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who helps people before they need a “shrink” couch. She’s appeared on Today, The Dr. Oz Show, and CNN. Her newest book is Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love (Seal Press, October 2014).