Perfectionism – good thing or bad thing

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hitting a target

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Is your perfectionism out of control?

Perfectionism, that constant striving to do everything just right, has been connected with high accomplishment. Parents often believe the way to get the most out of their children is to push them for ever-increasing goals. Parents may feel their role is to point out their child’s failings to inspire them to do better.

People who aim for perfection set higher goals and may achieve grander things than those who have lower expectations. Does perfectionism really inspire more effort and accomplishment? Or does perfectionism have a dark side?

Perfectionism’s dark side.

Perfectionism has been linked to high worry, fear of failure, eating disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and an increased risk of suicide. Perfectionists can suffer unmercifully and they can make those around them miserable also.

Perfectionism, Learned, or Genetic?

In this conversation about perfectionism, I am talking about the learned variety. Anything which is learned can be unlearned. There are those whose perfectionist tendencies are a part of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. These disorders appear to have a physical or genetic basis in addition to any learned component. If you have OCD or OCPD medication and therapy may be helpful in managing your disorder so can other recovery methods.

Perfectionism has mixed results.

Why does this striving for perfection sometimes result in champions and other times in learned hopelessness and failure? The key lies in how the perfectionist was raised and in how they are raising themselves. What were the messages the perfectionist received in childhood from whatever source and how have they gone on to adopt those “need to be perfect” themes?

One way in which setting high standards goes wrong and results in unhealthy perfectionism is when caregivers set high standards but are at the same time disapproving of the child. If the parent’s approval of the child is contingent on success, the only way a child can get that parent’s love is to always be perfect and win at everything.

After receiving this message for a while the perfectionist internalizes the message “I am what I accomplish, if I don’t do everything perfectly I am no good.” Not only do they believe this message but they repeatedly retell themselves this story.

No matter how hard this child tries it is never enough, a little league championship should have been a World Series win and a gold medal should have been the most Gold Medals ever. The target keeps changing and the child internalizes this belief that they will never be good enough and that their self-worth is dependent on never making a mistake.

Homes that produce unhealthy perfectionists are high in control, the parent is in charge of most everything, but they are low in warmth and affection. To win is to be loved. To lose is to face rejection. Perfectionists go on to love or reject themselves based on their successes and failures.

Parental acceptance in children and presumably self-acceptance in adulthood appear to be the best antidotes to perfectionism, self-doubt, and excessive worry about mistakes.

If you didn’t get acceptance in childhood or didn’t get as much as you feel you need, begin today to accept yourself. Whatever you do is good enough. This is tough medicine for the perfectionist to swallow. Something about that constant struggle to be perfect reduces anxiety and seems protective at the time until the perfectionist fails at something.

If how you feel about yourself or how others feel about you is dependent not on effort but upon results you are in for a rough ride. Smooth out the road ahead by cutting yourself some slack.

Self-esteem for perfectionists fluctuates widely. When they achieve their goals they feel good about themselves and when they fall short they are overly negative and pessimistic. You should not base your self-esteem on what you win or lose. You are not a better person for being a perfectionist and may, in fact, be a pain to be around.

Parents who over control children and do not allow their child to develop a sense of self-control do not prevent the child from making mistakes. These parents prevent their children from learning how to make choices.

If that happened to you, stop making the same mistake with yourself and start accepting that most things in life do not need to be perfect. The time used to make one thing perfect is time taken away from other things you should do, like being present with your children and not passing the perfectionist disorder on to them.

If you are plagued by perfectionism and it has made you or those around you miserable are you ready to seek help for your perfectionism?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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4 thoughts on “Perfectionism – good thing or bad thing

  1. Pingback: List of Feelings Posts | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Warning – 6 reasons what you learned may not be true! | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: Why worry may not be a bad thing | counselorssoapbox

  4. Pingback: 5 things you need to ask yourself about mistakes to avoid making them again | counselorssoapbox

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