When we talk about perfectionism, it is crucial to distinguish between perfectionists & high achievers. High achievers are people who are hardworking and successful and put effort into doing and completing tasks. A perfectionist is an individual who refuses to accept any standard short of their idea of perfection — the significant difference between the two being the motivation behind the actions and thought process.
The problem with perfectionism is that perfectionists tend to stress more and achieve less than conventional high achievers. A perfectionist makes difficult tasks even more challenging because "perfection" is elusive and ever-changing, always just out of reach. Brene Brown reminds us that "perfection is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth."
Often, we use perfectionism to convince ourselves that we have value and purpose in the world, particularly when we have a hard time believing in our inherent worth. Our internal narrative tells us that if we can be, do, or act good enough, then we can earn love and be valuable to others. Perfectionism then focuses on the perceived acceptance of others, rather than reaching personal goals and success for ourselves.
By focusing on being "perfect," we can be distracted from the pain of our shame. Perfectionism puts up a wall of protection from those negative feelings. Unfortunately, it also creates a barrier from the things we need most for life satisfaction: genuine authenticity in relationships & connection. Think about the people you admire and perceive as "having it all together." Are they people you know intimately? Or, are they just people you observe with awe and maybe even a bit of envy? Reflect on the people you do know most intimately. Do they seem to have it all together? Chances are they are not in that group because perfection is an illusion. It can only be pulled off from a distance.
When we focus our energy and efforts on pursuing perfection, we are burdened and overwhelmed. Our achievements do not determine our worth. Our authentic vulnerability & connection with others is worth more than the admiration we may seek as a perfectionist. So if you spend time working to curate the perfect image hoping to be envied and admired by others, remember there is power and relief in letting go of that attempt to control people's perception and focusing on authenticity.
If you're struggling to let go of perfectionism, seek help. Sharp Wellness can help you not only change your thoughts about yourself and the world you live in, but, we can help you build mental strength to create and live your best life. Contact us now.
Kristin Benton, MA LPC