Do you struggle with perfectionism? The following video will help! (With what? Help you be healthier, help you be more successful in love, help you be…well, watch the video! But don’t subscribe to my channel – I’ve abandoned it.)
Enjoy and share it. The transcript follows.
Quick quiz for you. Number one. When your spouse or kid leaves clothes in the middle of the floor, you, A – ignore the mess; B – gleefully kick them around, trying to make the shirt land on top of the lampshade; C – politely ask the perpetrator to pick up the clothes and put them where they belong sometime before next year; or D – pick them yourself and put them neatly away, wondering why everybody always has to be so sloppy and why nobody respects the hard work you do keeping the place clean.
Number two. At work, A – you do your best and hope that you’re boss will be happy; B – you get along well with your co-workers and on team efforts you never try to take over other people’s assigned tasks; C – when someone makes a mistake that affects your department you just shrug and hope for a better day tomorrow; D – you do twice as much work as anybody else because you’re always having to make up for your co-workers’ slacking off or errors.
Number three. When life interferes with a goal that is important to you, you, A – sigh and resign yourself to moving on; B – revise your goal to fit the new situation; C – challenge yourself with a completely new goal; or D – throw a fit for two days, then do everything within your power to try to make the interference go away.
If you answer “D” to all three questions, you are a perfectionist. How do I know? Been there, done that. I would have a T-shirt, but I couldn’t find one in the exact size and color I wanted. You laugh, but perfectionism is as much a disease as alcoholism. Its ultimate end is to kill and destroy. As a matter of fact, there are several known medical conditions which are really not diseases in and of themselves, but which all have their origin in a single cause: the need to be perfect.
Anorexia. Bulemia. OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Depression. Orthorexia.
This last one might be a new one to some of you, for good reason. It’s a term that’s only been around for a few years. Orthorexia is the obsession with being healthy.
Hi, I’m Emily, and I am a recovering anorexic and a not-so-recovering orthorexic. I have also struggled with mild depression most of my adult life.
But enough about me. This is about all of us: you, me, our friends, family, and neighbors. Because perfectionists are not only slowly damaging their own lives, they are also inflicting pain in the lives of others. The reason is that by definition, a perfectionist can never be happy. And you know the old saying, misery loves company. If nothing is good enough for me, nothing better be good enough for you, either. Life isn’t fair unless you are as stressed out as I am.
How does this attitude affect the life of the perfectionist? First of all, unless you live in a cave in the Himalayas you know that chronic stress will lead to disease and reduced longevity. Perfectionists are constantly under stress. They hold themselves to high expectations, and they hold other people to these same high expectations. I’m not talking about the healthy kind of challenging high expectation, like striving to be a kinder person every day. Nor am I talking about being meticulous and working for excellence in everything you do.
I’m talking about unrealistic expectations. Your husband should be as romantic and lovey-dovey as he was the day he asked you to marry him, even if he’s had the worst day ever at work and your eldest child has just screamed that he has the meanest dad on the planet. If your husband can’t do that, you married the wrong man.
Your boss should agree with every change you suggest, and every single one of your co-workers should not only like you, but bend over backwards to help you when necessary. If your job isn’t like that, then you need to find a new job, maybe even switch careers.
When you socialize, there should always be an abundance of healthy foods, according to your particular definition of “healthy.” If not, you’re better have staying at home alone and missing out on building relationships.
Can you agree with me that these kinds of attitudes produce a lot of stress? No one can thrive, either physically or emotionally, for very long when they are under that much stress all. The. Time.
I remember the most fun times I ever had during my single life were hanging out with the single group from the church organization I used to attend. They were also often the most stressful times, because I always had to bring something different to eat. If it was a processed food, I wouldn’t put it to my lips – even if it were only once a month. But setting myself apart from my friends wasn’t the worst of it. I was constantly judging them for eating unhealthy food.
How many of you out there think that being a judge in a courtroom, or even part of a jury, is a low-stress situation?
Perfectionism leads to judgmentalism, which increases stress, which eventually leads to higher rates of illness and disease.
But this judging mentality doesn’t just afflict perfectionists. It afflicts everyone around them. Who wants to hang out with somebody who is always pressuring you to do or be more than you want or are even able to? Experts say that the number one reason for divorce revolves around family finances. Maybe being married to a perfectionist comes in at a close second. A husband who smacks his wife when the house isn’t perfectly tidy. A wife who constantly nags at her husband over every little housecleaning infraction – socks on the floor, dirty underwear on a chair, tracks of mud through the kitchen. Sure, the old vows have us promise to stick with each other “for better or for worse.” But when the “worse” never seems to be coming to an end, most people won’t put up with it.
If you have children, you may be setting them up for failure in life. Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute. How would you feel about yourself if you were constantly being henpecked and micromanaged, as if you didn’t have a brain in your head?
Maybe, just maybe, you were treated the same way as a child, and that’s why as an adult, nothing is ever good enough.
I once read a quote from a mother who had lost her young son to leukemia. “He was a very active child, and so spent a lot of time in the time-out chair. If I had known he wasn’t going to be with us for very long, I would have sat with him during his time-outs.”
Perfectionists tend to miss the forest for the trees, and end up taking loved ones for granted.
Are you a single perfectionist? Don’t think you get off scott-free. Chances are good that your co-workers shrink away from you whenever you come near, because every time you enter a room you fill it with negative vibes. You’re the one everybody wishes would quit and move on to another job.
“But I never say anything!”
You don’t have to. People can sense when they’re being judged, especially when they’re being judged as having fallen short.
Perfectionist employers have a hard time holding onto good employees. Perfectionist friends have a hard time holding onto good friends. Sometimes, it’s because the friends get to a point of feeling that their relationship is toxic, and so they drop it. Many times, perfectionists find themselves with fewer and fewer friends because no one can measure up to their standards…and they don’t want anyone in their lives who isn’t trying to work up to their standards.
Singles who are perfectionists – ask yourself this question: “Could it be that I have not found my soulmate because of my utterly unrealistic expectations?”
Can everyone agree with me now that perfectionism is a dangerous thing? It destroys both health and relationships – possibly even careers.
Now all you perfectionists out there are getting angry at and kicking yourselves for having done everything wrong. “I’m such an idiot! I can’t do anything right!”
Whoa. Hold on. Wrong response.
Take a deep breath, then look in the mirror and force a smile at yourself. Say, “Sure I’ve screwed up, because nobody’s perfect. But I’m going to try to get better.”
This first part of my talk has been hard to chew and even harder to swallow. But I wouldn’t be so cruel as to leave you in the depths of despair. I am going to give you the cure for perfectionism. Ready?
Yes, it’s that simple. Choose to be happy. Counselors often ask the question of argumentative spouses, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be at peace in your home?” My question to you is, “Would you rather be perfect, or be happy?”
The answer should be obvious. Perfection is an impossible goal, while happiness is well within everyone’s reach.
Sometimes, you can have your cake and eat it to, but not this time. These two states – perfectionism and happiness – are mutually exclusive. When you are in perfectionist mode, you cannot be happy. Stressed out people are, by definition, miserable.
But let’s face it: many perfectionists have no idea what it takes to be happy. Let me break it down into three simple steps for you. They are: be aware, be accepting, and be loving.
Let’s look at the first step: be aware. I’m talking about two kinds of awareness here. First, you need to be aware in every situation and circumstance that you have a choice in how you’re going to perceive it. Your spouse hung the toilet paper on the dispenser the air-quote wrong way. You can choose to believe they did this to get on your nerves because of the not-very-nice thing you said last night, or your can choose to believe that they genuinely forgot that you have a preference about how the toilet paper hangs.
Second, most people who label themselves as perfectionists aren’t holding everyone to extremely high standards all the time. Witness the woman who overeats and could care less about anybody’s diet, least of all hers, but will not tolerate one thing on her desk or in her kitchen cupboards being out of place – nor will she tolerate other people’s untidiness. We all have different areas where our perfectionism blooms in all its fullness.
That’s the second thing to be aware of: what situations throw you into perfectionist behavior, or what areas of life do you desire most to control? If you’re like me and you must be in control of your health to the largest extent possible, you’re going to have a hard time being happy around other people who don’t place any importance about healthy lifestyle habits. What to do when you’re invited to a party where you know only hot dogs, chips, cake and booze are going to be served? And if you don’t go, you will hurt a friend’s feelings or damage your good standing with your boss.
When you become aware of your particular perfectionist triggers, you can prepare yourself mentally ahead of time. In this party example, you could give yourself a pep talk about how you won’t die or even get sick eating a few chips and having some club soda just this once, and that sometimes it’s more important to build relationships than to eat the perfect diet.
And then when you get there, keep reminding yourself that you’re there to have a good time, not to play Health Food Guru.
So first step to happiness: be aware.
Second step, be accepting. There is a fine line between settling and accepting. Settling is giving up on a realistic goal that you more or less have control over attaining, while accepting is recognizing the things that are out of your control and reconciling yourself with the need to practice flexibility and patience because of them.
You may be familiar of The Serenity Prayer, made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Perfectionists have trouble accepting anything but whatever they view as their ultimate ideal. And since they never find it, they have trouble accepting, period. They have trouble accepting uncertainty. They have trouble accepting unplanned changes. They have trouble accepting other people’s flaws. And, of course, they have trouble accepting their own flaws.
All of this makes them angry, frustrated, and depressed.
Accepting the things you cannot change will bring you a lot closer to happiness than wasting time and energy trying to control and manipulate.
Be aware. Be accepting. The third step is to be loving.
Now, calm down. Don’t get your hackles up. I am not saying that you are not loving now. I am saying that, if you are indeed a perfectionist, you need to be more loving.
If you are judging others, you are not loving. If you are demanding more than people can give, you are not loving.
When I am at my strongest perfectionist mood, I am the most worthless person on earth. I have no value, and wish I’d never been born.
I have no love for myself.
You may know what I’m talking about. If so, then ask yourself this: if you can’t make the effort to love yourself, how can you possibly have any energy to love other people?
Perfectionists have convinced themselves that to show love, or at least what they might call “too much” love, is the same as giving license to people to do and be less than their best. And you know what? They’re right! When you accept and love people where they are, despite their flaws, they no longer feel a pressure to perform, and they might just make choices that are actually well below standards that are well within their reach.
But – listen up, perfectionist – that’s their choice. You have no control over how people choose to live. You only have control over how YOU choose to live.
So, what is your choice? To love and experience true happiness? Or to continue to hold the world to impossible standards and have happiness forever elude you?
Trade your need to criticize and judge for a need to love.
Perfectionism kills. It gives the illusion of control, but ultimately leads to compromised health, broken dreams, and a loss of relationships.
Be happy, not perfect. Be aware, be accepting, be loving. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your stress levels plummet and how much more fulfilling and enriching life becomes.