Joycy, one of my close friends built a very beautiful house spending several crores of rupees. He was abroad for several years and returned to India with enormous wealth. His plan was to complete the new house with superior architectural and aesthetic perfection. He imported costly materials for the construction. The imported granite and tiles he used were very beautiful and gave a superb royal look. After furnishing the house elegantly he arranged a house warming ceremony. He invited his friends,digniaries and relatives for the ostentatious function.
Everybody was astonished to see a majestic palace and appreciated him for having built such a royal house. His friends and family were rejoicing during the occasion. But Joycy was neither happy nor satisfied. He was really worried about a faded tile in the corner of a room. That was not matching with the colour of other tiles in the room. ‘If that tile was of the same colour everything would have been perfect’; he thought. His mind was brooding over this mismatch and he could not join the merriment. He was unable to feel satisfied or proud of the overall beauty and majestic look of his house, because his focus was on the minor short fall which was indeed noticed by none.
Joycy is a typical perfectionist, who can’t tolerate even a minor flaw, shortfall or mistake. Such people cannot be happy in life, cannot be satisfied even with greatest achievements. They will find some imperfection in everything without understanding that perfection is a myth and is unattainable. A perfectionist criticizes himself and others. Moreover, he wastes a lot of time and effort for making everything perfect and finally becomes frustrated, when perfection to his own degree, is not achieved. He doesn’t realize that perfection is a mirage which cannot be reached. Ryan Holiday, the American author and editor of ‘New York Observer’ has aptly warned; ‘Perfectionism rarely begets perfection or satisfaction, only disappointment’.
Types of perfectionism
Researchers report that perfectionism is increasing at alarming levels among people all over the world. They identified three key types of perfectionism.
- Self -oriented perfectionism
In this, one sets unrealistically high gaols and standards for himself and become frustrated when it is not achieved. He is not at all satisfied with himself and thinks unreasonably that he is inferior to others
- Other-oriented perfectionism
One expects very high standards from others. This unrealistic expectations can cause severe dissatisfaction for both partners and may cause serious relationship issues. Imagine how horrible is to work with a perfectionist boss who criticizes you all the time for not rising up to his unrealistic expectations.
- Societal perfectionism
One simply perceives that society expects him to maintain a certain high standard and accordingly he aggressively tries to rise up to a very high position in the society. He is unhappy about any position in the society, which is short of his irrational desire and unreasonable expectations.
All the three types of perfectionism are evidenced to be increasing and causing damages to our abilities to live happily with others.
Hidden Perils of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a personality trait that shows a strong tendency to set very high performance standards that cannot be met at all or can be met with very great efforts and difficulty. A perfectionist attempts to achieve unrealistic goals, failure of which leads to depression or despair. He habitually believes that anything short of perfection is horrible and catastrophic.
A perfectionist constantly criticizes himself for not achieving his goals even after spending a lot of time and effort. It really makes him scary to make mistakes. So perfectionism can make one feel depressed frustrated, anxious or even angry. He may even think that he is not competent as others and this negative way of thinking may result in lower self-esteem and even inferiority complex.
Studies have shown that craving for perfection may make one feel stressed and anxious. A perfectionist may have a phobia of making mistakes or of being imperfect. If you wait for perfect conditions, you may not begin a work which is important and crucial. As Paul Graham, the famous author and computer scientist, pointed out; ‘Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination’. Ecclesiastes (11:4) even warns; “If you wait for perfect condition, you will never get anything done’.
A perfectionist wastes a lot of time trying and trying again and again to meet his high standards which are practically unattainable and therefore he fails to meet the dead lines. Hence perfectionism makes one less efficient in showing progress in the work and finishing projects in time.
Casandra Brene Brown, a research professor at the university of Houston, has rightly stated; ‘Perfectionism hampers success, in fact it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis’.
Perfectionism and relationships
It is found that perfectionists face problems in maintaining intimate relationships with their partners or others. As C Allen stated; ‘In intimate relationships unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both parties’.
The famous U.S. psychologist Jeanna strassburger found from her studies that perfectionism causes conflicts within your family, it takes up all your free time, it squeezes the enjoyment out of all your activities. To perfectionists, nothing is ever perfect; so, they are never fully satisfied.
There are different studies that suggest the higher the perfectionism is the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer. It may be really horrible and distressing to live with a perfectionist partner.
Researches have found that perfectionism can be emotionally crippling and physically dangerous. Perfectionists may start drinking heavily to cope with the stress of the tiring struggle for perfection. Sometimes they may seek solace in drugs to escape from the unending pressures for success. Perfectionists are greatly afraid of making mistakes and hence their creativity and innovation are stifled. Some studies have linked the trait with high blood pressure and cardio vascular diseases.
In a popular study researchers analyzed 284 previous studies involving over 57000 participants and found that perfectionism was associated with symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD and eating disorders. It was finally concluded that perfectionism can destroy a person’s life with crippling anxiety, unstable relationships and psychological distress.
How to combat the perils of perfectionism
- Clearly recognize perfectionism
The first step in combating perfectionism is to clearly understand what is perfectionism. As Dr. April Bryan of university of Manchester pointed out; ‘Perfectionism is a delusion that can rob one of a very successful, enriching life, if not careful’. Perfection is a mere myth. It is not real or attainable. So there is no meaning in striving for it. It’s just like a child aspires to get the moon in his palms.
- Cultivate a growth mind set
Stanford University researchers have found that cultivating a growth mind set will help us learn from our mistakes and failures. Failures are to be considered as great growth opportunities and the best way to learn. So, the paralyzing fear of failures is unreasonable,baseless and senseless. Accept failures and mistakes as normal things in our lives and best learning opportunities.
Parents can play a crucial role in helping their children develop healthier attitudes towards failure and growth mindset. Parents should convey the idea that you don’t have to be perfect to become lovable. Always appreciate their sincere efforts, in spite of their failures.
- Cultivate self compassion
As per the findings of the study by Dr. Madeleine Ferrari of the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, self compassion can help protect against depression in people with perfectionist attitude. Self compassion is treating ourselves kindly when we make mistakes and avoiding self criticism. We have to consider mistakes as essential part of being human and hence we must not be frustrated or enraged by failures of self or of others. The famous English writer and journalist, George Orwell has aptly stated; ‘The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection’.
- Overcome procrastination
Perfectionists hold the strong belief that if something can’t be done with perfection, it’s not worth doing. This ‘all or nothing’ approach leads to procrastination and lack of initiative for starting new ventures as mentioned earlier. Hence Winston Churchill reminded us; ‘The maxim ‘nothing but perfection’ may be spelled paralysis’.
- Accept imperfection
We can follow the advice of the famous American writer and speaker Jayce Meyer; ‘Strive for excellence, not for perfection because we don’t live in a perfect world’. Perfection is unattainable and striving for the unattainable is foolish and demoralizing. According to Anne, Wilson Scheaf, wellknown author and speaker; ‘Perfectionism is self abuse of the highest order’.
If you want to protect yourself from the perils of perfectionism, you should develop the courage to be imperfect. ‘Don’t waste your time striving for perfection, instead, strive for excellence, doing your best’. This prudent advice of Laurance Oliver, the famous English actor and director can be your secret mantra for success and happiness in your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV. He is the author of five best-selling books:
‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.
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