Many individuals believe that being perfect is going to make them happy. As knights going into battle, the perfectionists set off in pursuit of perfection. What they don’t realise is that they set themselves up for disappointment because perfection is an illusion.
Aside from the Wonder Woman Syndrome, another disease that is affecting women (mostly) is the pursuit of perfection. If the Wonder Woman Syndrome is focused on to do, the pursuit of perfection is focused on to be.
While the Wonder Woman Syndrome drives women to do as many tasks as possible in one day, the women striving to achieve perfection turn to themselves or others. They strive to have the perfect makeup and hair, the perfect body or be the perfect mother to her children.
Perfectionism isn’t about high standards. It’s about your critical inner voice.
Jenny Hand has long believed that having a perfect body would make her happy.
She believed that being a size 2 equals being perfect, so she spent her years as a young woman going through dieting, exercising – all for the purpose of being thin.
In her article, Striving perfection is actually holding you back she describes what her life was like and how she felt about herself.
Here are the highlights:
- She believed perfection would make her acceptable to others;
- She felt inadequate, insecure and not enough;
- She subconsciously believed that if she could just achieve perfection with herself, her body, and her life, then she would finally feel the deep love and inner acceptance she longed for inside of herself;
- Her drive for achieving perfection was detrimental to living and enjoying her life;
- On one New Year’s Eve she gave up on having a fun night out with her friends because she was unhappy with her body, so she stayed in and spent her night running on the treadmill.
I was terrified to make a mistake and required excellence in every task. I was afraid of others judging me. I didn’t see it my mistakes as learning experiences; I saw them as a way of others seeing what I didn’t want them to see: that I was flawed, imperfect, and somehow not enough.
Especially today, when social media is directly influencing our lives, negative body image issues are very common among women.
Do you compare yourself to others and feel bad about how you look, thinking you are too fat or not tall enough or you don’t have abs or a thigh gap?
Another area of life where perfectionism can be observed is motherhood.
Many women becoming mothers don’t settle on being good mothers, they strive to be perfect mothers.
And when they fail to meet their expectations, they believe they are bad mothers, unfit to raise their child.
They feel guilt, shame and they can easily fall into depression.
They feel guilty to think of their own needs.
They feel unable to talk openly about their feelings for fear of rejection.
They compare themselves with other mothers who “seem” to have everything under control and obviously fall short.
Perfectionism is about attempting to correct or deal with a defective, flawed, not-good-enough sense of self.
Dr. Paul Hewitt
professor and clinical psychologist, researching and treating perfectionism for over 25 years
Continually striving to achieve perfection has many negative consequences on your body and mind:
- Cruel self-talk;
- Feelings of inadequacy;
- Low self-worth and self-esteem;
- Loathing of self;
- Sleep disorders;
- Higher suicide risk.
The pursuit of perfection starts early
In January 2018, Thomas Curran of the University of Bath and Andrew Hill of York St. John University conducted a study on perfectionism within the ranks of 41,641 college students in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. They also used the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale to gauge generational changes in perfectionism from the late 1980s to 2016.
The researchers found that between 1989 and 2016:
- Self-oriented perfectionism (imposing an irrational desire to be perfect on oneself) increased by 10%;
- Other-oriented perfectionism (placing unrealistic standards of perfection on others) increased by 16%;
- Socially-prescribed perfectionism (perceiving excessive expectations of perfection from others) increased by 33%.
As the numbers show, we are raising young people who will enter into adulthood already suffering from perfectionism.
Perfectionism isn’t a behaviour. It’s a way of thinking about yourself.
Andrew Hill, perfectionism researcher
Where does the striving for perfection come from?
People caught in the pursuit of perfection believe it is a way to validate themselves as worthy and valuable human beings. If you were 100% happy with who you were – mind, body and soul – you wouldn’t feel the need to be perfect in the first place, would you?
You worry about what others think of you which leads to living your life unauthentically. You can’t give in to other people’s expectations may they be your family, friends or society.
Fear of failure
In your childhood your parents may have taught you that being a good girl, nicely dressed, well-behaved and well-spoken meant getting their love and attention.
Getting high grades in school meant your parents showered you with affection, attention and maybe presents while getting low grades meant hearing your parents’ words of disapproval, making you feel ashamed and guilty.
High achievers vs Perfectionists
Dr. Paul L. Hewitt, the expert on perfectionism differentiates between the desire to excel and the desire to be perfect.
High achievers are dedicated individuals who have a strong desire to accomplish tasks which are important to them. What others think of them is not relevant to high achievers and they are not afraid to fail.
Perfectionists are never satisfied with their life because they are not satisfied with themselves. They don’t celebrate their accomplishments because they see them as flawed in one way or the other. They don’t perceive failure as a stepping stone towards further growth and development, but a fault in themselves, as individuals. For them, failure and making mistakes equal not being liked by others.
Perfectionism isn’t about highs standards. It’s about unrealistic standards.
Andrew Hill, researcher
What can we do to help the perfectionists in our lives?
Let’s turn the spotlight on ourselves: have we portrayed ourselves as having perfect lives or being perfect mothers?
We all know that’s not the reality of things.
Instead let’s do the following:
- Be authentic: admit to our own struggles and failures;
- Refrain from showing a perfect life because it’s not true;
- Show them the learning never stops;
- Discuss about how you have areas for growth like everyone else;
- Acknowledge that making and admitting mistakes is a necessary step towards growth and self-awareness;
- Foster healthier relationships with the important people in your life.
The pursuit of perfection is not a virtue, but a disease. It isn’t about having high standards, but having a negative and critical inner voice. It is actually an obstacle to finding happiness, self-development and growth.
When they don’t succeed, perfectionists don’t feel disappointment about how they did. They feel shame about who they are.
Be a conscientious person not a perfectionist. Conscientious people have healthy coping mechanisms with failure. They say I did my best, but I failed. It’s ok, I’ll do better next time while perfectionists tell themselves I failed – I’m a failure, I’m not good enough.
Strive for progress, not perfection. Progress is about continuously improving, doing the best you can and looking for ways to be a little bit better day by day.