It is always good to want to do things right, but there are some times that the desire to be perfect can become an all encompassing obsession. It can lead to depression, overwhelming feelings of anxiety and even worse disorders. But there is hope for those who suffer from perfectionism.

Perfectionism is the overpowering desire to attain goals that are beyond reason. This desire can be spurred on by fear of failure and results in extreme distress over even the smallest little thing. Some examples of perfectionism include: An elementary school student who would rather erase and rewrite a letter 100 times until its perfect rather than do their best and continue on to the next letter. Or that workaholic who believes that there’s a right way and a wrong way and there is absolutely nothing in between. In order to reach that right way, it may require working 100 hours per week. Perfectionism is much different from those who strive for high goals, but are accepting of themselves if they don’t reach them.

How Perfectionism Can Harm Us

The person who is suffering from perfectionism is usually extremely hyper critical of themselves. If something is not perfect, then they start to internalize their perceived shortcomings and feel bad about themselves. They may feel extreme shame and lots of self-doubt all the time. There is some ideal goal and nothing short of absolutely, 100% reaching that goal absolutely 100% of the time is acceptable.

Unfortunately, perfectionism can manifest itself in some very dangerous ways. This can include depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism and anorexia or bulimia. The anorexic child is overly critical of their own body. She may look at fashion magazines and realize that only perfectly skinny people without any body fat are people worthy of approval. She then makes that bodily perfection her goal. The fact that the magazines airbrush their models to erase all imperfections or that the photographer must take hundreds of pictures in order to find that one good one never really matters.

Perfectionism is about an almost obsessive need to have control over every aspect of their life. This need for control comes from a deep-seated shame regarding failure. As this is an unrealistic goal, it can create great feelings of anxiety and depression. Because of these feelings and a desire not to ever fail at anything, the perfectionist may actually stop pursuing new experiences or challenges. They view simple mistakes as failures as opposed to learning experiences. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is not uncommon for someone with perfectionist tendencies to have tendencies towards hoarding. After all, if they cannot be perfect at keeping their house clean, they will procrastinate or ignore that project altogether. There can be an all-or-nothing aspect to the disorder.

Effects of Perfectionism on Other Relationships

The perfectionist desperately wants love and approval. But because she believes that to gain love and approval requires her to be absolutely perfect, she is terrified of making any little mistake. In turn, she refuses to be vulnerable by sharing herself and her emotions because that would then lead to someone else seeing she has flaws and she is terrified of being seen as the “inferior” person she believes she is. Instead of focusing her life on building important human relationships, she focuses her attention on the things that she can get perfect. You may see her spend her time and energy on obsessively keeping her house clean or working out obsessively to get that perfect body. But her fear of making mistakes or showing her flaws keeps her from developing those things that are most precious to us – our relationships.

The perfectionist who does get into a relationship may only develop that relationship superficially. They must always have the perfect clothes, the perfect job, the perfect vehicles and the perfect vacations. They don’t really discuss items of consequence nor do they try for a deep level of understanding. They don’t really share of themselves because to do so would mean they have to expose their flaws and admit they are not perfect. The relationship is then based upon a unattainable fantasy, which can never be achieved. Without something substantial holding them together, the relationship probably won’t last very long.

On the other hand, if there is only one person in the relationship that has a tendency towards perfectionist behavior and the other one does not, the perfectionist may become increasingly critical and resentful of her partner. Even though it seems contradictory, she may absolutely fear rejection by her partner because she would perceive rejection as evidence of how unworthy she is. In short, the relationship is sabotaged by the perfectionist behavior and can eventually disintegrate and fall apart.

How Treatment Can Help

Therapy is very successful in treating perfectionism and is definitely worth looking into. The person who, at one time, believed they had little self-worth and lived in constant fear of failure can transform into a healthy individual with a high self-esteem, healthy goals and a life filled with less anxiety and fear.

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