Licensed Psychologist

Perfectionism

“Your slip is showing.” With these words a client of mine gleefully entered my office. While I was not particularly concerned, my fashion mishap had clearly made her day. What was going on? I certainly do not see myself as a perfectionist but compared to her somewhat disorganized life style I must have given that impression. Wikipedia defines perfectionism as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding the evaluations of others. A perfectionist refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. For most people, this is an impossible goal. We all know people who always look put together or have the most immaculate desks, cars or homes. At first glance, we may envy or admire them. Certainly, it is good to have high standards, and they can lead to accomplishments, but pursuing excellence doesn’t require perfection. In fact, living by excessively high standards may not be worth the cost of maintaining them. To quote Maria Shriver “Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect, it makes you feel inadequate.” Excessively demanding standards, or striving for flawlessness can actually hold you back and result in procrastination, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.People who fixate on what they messed up instead of what they have accomplished are no fun to work with or be around. They are self-critical, never satisfied; there is always more to be done and no room for mistakes.They create unnecessary stress for themselves and those around them. For them, life becomes an endless report card. If you recognize yourselves in the above descriptions, try allowing yourself to make mistakes. Begin to give up the self-abuse of those unrealistically high standards and expectations of perfection for yourself and others. Create realistic goals and challenge your inner critic. Focus on self-care. You may be surprised at the relief and self-acceptance that you will feel as you release this self-imposed psychological burden. You may even like yourself better.

Maybe I Have An Eating Disorder

  • I think about food all the time
  • I panic if I eat too much
  • I am terrified of gaining weight
  • I feel fat, friends tell me I'm thin
  • I don't get regular menstrual periods
  • I prefer to eat when no one will see me
  • I have lost more than 15% of my normal weight
  • I find myself compulsively eating
  • I exercise a lot
  • I tend to be a perfectionist
  • I consume less than 1200 calories a day
  • I want to be thinner than all my friends
  • I hate my body
  • I have been depressed and irritable lately
  • I use laxatives or diuretics for weight control
  • I binge and make myself vomit
  • I feel food is my enemy
  • I am preoccupied with food and weight
  • I have extreme mood swings
  • I feel tired all the time
  • I often feel cold when no one else does
  • I have noticed that my hair is dry and brittle
  • I have noticed my skin is drier
  • I have noticed my nails break easily
  • I have more cavaties recently
  • I have noticed my teeth are discolored
It would be a good idea to consult an eating disorder specialist if you have more than five of these behaviors.

Perfectionism

Most of us would consider having high standards a good thing. It reflects ambition and a desire for success. The perfectionist, however, sets unrealistically high standards that often cannot be met, can rob him of personal satisfaction, and can actually interfere with success. Most perfectionists learned early in life that they were valued by how much they achieved. For them, life was an endless report card. Instead of developing their own inner self worth, they learned to value themselves on the basis of other people's approval.

The truth is that no one succeeds at becoming "just right," free of flaws and failings. Growth is a lifelong process and criticizing ourselves just slows it down and keeps us unhappy. Balancing honest appraisal with self acceptance each day can open up possibilities for change without shame and negativity.

I would like to share some interesting quotations on this subject.

"Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order."
Anne Wilson Schaef

"It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect."
Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist

"When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are."
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

"Perfection is not a destination; it's a never-ending process...Enjoy!"
Jim Bouchard, Think Like a Black Belt

"Stop waiting for the perfect day or the perfect moment... Take THIS day, THIS moment and lead it to perfection."
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
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