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The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

selective focus photography of man's reflection on a broken mirror

There are many people that from the outside looking in appear to be living their best lives. Yet for many of those people the reality is that their picture perfect life is just an illusion. In some cases what lies beneath is a longstanding tendency for perfectionism that can negatively impact self-esteem, destabilize general well-being, and lead to high levels of constant stress. The never-ending pursuit of perfection can sometimes drain people so completely emotionally, that, in spite of their best efforts, they wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and outright failure. Even the most accomplished individuals can find themselves feeling never “good enough.” While some believe that perfectionism is a positive trait, motivating persons to strive for excellence and to refuse to accept anything less than the best, it can also be demotivating, counterproductive, and a means of self-destruction and sabotage. The pursuit of perfection can also lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This is a relatable concept, particularly among high achievers, that deserves attention and discussion. Perfectionism becomes dysfunctional when being perfect becomes a condition of self-worth and/or when perfectionism is thought to be the panacea for life’s adversities. This maladaptive form of thinking and behaving typically has origins that can be traced back to negative messages and beliefs garnered from experiences across the course of development. Allowing oneself no room for error, missteps, mistakes, or failures is like walking a dangerous emotional tightrope. Ironically, the uncompromising demands of perfectionism help to generate high levels of anxiety that ultimately inhibit one from attaining the perfect outcome being sought, and can lead to depression. Perhaps the pursuit of perfection should be preceded by these questions: 1. What is perfect? 2. Who sets the perfection standard and why should anyone have to meet it? 3. What is the worst that could happen if I fall short of perfection?

Perfectionism is a false sense of security and control. It is an attempt to attain something that does not exist. Think about it, what and who really determines if you are good enough? How do we change the thought process of a perfectionist? Whether it is a personal journey or one that requires therapy, it will involve self-acceptance, self-compassion, and relinquishing some control. Forgive yourself for imperfection! In fact, EMBRACE it! Those are the things that make you uniquely you! Have the courage to redefine and create your own new, personal narrative: I’m doing the best I can and that’s perfectly GOOD ENOUGH!!! 

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