Are You a Perfectionist? Here are 5 Traits to Look Out For
The truth is, we all know a woman (or 10) who struggles with perfectionistic thinking. In case you’re wondering, I am certainly one of them. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be a therapist, helping other people cure their perfectionism. That means I should be off of my own bullshit of trying to be perfect all the time, right?
Wrong. The truth is, all women deal with this to a degree, and, for many of us, reigning in perfectionistic thinking will be a lifelong struggle. In fact, women are literally socialized to believe and behave in this way (stay tuned for future blog-rants, addressing THIS particular issue … ). I have worked on my own issues with perfectionism for years, and, if writing this blog entry is any indication, it still pops up in my life. Seriously, do you know how many times I deleted the first sentence and started over? (If you really want to know, it’s at least 15.)
So, what IS a perfectionist, and how do you know if you are one?
If you’re wondering if you’re a perfectionist (and chose to read an article about perfectionistic thinking), chances are good that you are. BUT, here are some other traits that may be familiar to you:
You Have Black and White Thinking (or, all-or-nothing thinking):
Do you ever think, “Well, I didn’t do ____ perfectly, so I might as well start over?” Maybe you completed a project at work, but felt it was lacking so you scrapped the whole thing and started over. Or maybe you’re like me, and drafted 50 social media entries that just didn’t feel ‘perfect,’ so you didn’t publish them.
You may be wondering, “but don’t all successful, high-achieving people work hard, and try their best?” Well, yes. BUT, there is a difference between doing your best, and only being satisfied when something is perfect. Even “almost perfect,” may feel like a colossal failure to you.
You Procrastinate. A lot.
I personally love this one, because it seems so damn counterintuitive. How can a perfectionist be a procrastinator? Even though procrastination seems like it would get in the way of being perfect, the two are, unfortunately, often different sides of the same coin.
Is there ever something you just HAVE to get done – a project at work, something around the house – but you put it off until the last possible minute? Do you feel that whatever it is you have to do will fail, or be less than what you want it to be (ie. anything less of ‘perfect’), so you dread doing it?
The kicker here is that the more you procrastinate because you believe the outcome won’t be perfect, the more imperfect you feel. It’s a vicious cycle.
You Get Defensive
Do you find that you take constructive criticism easily, and use that feedback to modify and improve your performance? Or does your heart start to race at the mere thought of someone giving you any sort of feedback for a performance (thus indicating it was flawed in some way)?
The non-perfectionistic high-achieving people are able to hear constructive criticism and actually use it to their advantage; they even find it beneficial. Perfectionists, though, may get defensive when they get feedback; to them, any job done that isn’t “perfect,” means failure. And failure is scary.
Your Unstructured “Down” Time Feels Stressful
Have you ever been told to meditate, only to think, “You seriously want me to sit in silence for 20 minutes? Do you know how much I could get done in that time?” The concept of taking time for self care may be very stressful for a perfectionist.
Maybe your spouse wants to sit down with you and have some cuddle time in front of a movie, but you think of all you could accomplish in two hours while they’re out of your hair, and turn down their bid for closeness.
Perfectionists struggle with down time, and may even come to resent it. You may even find that you begin to resent others who are able to have down time (“Is he seriously watching TV, again? Doesn’t he see all that needs to be done around here?”).
You Avoid Anything That Has a Remote Possibility of Failure
This is where perfectionistic thinking can really screw with your life. Most high-achieving people are able to push themselves out of their comfort zone to, say, apply for that promotion at work. Perfectionists, though, often limit themselves and decline to take chances on things that there is even a small chance they might fail.
Does this sound like you?: “If I don’t get that promotion it will mean that I’m useless and pathetic and all my hard work to even get to this point will be for nothing. I might as well just not apply.”
Well, all of that really sucks.
It does, doesn’t it? But here’s the good news: life has made you this way, but through some consistency and applied thought work, you can totally overcome some of this rigid, perfectionist thinking. Nothing happens overnight, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take risks and improve your life, and not beat yourself up every day for minor mistakes?
That sounds pretty awesome to me.