Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Anything I Can Do, I Can Do Better - Perfectionism’s Profile
Like me, how many of you, instead of thriving or optimally living life, have traditionally accepted merely functioning while being guided by external influences and harassed by your twisted beliefs? Is the terror of failure the reason you deny yourself the gift of just trying something regardless of the outcome?
Do you do this because it temporarily appears to keep the peace, because it appears more safe, because you are overwhelmed or afraid that you will fail regardless? Or, maybe you instead have been perusing the steps to a more fulfilling, and less survival-based life (with varying degrees of success, setbacks and shifts). The irony is that the self-improvement route is also lush territory for Perfectionism to take root and thrive. A state of just functioning, to a perfectionist, is a state of begrudging acceptance of on-going entrapment in a cycle of Not Quite. It may be uncomfortable or even tortuous, but Not Quite uncomfortable or tortuous enough to encourage change. Progressing from a cycle of familiar discomfort may never occur for those content on some level with mere functionality.
Much like one can be a functional addict (someone addicted but who still projects an outward appearance of normalcy), so too can one be a functional or recovering perfectionist. A functional perfectionist can be with or without the awareness that their goals are in full, (or at least in part), unrealistic. They may know that their expectations are superhuman, yet may still feel compelled to don the tights and cape. With the desire to usher in change, a recovering perfectionist is one who moves from awareness to action by loosening the hold that their doubt, criticism and unrealistic standards maintain over them. The degree of functionality and recovery is a reflection of the degree by which we feel controlled by, or master of Not Quite and its resulting unrealistic goals. An excellent first step on a course of recovery is recognizing the many iterations of beastly perfectionism, and questioning their validity.
Oh Sh*t, How Do I know If I’m a Perfectionist? 
As I am a recovering Perfectionists, These Lists are Obviously Not Exhaustive.
Maybe, you may have thought, believed , or heard yourself saying the following:
- I’m / my is Not Quite xyz
- If only I xyz then I could possibly achieve xyz ( which is actually a perfect state)
- Why didn’t I xyz
- Just a little more / I need to (should, must) be a little more (or less) xyz then I could xyz
- Wouldn’t it be better if xyz?
- Yes, compared to that group I am better, but not compared to those who matter (big fish little pond)
- Knowing that despite having excelled over your peers, that you are in another rank / class / and follow different rules
- Yes, I have this xyz, this but that’s not as important as xyz
- I don’t know how to xyz, and until I know, I can’t xyz
- I am overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, (the pressure is on)
- To “normal” people I may appear great, but that’s not xyz enough (also thinking you are annoying or bad for even thinking this)
- If I want xyz done right, I better / must do it myself
- If I don’t xyz, then who else will?
- Why does it take me so long to do something so simple, when others less skilled take less time?
- Why can’t I get this right?
- Let’s just skip over this vulnerability shit. Give me success right away, I don’t have the time to go through the process to grow something right either now or ever
- “The journey is more important than the destination,” is just an excuse lazy people say to justify their poor behavior and low standards
What Perfectionism Feels Like
It doesn’t take much effort for a perfectionist to warp an instance into the infinite. To a perfectionist, it’s not “I have this feeling now,” it becomes “I will always feel this way.” It’s not “I feel like a failure,” it is “I am a failure,” not “I acted stupid,” but “I am stupid.” The distinction is slight but significant. Perfectionists put faith automatically in a twisted thought, without understanding that there is a gap between having the negative thought and believing it. They can also self-judge for knowing these twisted beliefs are false, but believing them regardless, or even for merely having them in the first place.
- Hopelessness, wanting to give up (what’s the point after all)
- Self-condemnation / hatred
- Worthlessness, Inadequacy, (feeling like you are a failure)
- Feeling of untapped potential inside
- Excessive stress, burnout, overwhelm,
- Isolation, anxiety, depression, numbness (using substances to numb out)
- Feeling like you can never rest or take a break due to the relentless struggle that is your striving. So only losing yourself in something that artificially causes a rested state like smoking pot. It is the only time your mind can be quiet
- Resentment, Jealousy
- Feeing paralyzed or terrorized by your goals or needing to obsessively set goals knowing that this builds the prison in which you will live and suffer endlessly
- Exhaustion, drained energy, running further and further never reaching the target. The distance between feels like it expands exponentially as your guilt and shame with not reaching the goal likewise increase
How Perfectionism Behaves:
Maybe, you may the following acts are familiar to you:
- Not taking compliments
- Downplaying achievements to outright disbelief of achievements
- Feeling the need to / doing it all yourself. Redoing your work or the work of others
- Inability to ask for help
- Resistance to identifying your needs. Then once you do, fear of needs not being met so not vocalizing them
- Stopping yourself before you start
- Fear of mistakes (and having this prevent you from continuing)
- Defeatism (I tried it once and I’m not good, so never again)
- Constant momentum, without giving yourself a chance to settle in, grow and develop
- Swapping or changing mid-stream (studies, jobs, relationships)
- Staying / playing it safe while also berating yourself for inaction
- Resentment and jealousy of others and their successes, especially those with the same education, opportunity, experiences, titles as you (I mean if you can’t celebrate your own, why would you think you could applaud others. That clearly does not compute)
- Zero sense of trust / faith in yourself, the universe, the world, humanity
- Stagnation, inaction that makes it hard to achieve goals (the bar is too high),
- Procrastination / Putting things off – I can’t start until I know I can do it perfectly
- Take an excessive amount of time to complete tasks (if aware, then berating yourself for being aware while also taking “too long”)
- Set the stage, manifest opportunities to criticize yourself
- Not doing new things with friends, games or other things because that would risk being exposed as a failure
- It feels like a task is perpetually unfinished, that it is not just right enough. Wanting to go back and continually touch up. Can’t leave it, can’t finish a task
- Resenting others who can fail and laugh it off like it’s no big deal as that is what you secretly want but would never afford yourself. Bastards.
- Using harmful or destructive toxic methods and ways of coping with your real / perceived inadequacies
- Hiding behind certifications, training, education
- Never shining and going public, (because that means being vulnerable, and you feel in a constant state of vulnerability as you are not yet perfect)
- Not like showing your process to people, the mess to people, because they can only see the finished you / product / because everyone must believe you effortlessly arrive
Where to Go from Here?
Some may say “just push through your limiting beliefs, do something really scary, be brave and vulnerable, try something new regardless of how foolish you may look,” (all the while loving yourself completely during this whole process). This may be far too unrealistic, and too huge an ask for perfectionists who already live under the yoke of high-stakes pressure and consequence.
However, there are probably areas of life that even for a perfectionist are outside of the realm and control of Not Quite. These areas are where the fallout from making mistakes is low, and actually bearable – this is where to start reconnecting to power and intuition. The way to gain confidence and increase the trust in one’s intuition is to apply the skills, techniques, and experience from low to higher risk areas.
It may be easier to experiment, or to try and to fail in one area because you may possess a natural talent, or because you don’t take it so seriously, or you have done if for many years, or because it’s private and done just for you, or maybe it’s done just for fun. You may have forgotten that long ago when you just started in that low risk area, that it wasn’t low risk at all. You had to be courageous to even just start without knowing exactly what the outcome would be. So, just start something and screw all else. You could always quit, or, you could put that perfectionist drive to good use by using it to continue at something just until that clunky newness is surpassed. Knowledge inherited through exposure and experimentation in a safe and low risk, and—dare I say fun—environment will get your compass back on track to help steer you through the rough of Not Quite to accept challenges with confidence instead of fear. And if you still have fear, that’s normal and okay too. Bravery isn’t something you need to cultivate because it comes quite naturally; in fact, it only arrives when you do something scary.
So what then? Start with asking some not-so-scary questions: What is a low risk thing that you do almost as rote, the thing or things that you know well enough that people come to you to ask for help? What are some things that are so simple for you, that you are almost dismissive of them? Do you understand with clarity why it is easier for you to do those than it is other things? Could you describe what are its pared down and most basic elements / steps / characteristics, and why or how you navigate them successfully? Learn what those are and then transfer a piece of them to something else a little more difficult. Once you know what that thing is (maybe it is patience, dexterity, humor, attention to detail, the ability to know exactly how to BBQ a steak), apply it to the other more difficult things. But, start in a very low risk no pressure element. Use curiosity, play and humor; keep the dear things private until you feel OK to share, but as long as it doesn’t prevent you from asking for help. Even if you don’t feel like exposing yourself and your glorious mistakes just yet, do put yourself in situations where you can be exposed to and observe other peoples’ beautiful fuck ups. If you can, try finding and experimenting in an environment where mistakes are supported and those making them are not berated for doing so.
In time, you can be the glorious fuck up that inspires others to do the same!
If you are interested in learning more about reframing your twisted thoughts, contact us to know more about our programs, coaching and training.
 As I am a recovering Perfectionists, These Lists are Obviously Not Exhaustive.
 Paraphrased elements taken in part from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/perfectionism