Perfectionism Part 1 of 3:[1]

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Are You a Self-Cursed & Glorious F*ck-Up with Reversed Delusions of Grandeur?

Well, You’re Probably Just a Perfectionist, and You’re Definitely Not Alone!

You may not even be aware that you are a perfectionist because perfectionism looks a little different on you than it does on me. It all depends on how we react to what particular pile of stuff we find ourselves in at any particular moment. Personally, my degree of perfectionism ebbs unpredictably in the wake of factors more numerous to count, (and believe me, I’ve tried, disastrously, to tally them all). But knowing and naming the many faces of perfectionism allowed me to better weather the perfectionistic storm and trust in my power as a skilled captain in the process.

As a recovering perfectionist I am aware, some days, that my expectations may be unattainable, but I can feel compelled to repeatedly try my very best at achieving perfection anyway. Perfectionists bear a self-cast curse because perfect is a subjective state. It is ever elusive as its gaze is outwardly fixed but its drive internally dependent. Obtaining perfect is like trying to reach the speed of light – the closer we approach, the slower we wind up going, and the farther away that goal actually becomes. [2] The how / why we become perfectionists and the positive elements of perfectionism are intriguing and will be the topic of future articles. But here we’re diving into Perfectionism’s shadowiness.

Before we plunge blindly into this adventure, let’s familiarize ourselves with the territory first, shall we? How does perfectionism look, sound, and behave? What are its side effects, and more importantly, how do we stop suffering?

Perfectionism’s Toxic Profile & Negative Effect

Perfectionism can be toxic when it interferes with any pillar of your wellbeing, and becomes very troublesome when it increases your level of stress. Mentally, toxic perfectionism may present itself as rumination, critical or judgmental thoughts, or harmful belief systems. When believing those thoughts and beliefs we can suffer emotionally. Even worse, we can suffer further by layering shame and guilt for just having those thoughts and beliefs in the first place. Physically, we may feel driven to exhaustion or distraction - or the reverse, we may participate in procrastination or numbing behaviors or consume numbing substances. Spiritually, perhaps we feel a lost sense of faith or trust in something bigger than ourselves, since (obviously) we perfectionists perceive every event as our responsibility or fault. Regardless of a perfectionist’s thoughts, actions, feelings or beliefs, there is one overarching theme: “everything is up to me, my fate is determined solely or largely by my own effort and abilities,” (efforts and abilities which we also believe are dismally lacking).

Goals Unmet, A Prison Make

All humans, perfectionists included, make sense of and then react to various events and situations to co-create their own personalized existence. Our beliefs become our reality. What we think and hold as true becomes our truth. We attribute meaning and value that is uniquely our own (though often shaped by external forces). This subjective reality can either free us or imprison us. For perfectionists there appears one additional rule governing their existence - the Not Quite rule. This rule is simple in usage, and devastating in effect. We perfectionists just need to apply it to everything we do to easily negate any positive outcome. The Not Quite rule instantaneously deems all effort and outcome as failure, because achievements can only ever be close to, but Not Quite right / perfect.

To a perfectionist, Not Quite could show itself when receiving a 90% (A-) mark on an exam. Non-perfectionists may celebrate having been only 10% wrong. However, for a perfectionist, they did Not Quite achieve an A, and were leagues away from the only acceptable mark (a perfect 100%). They don’t see the A; they see the minus and thus no celebration is permitted. Besides receiving this warped internal feedback, Not Quite also chants loudly in the perfectionist’s mind especially when hearing external feedback. While non-perfectionists may be neutral to or even open and receptive to constructive criticism, perfectionists hear only harsh criticism and evidence of their failures that trigger a chiding chorus of should, coulds and ought to haves. Not Quite supersedes all other rules of existence as it bears the most importance on shaping a perfectionist’s reality.

With an impressively strong drive and this myopic hyper-focus on the Not Quite rule, Perfectionists tend to ignore or be blind to the events, beliefs, or thoughts that exist in the peripheral. They cannot entertain the what if’s of alternate views or any explanations that differ from the beliefs of their hyper focus (on the things that are Not Quite). This is why perfectionists can appear deaf to, insulted by, or defensively retaliate against the reality of others who insist that they are indeed enough. So secure and strong are they in their belief of Not Quite, perfectionists do not often stray from it. Regardless of its falseness, this belief in and attachment to Not Quite is what causes their suffering. Now, some of you readers may be thinking, “great, I’m f*cked, then, aren’t I ?!” Yes, you are absolutely f *cked; but what if, dear reader, being f*cked is not entirely as lost as it seems?

Interested in knowing more? Read Perfectionism Part 2: Off-Course but Not Lost. You can also learn more about reframing your twisted thoughts by contacting us about our programs, coaching and training.

[1] The hilarity of this is of course that this group of articles on perfectionism were not immune to the rigors of perfectionism. The medicine to this was releasing it with all its potential errors in grammar, punctuation, theme or otherwise after several re-writes. I trust in its imperfection and welcome the ramifications of such.

[2] As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass rises precipitously. If an object tries to travel 186,000 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second), its mass becomes infinite, and so does the energy required to move it. For this reason, no normal object can travel as fast or faster than the speed of light. Feb 13, 2019.

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