As I discussed in a previous post, perfectionism is an all-or-nothing, perfect-or-failure mindset. (How much of a perfectionist are you?) People who are perfectionists often ask, “What's wrong with wanting things to be perfect?”
The answer is nothing—unless it is negatively affecting you.
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with an MS in Physical Therapy and a Ph.D. in psychology who combines research findings, real-life stories, and humor to provide actionable tips that individuals can benefit from immediately. Lombardo is on a mission to free people from the stress of perfectionism caused by their own inner critics. She is considered the country's most widely interviewed celebrity psychologist, with hundreds of radio and TV appearances on shows.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
I like to think of perfectionism as a chocolate cake. That may sound strange, but stay with me. Picture yourself making a cake using all the finest ingredients. You have gourmet Swiss chocolate, cage-free organic eggs, and butter from cows that are massaged daily and listen to classical music. Imagine taking all those delicious ingredients, mixing them up in a bowl, and then throwing in a cup of dirt. Once the cake is baked, how likely are you to eat it? Not too likely, I’d guess.
Perfectionism is like that chocolate cake. There a lot of great ingredients in perfectionism, but there are also some components that make it undesirable.
Here are five ingredients of perfectionism that are like dirt in your chocolate cake:
1. Conditional self-worth.
Our sense of worth has a direct impact on every interaction we have. Perfectionists base their worth on certain conditions, mainly the results they receive. What’s more, they view themselves only as worthy as their most recent outcome. This external search to feel valuable can be extremely stressful. Perfectionists feel like they are consistently falling short of the strict criteria they use to determine their worthiness. Any wins and successes are short-lived, because perfectionists quickly focus on finding the next way to feel good about themselves.
Perfectionists see things in all-or-nothing terms; to such people, something is either perfect or a failure. And then they take it a step further. “If it's a failure,” a perfectionist reasons, "Then I am a failure.” Because perfectionists do not want to be failures (who does?), they take extraordinary steps to prevent failure from happening.
3. Fear of failure.
It is, in fact, a fear of failure, rather than a desire for perfection, that fuels most perfectionists. This fear decreases the likelihood of taking calculated risks, which are often vital to achieve positive changes. Fear also reduces a perfectionist’s ability to learn from mistakes. Perfectionists are so focused on judging themselves that they cannot use the experience of failure to find new ways to approach issues.