In working with creative people, I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of are perfectionists. It’s heart-breaking to watch this parade of extremely skilled, high achieving people who beat themselves up unnecessarily. Regardless of the degree of perfectionism, it’s painful. Perfectionists are rarely happy – and whatever joy they do experience, it doesn’t last long at all. They put themselves (and those around them) under tremendous, persistent pressure. It isn’t pretty or pleasant. Whatever happens, no matter how wonderfully something turns out, perfectionists are conscious of how it might have unfolded more perfectly. Whatever they do, perfectionists are painfully aware of how much better they might have performed. Even when things go well enough to meet their sky-high standards, their accomplishments are quickly dismissed and forgotten. When things go wrong (and how could they not, given the strain they put on themselves – and their tendency to tick off the people around them), perfectionists are liable to sink into depression and generalize their setback to view their entire lives as “worthless” and “a failure”. Even worse: many people are perfectionists without even realizing it. Are you?
Here are some Signs and Symptoms You May Be a Perfectionist:
1. Judgmental — Constantly evaluating and being critical of yourself and others. Perfectionists have very high standards by which they evaluate everything they encounter.
2. Chronic dissatisfaction — Whatever you do, accomplish or acquire it never feels ‘good enough’. Perfectionists are rarely satisfied with anything.
3. Controlling – Focused on influence or manipulate outcomes regardless of whether or not you actually have any influence over them. Perfectionists are control freaks.
4. Anxiety – Frantic and fearful about getting things done or done to your high standards. Perfectionists are often stressed and pressed.
5. Negativity – Expecting the worse (I’ll never finish and if even if I do, this is going to be terrible) or extrapolating negative events to your whole life (See? I didn’t get the part. I’m a complete failure. My whole life is a waste. I’m worthless). Perfectionists are pessimists.
In more severe cases, perfectionism can look like:
6. Obsession/Compulsion – Fixated ideas, habits or behaviors.
7. Eating disorders (such as bulimia and anorexia). Exerting extreme control over your food consumption.
8. Depression –- Profound, chronic sadness and inactivity. (This can take the guises of Paralysis, Apathy and Grief).
Multi-talented people are often perfectionists. It’s bad enough if you have one talent and realize you can be better. It’s far worse to magnify those sentiments by the number of the many talents you have.
So what’s a perfectionistic DaVinci to do? To truly conquer perfectionism requires a complete overhaul in how you view yourself and others. It may require professional counseling. But rest assured that there are some concrete things you can do to alleviate the pain of perfectionism.