Are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism is commonly looked upon as a positive thing, and many people consider it a trait to aim for. Some people take pride in their perfectionism, citing how detail-oriented they are, meeting deadlines well, and performing different tasks with intricate quality.
Many people believe that they should be perfectionists – or, at least, they desire it out of the people they work with. The idea is that it’s good to be a perfectionist. It’s supposedly something motivational and inspirational, and it keeps your standards high, so it must be a good thing. But is that the case?
As our understanding of perfectionism evolves over time, it has become increasingly clear that the desire to be a perfectionist is entirely counterproductive. The desire to do well in life often contradicts the natural traits that come with perfectionism. Some people even become unhappy as a result of these traits.
But how does that make any sense? How can the act of seeking high standards be harmful to you or make you sad? Is it true – can perfectionism make you unhappy? Well, as it turns out, research says so! Here’s how this trait can wind up doing more harm than good.
1. What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is best described as the holding of oneself to impossibly high standards. On a simplified level, one can say that perfectionism is impossible because those who have this trait desire, well, perfection – and that’s impossible to achieve. But that view removes some of the nuances of this particular way of thinking.
When someone is a perfectionist, they don’t register that they’re trying to reach something impossible. Instead, they’re always striving to “do their best” while being entirely unreasonable about what their best should be. No matter what they do, they consider it to simply never be good enough.
It’s easy to see, then, where that unhappiness stems from. When you’re a perfectionist, you deplete your positive thinking by insisting upon something unachievable. Worse still, it’s a trait that can affect people of all ages. Working adults may feel the need to measure up to their idea of proper adulthood. At the same time, school-aged children and adolescents may experience constant pressure to overachieve in academic and extracurricular activities.
There’s nothing wrong with having high goals or a desire to do well in life. But when this becomes an irrational extreme, you have a problem.
Symptoms of maladaptive perfectionism include:
- Regular procrastination due to fear of an inability to complete tasks perfectly.
- Everyday experiences of “failure” even when you do well and primarily when you perform at average
- Being motivated by fear
- Being highly critical of yourself or others
- Having high and unrealistic standards
- Feeling like everything you try is something you’re bad at and being unwilling to learn new skills due to the initial lack of aptitude.
- Highly controlling behavior in relationships with friends, family, partners, and even colleagues and employees
- Having difficulty relaxing or staying calm
- Struggling to share emotions or admit to any negativity
- Depression due to an inability to meet very high and lofty goals
- Experiencing a very low self-esteem
- A tendency to react with defensiveness instead of understanding
- A lack of interest in celebrating successes, no matter how well-earned they are
- An obsession with work, lists, rules, details, and penance
- A complete apathy towards everyday tasks, typically after a spell of obsession
Many different things can cause perfectionism, but for the most part, it’s a learned behavior. An individual who is a perfectionist may feel that they only have value based on their achievements and abilities.
2. How Does Perfectionism Make You Unhappy?
Maladaptive perfectionism refers to specifically unhealthy forms of perfectionism. It can typically be characterized by a lot of fear of failure or not doing things perfectly, but it may also make you impose those standards onto others in the form of projection. Regardless, here are some ways that perfectionism can make you unhappy.
· You Feel The Constant Sting Of Failure
When you’re a perfectionist, everything you do winds up being a source of failure. You may want to do impossibly well at something that doesn’t work that way, or you may want to be the best among others who are more experienced than you in a friendly, non-competitive situation. Whatever the case, failing all the time is very bad for your self-esteem and can make you feel terrible!
· You’re Always Under Pressure
Perfectionists place a ton of pressure on themselves. This means you likely rarely ever give yourself a break, which makes you constantly stressed out. You may also feel pressure from your workplace, your friends, and your family to achieve certain levels of success with them, even though they don’t require that, and the idea has never even crossed their minds.
· You Get Anxious
Imagine that you’re constantly on the clock and required to make no mistakes, get everything done to perfection, and make miracles out of thin air. It’s only natural that anxiety would follow you if you were to put that kind of stress on yourself. Being perfect isn’t possible, and trying to make that happen can make you anxious and lose positive thinking.
Repeatedly “failing” to meet perfection as a standard can make you feel very guilty. After all, you don’t seem to be making any progress, and you’re not following through on the promises and words you’ve given to others. This traps you into a corner and brings down your mood as you wallow in feelings of undeserved shame.
· Your Relationships Suffer
No one likes hanging around a person who demands impossible perfection out of them. Remember that the people in your life are just human beings and don’t deserve to be projected onto when you struggle or grapple with your perfectionism. Regardless of whether you heed this advice here or not, though, the fact remains that you can feel unhappy when you don’t have anyone to socialize with.
· You Become Depressed
Apathy refers to a state where you may no longer care about anything or everything in life. This can often happen due to perfectionism because you feel as if it is simply not possible to achieve whatever “perfection” you desired. Apathy is a prevalent symptom of depression and requires treatment or therapy for the best results.
· You Never Take Risks or Learn
Perfectionists aren’t willing to bite the bullet and try something new, which can leave you stagnant in your circumstances. When you want everything to be perfect, the very concept of taking a risk and having to learn something new can be terrifying. But without the desire to take risks, you run the risk of becoming somewhat bored with your life, which can make you unhappy – especially if you’re not making any progress towards your goals at the same time.
3. Is There Such A Thing As Positive Perfectionism?
You may now believe that all perfectionism is destructive, but this is not the case. There are excellent and positive forms of perfectionism out there. Healthy perfectionism involves those high standards but with a more realistic coat of paint and genuine determination in the face of challenges and hurdles. Positive perfectionism involves:
· Being Goal-Directed
Healthy perfectionists are excellent goal-setters. They ensure that they set achievable but challenging and clearly defined goals, set time limits on them, and measure and track their progress. This keeps them motivated and guarantees positive thinking as they visibly move closer and close to their dreams.
· Staying Organize
Organizational skills are often overlooked in unhealthy perfectionists, which is one reason they crumble. Healthy perfectionists schedule things intelligently, leaving spare time for hobbies and relaxation, and they keep their lives and environments nice and organized, too – though the latter isn’t always a requirement.
· Seeking Personal Success
Healthy perfectionists customize their idea of success. Instead of getting caught up in every single ideal presented by others, they focus on themselves. They are capable of understanding that their best may be different every day and that it’s okay if their success isn’t defined as a success by others. They matter most to themselves!
· Being Okay With Failure
Positive perfectionists know that they can’t always achieve what they set out to find, and they think that this is okay (and it is). When they fail at something, they learn the lessons they can from it and release control of the situation, knowing that they are now stronger and more equipped to face future endeavors.
The concept of healthy perfectionism is surprisingly new in the realm of research. We may have found a balance between maladaptive perfectionism and apathy, which allows you to be driven and challenge yourself without falling into common perfectionist traps. The perfectionism construct is neither good nor bad – it’s all about how you use it, whether positive or negative.
Perfectionism gets a mix of good and bad reputation, but the reality of the matter lies somewhere in the middle. Still, the most common idea of perfectionism is usually pretty harmful, and it isn’t ideas that should get regurgitated and used again and again as it has for all these years.
At the same time, remember that positive perfectionism is a thing. You can be a perfectionist and keep your thoughts realistic and in check, and you’ll have a much better time in your pursuits. Challenging yourself regularly and giving yourself rest when necessary is already enough to get you started in a balanced way!
Of course, there are times when you can’t shake perfectionism of an unhealthy variety. This can happen due to trauma, mental disorders, or other similar problems. If your perfectionism gets in the way of your everyday tasks and starts making daily chores and responsibilities impossible to do, whether due to apathy, stress, or general unhappiness, then you should see a mental health professional. Therapists, counselors, and similar medical workers will be able to give you the best care possible while remaining unbiased towards your problems.
The bottom line is this: everything can make you happy in moderation and unhappy in excess. Most of the literature on perfectionism skews more toward the concept of negative perfectionism, but positive perfectionism shouldn’t be forgotten, either. Learn to channel healthy perfectionism more, and you might be surprised when you feel happier at the end of the week!