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Are You a Perfectionist?

Here are 5 subtle signs of perfectionism.

Key points

  • Perfectionism is a difficult way to live and is associated with depression and anxiety.
  • Perfectionists tend to be critical of themselves and others, which puts a strain on their relationships.
  • In pursuit of the perfect solution, perfectionists can take longer to make decisions or complete tasks.
Bruno Kelzer/Unsplash
Source: Bruno Kelzer/Unsplash

In our fiercely competitive society, perfectionism sometimes becomes a badge of honor. We push ourselves and our youth to be perfect, believing that such an approach provides an edge over the competition.

The opposite is true. Perfectionism is a brutal way to live life. It is associated with depression and anxiety. Having no margin for error is a taxing way to live life that ultimately stifles personal growth.

Are you a perfectionist? Here are 5 subtle signs to consider.

1. You refuse help

Perfectionists often find themselves spread too thin and overwhelmed. Yet they have a hard time accepting help because they don’t trust others to complete tasks at their lofty standard.

As an example, I have worked with people swamped with countless work and household responsibilities. Yet they refused help even with basic household chores such as folding laundry or loading the dishwasher. Worse yet, they would refold clean laundry or rearrange the dishwasher if their partners had failed to meet their standards.

Instead of compulsively redoing completed tasks or rejecting offers of help, take a moment to consider how someone's offer to help can be beneficial. Perhaps they arrange the dirty dishes awkwardly in the dishwasher or do not fold the clothes symmetrically. With so much on your plate, it serves you best to accept the imperfections of someone’s contribution and focus on other responsibilities rather than redo an already completed task.

2. You are hypercritical of yourself and others

Perfectionists tend to fixate on flaws. They are more likely to criticize a completed task rather than appreciate that the task is completed.

The problem with being constantly critical is that it paralyzes others. They may walk on eggshells around you for fear of being criticized. It is only a matter of time before they become distant and abandon their efforts to be helpful.

Recognize how perfectionism serves as a source of friction and conflict. Ask yourself whether the pursuit of perfection is worth the strain it puts on your relationships.

3. Tasks take a long time to complete

Starting a project can feel overwhelming when you feel the pressure to be perfect. This anxiety can prevent you from ever starting a task because the hill feels like a mountain. In addition, it can hinder creativity and slow your progress while working on a project.

There are certainly situations when perfection is necessary. I want my pilot to be perfect when flying a plane. I also want my surgeon to be perfect when operating on me.

However, for the vast majority of cases, perfection is not necessary. You can achieve excellent results without being perfect. You can make a few mistakes on an exam and still earn an A or graduate with Honors without a perfect 4.0 GPA. The same holds true with raising children, trying to be healthy, tidying up your house or just being you.

4. You have a hard time making decisions

Perfectionists struggle with making decisions because they seek the perfect solution. They expect their decision to yield maximum results. The problem with this approach is that if their decision does not meet their lofty expectations, they are left with regret, disappointment and self-criticism.

Realize that problems are inherently complex and a perfect solution may not currently exist. You don’t have a crystal ball that can forecast the future. Instead of becoming paralyzed by the pursuit of the perfect choice, make an informed decision that is a step in the right direction.

If your decision is not optimal or a better option emerges in the future, you can course correct at a later time.

5. You are consistently dissatisfied

Perfectionists fixate on imperfections, no matter how small they are. They can fixate on a small patch of dry grass in an otherwise lush, neatly-trimmed lawn. It is hard to be satisfied with such a critical outlook.

Accept the reality that perfection is an illusion. No experience is perfect. Have you ever gone on a vacation trip that was perfect? Vacations often come with flight delays, unexpected rainy weather or someone getting sick and needing a trip to the local urgent care.

The same holds true about people. No human being is perfect. We are all a mosaic of strengths and shortcomings. Being imperfect is an essential part of our humanity.

Embracing your imperfections is a liberating experience that can help you shed the weight of carrying unrealistic expectations. Your imperfections are opportunities for growth that can result in a more authentic and fulfilling life.

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