Elizabeth Lombardo Ph.D.

Better Than Perfect


Is Perfectionism Depleting Your Merriness?

Perfectionism: More far-reaching than you may have known

Posted Dec 20, 2018

Source: unsplash

The holidays can be extremely stressful, what with trying to get the perfect gifts, have the perfect decorations, enjoy a perfect holiday meal where everyone gets along, and still somehow be perfect with your diet.

This year, give yourself a gift: Drop the perfectionism, and be better than perfect.

Perfectionism: More far-reaching than you may have known

While some people view perfectionists as those with a closet organized by color and shirt-sleeve length or a meticulous junk drawer, perfectionism is so much more than that. It is an all-or-nothing, perfect-or-failure, perfect-or-forget-it mentality.

While it may appear that the desire to be perfect is fueling perfectionism, there is something even deeper going on: the complete and utter fear of failure. You see, perfectionists don’t think they are perfect; they are scared to death that they are failures — another great example of all-or-nothing thinking!

That fear fuels not only anxiety and stress but also behaviors that can tax your sanity, as well as relationships.  

Now, you may not associate yourself with perfectionism, but in the next section, we will do a quick assessment to see if you succumb to any of the following perfectionistic tendencies.

How does perfectionism impact your holiday season?

Perfectionism presents itself in diverse ways, so let’s explore how it could be playing a role in your holiday stress.

Do you ever:

  • Stress out about getting the perfect gift for everyone on your list?
  • Feel like you have to do it all?
  • Think “He/she should be more helpful,” and then resent when assistance is not offered?
  • Deny support from other people, as in, “No, don’t bring a thing,” because you want people to think you can do it all on your own?
  • Second-guess decisions you make, as in “Darn, I should not have worn this outfit”?
  • Find yourself getting more short-tempered with loved ones because you’re overwhelmed by trying to get everything done?
  • Wonder why your family acts the way they do (like Uncle Alfred, who frequently tells boring stories after consuming too much wine), even though they always act that way?
  • Beat yourself up for things not looking better?
  • Find yourself giving up on self-care? (For example, “I have no time to go to the gym/meditate.”)
  • Try to make sure everyone around you is happy, even at your own expense?
  • Compare yourself to others and feel like you fall short? (For example, “Their decorations are so much nicer than mine.”)
  • Feel resentful toward others regarding how they are spending their time? (Do you think, “It must be nice to get to sit on the couch and watch the game”?)
  • Get upset about what you eat, thinking “I had one cookie and ruined my diet, so I might as well eat the rest of the plate”?
  • Find yourself thinking, “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over”?

If you answered yes to any of these, perfectionism may be the Scrooge robbing you of your holiday cheer.

Perfectionism is an all-or-nothing mentality in which something is either perfect or a failure. It is based on a concept I called conditional self-worth, where you believe in yourself if and only if certain criteria are met. Around the holidays, these may sound like the following: I believe in myself if…

  • People compliment my home décor/outfit/meal.
  • I buy the perfect gift for everyone.
  • We have the perfect holiday meal, including both the food and the interactions at the table.
  • Others are impressed with all that I do.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting any of these conditions to be met, the problem arises when you base your core worth on achieving them. In reality, your worth is much deeper and stronger than any of these. And yet, perfectionists tend to base their worth on external accolades.

What’s more, perfectionists tend to compare themselves to others and feel like they fall short. And this can lead to significant distress. For example, did you know that research shows the longer people spend on Facebook, the more likely they are to be depressed? And why would that be? Well, I would contend one of the biggest reasons is because of conditional self-worth, as in, “He has the perfect family,” or “She is so much more beautiful than I am,” which makes them seem better and while you seem worse. In reality, your worth is independent of other people’s successes, appearances or anything else.

Another aspect of perfectionism has to do with rules. Perfectionists have a set of rules regarding how things should be. Examples around the holidays may include:

  • I should cook everything from scratch.
  • I should buy everyone a great gift.
  • My family should all get along.
  • She should offer to bring something.

Interestingly, while these rules are part of a perfectionist’s core mindset, they are not always conscious. In other words, perfectionists may not even know these rules exist until one is broken. And when that happens, stress and turmoil can ensue.

Remember that perfectionists have conditional self-worth, and rules play into that. When a rule is broken, perfectionists feel down about themselves. If they break the rule themselves, then they feel like failures. When someone else breaks a rule, perfectionists will often personalize the offense as meaning that person does not respect them. Either way, it is a blow to their conditional belief in themselves.

Now, let’s face it, defining your worth on either being perfect or on someone else’ reactions to you can be stressful.

So, I say, instead of expecting perfection this holiday season, focus on being better than perfect. Being better than perfect entails dropping the stress of perfectionism without lowering your standards. How can you do that? Stay tuned, because my next article will address exactly that!

Until then, let us know how perfectionism impacts your holidays. Comment on our Facebook page