Perfectionism Part I: Let’s get to the root of the problem 

Hi, my name is Inem and I’m a recovering perfectionist. Welcome to perfectionists anonymous. 

Hey there, thanks for making it to the fifth issue of the Breakdown. Hope you enjoyed last week’s newsletter? Here is the link if you missed it. Let’s dive right into today’s issue — perfectionism.

I have always been that annoying person who had to have things done a certain way or the world did not make sense. The older I got, the worse it got. Mistakes were unforgivable and every single step or detail has to be obsessed over (hello Miss overthinker).

I had to have a plan, a structure or nothing. There was no such thing as a middle ground, everything had to be perfect. While this often worked for certain things like cleaning, cooking, areas like work suffered. 

The cost of being a perfectionist

It also made me quite unbearable to be around. One scenario that comes to mind is when a friend came over and offered to cook. Great right? Yes, but Inem, the perfectionist, could not deal with the ‘chaos’ he was causing.

While I appreciated the gesture, I physically could not stop myself from constantly returning things to their places and cleaning up after him as he cooked. The Holy Spirit had to kick in and actually compel me to leave the kitchen before the poor guy regretted making this kind gesture. 

Being a perfectionist can help you achieve greatness but it can also lead to significant problems in your life. They include:

  • Extreme Procrastination — The desire to have everything right can actually stop you from getting anything done.After all, not starting means you never get to fail right?’ is how a perfectionist might argue.

  • Extreme stress — Constantly trying to be perfect is very stressful, it takes a toll on your mind and even physical health. Procrastinators are prone to chronic stress and burnout.

  • Constant dissatisfaction — I know firsthand that being a perfectionist means you are never completely satisfied with anything you do or what others do. How can you be when you have that voice in your head telling you that there is something more to be done or that you did not do enough? What a terrible way to live. 

“If colleagues could choose between working with a perfectionist or a non-perfectionist, they would always prefer the non-perfectionist – the person with realistic expectations for themselves, and also for the team” - Psychologist Emily Kleszewski from Germany’s Philipps University of Marburg.

The truth is that perfectionism can and will take a toll on your productivity, work performance, relationships, physical health, your peace of mind and the rest of your life if you do not nip it in the bud which is exactly why the solution involves finding the cause of the problem.

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The root of perfectionism

Realising how damaging being a perfectionist can be, I started to do the work to figure out why I had this compulsion. I realised that my tendencies came being from the first child. 

Most firstborns are held to higher, unrealistic standards. They are trained to fix everything, have it all under control, so they start to expect perfection from themselves and others. This is reinforced by positive or negative feedback.

Getting praised for being great or criticised for being less than perfect trains children to believe that they have to be perfect to be loved and accepted. This actually applies to everyone, not just first children. This learned behaviour follows us to adulthood and just like that you have a perfectionist.

At the root of perfectionism is fear, fear of not being enough, fear that you will not be wanted or loved if you are not doing everything right, fear of inadequacy or a sense of insecurity. This usually comes from an early experience involving well-meaning parents or the negatively critical ones. 

In Sunday’s issue, we will talk about getting rid of this tendency in order to help us live a less extreme, more balanced, well-rounded life. Thank you for subscribing and for reading to this point. I would love to hear what you think and what you would like me to address in subsequent letters. Please reply with your suggestions.

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