Are you a perfectionist? Yup, and still have my good days and my bad days. I like to say that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I bet a lot of you reading this fall into one of these categories too. When I started thinking about this topic, I polled my Instagram followers to get more incite. I found 50% consider themselves perfectionists and just over 10% believe they’re recovering. What I found even more shocking is that the individuals that consider themselves to be perfectionists avoid doing things they think they can’t or won’t do well because they want to be perfect. When I learned this, I immediately thought about how perfectionism is holding us back.
Despite the argument that perfectionism can hold us back, it can be good at times too. Think about a job that requires attention to detail. The other beautiful thing is that everything around us is perfectly imperfect. But again, perfectionism can add more stress to our lives than we need. That’s why I wanted to do this post. I want to remind you of what perfectionism truly is and how it can impact your life.
According to Google, perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Well, if that’s the case, what’s perfection? It’s the condition, state or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects. If we put these definitions together, a perfectionist is one who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. So I need to ask you. . .
Are you a perfectionist?
Being a perfectionist isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember, I am one. I always had a feelings but was never 100% sure. Until I took the Enneagram Test. It’s similar to the Myers-Briggs personality test, but I feel as though it’s so much better. It’s so much more accurate than any other personality test I’ve ever taken. When I took it, I had the result of an Enneagram Type 1 – The Reformer or The Perfectionist. The test revealed that an Enneagram Type 1 has the following characteristics:
- They have a sense of mission or purpose
- They want to change the world for the better
- They work to overcome adversity
- They feel the need to justify their actions
- They spend a lot of time overthinking things
- They make choices based on logic, not feelings
- They use their beliefs, judgements and convictions to bring control and direction to the more emotional parts in their life
- They don’t necessarily give in to their natural desires
- They don’t always live freely
- They have a high internal sense of self-control and rigidness but aren’t always aware of this
When I read through these characteristics, I immediately related to a few. Just about every day I wake up with a sense of purpose, create a task list for all the items I need to get done and make sure to cross off each one by the time I’m done. I always spend time overthinking things and it’s probably one of the reason’s I can play Devil’s Advocate so well. And I don’t always live freely, sometimes I’m more reserved than I need to be. Do you relate to any of these characteristics too?
I kept researching and found a list of some famous Enneagram Type 1s.
- Nelson Mandela
- Hilary Clinton
- Tina Fey
- Steve Jobs
- Natalie Portman
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Although I don’t relate to all the names on this list, a few stick out as people I admire and have looked up to over the years. If you’re thinking of taking the test, I highly recommend you do. It may confirm that you in fact are a perfectionist or it may open your eyes to other characteristics you may have been missing.
When I took it and the test confirmed my suspicions, I wanted to know more, especially what the root cause was behind perfectionism. I have a BA in Psychology so that science behind things always interests me. Once I started researching, I found that perfectionism is rooted in the belief of having self-worth and is based on one’s achievements. It’s also a combination of a number of factors that come into play throughout childhood. Things like
- Having rigid parental expectations
- Having critical parents
- Receiving excessive praise for your achievements
- Having low self-esteem or feeling inadequate
- Black and white thinking – not racially biased, thinking that it’s one way or another and there is no middle ground
- The need to be in control
I grew up with low self-esteem and although I’m not sure why, I do remember it very clearly. I also remember having very clear black and white thinking, it was always one way or another and there was no possibility of gray. it was a challenge, for sure. Looking back on my childhood, I wonder if perfectionism had any impact on how I am today and low and behold, it did. Perfectionism is not considered a mental health illness but definitely goes hand in hand with mental health. It’s more of a personality trait but has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive personality and disorder, other personality disorders and eating disorders. Out of that list, I check three boxes – depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive personality. It makes me wonder if my perfectionism led to my suicide attempt. I will never ultimately know but knowing that perfectionism has an impact on my mental health has changed my thinking on trying to always be perfect.
If you are a perfectionist, or one that’s recovering, I want to remind you that you simply cannot control everything as it’s just not possible. You can only control two things – your own attitude and your own actions. Everything else you need to find a way to just go with the flow. Yes, that will take time to change so be kinder to yourself and remember to give yourself grace. Over time, you will become less of a perfectionist.