The pitfalls of perfectionism

How always needing to be perfect can lead from having self-control to losing it all

(Unsplash/ Engin Akyurt)

(Unsplash/ Engin Akyurt)

Speaking for myself, I’ve got a certain compulsion for finishing work with excellence and always needing to complete tasks flawlessly. The compulsion I’m talking about is called perfectionism.

In my experience, the quality of being perfect is nothing but the fear of doing things in the wrong way. To avoid the consequences, we often tend to behave in a particular way to complete tasks with no flaws or defects. However, if we fail to do so, the reaction creates chronic stress all over the body. 

Courtney Worrell, who works in the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology Lab at King’s College London, says that perfectionism “…is a personality trait; one where you tend to set extremely high, or ‘perfect,’ standards for yourself or others, and often struggle to accept anything less. Some people will experience perfectionism across their everyday lives while others may experience the tendencies relating to a specific aspect such as their appearance, school or work.” 

Different people have different experiences of being perfect, which can stress them out in different ways.

Moreover, if you are constantly hard on yourself, pressuring yourself, it can eventually lead to loss of self-control, loss of self-awareness, and can even cause panic attacks. 

Unmitigated perfectionism not only sabotages your general mental health but also creates more stress, anxiety, and constant worrying as you compare yourself to others at school or team members at work. Perfectionism, even when it comes to personal health, is not always a healthy thing. It can make a person mentally sick too.

Christie Aschwanden, who wrote an article for Vox titled, “Perfectionism is killing us” says that it “…comes in three common flavors — ‘self-oriented,’ where someone demands perfection from themselves; ‘other-oriented,’ where they demand perfection from others around them (like spouses, co-workers, or friends), and ‘socially prescribed’ perfectionism, where the person feels external pressure from the larger world and society to be perfect.”

Reflecting on the self-oriented version, I believe this is where asking for help is considered a weakness. Not because a person doesn’t need help, but because they are scared of receiving rejection. 

This gives them the idea that things will not be done as their perfectionist personality wants them to be done.

In terms of the other-oriented version, where you expect others to do their job perfectly but also at the same time you want to satisfy your need for control, it is often the result of overthinking, which can add to your stress.

The socially prescribed version is the most dangerous and manipulative one, where behaviour is designed in an overthinker’s mind to meet expectations in a particular way in society, in the outside world, so that nobody can judge you or make negative statements about you. These things don’t exist in reality though, and they are only limited to one’s perspective.

We all need to learn that sometimes it is okay to let things be. Whatever happens, happens. It is not always necessary to hold things up by yourself, and it is never your sole duty to make them work perfectly. 

 As the saying goes: “There’s no such thing as perfect.” I agree.