Many of us hold high expectations for ourselves. We strive for a goal that is impossible to reach, whether in our love life, worklife, or family life. When we fall short, as we inevitably do, we may become paralyzed by self-criticism and shame.
Here are four pitfalls that result from our penchant to strive for perfection — and how to keep our expectations under control.
Driven by Shame and Fear
Perfectionism is often driven by shame and fear. If we can create a perfectly polished persona or achieve some lofty financial or career goal, we believe that no one can criticize or ridicule us. If we can impress people with our intelligence, sense of humor, or attractiveness, then we can win respect, approval, and maybe even love.
Striving to be perfect is a strategy designed to protect us against shame — the sense of being flawed or defective. Perfectionism is often quietly driven by a fear of failure or rejection.
Sadly, it appears that many politicians and leaders today are driven by a secret shame, which can be observed by their obsessive need to be right and not admit mistakes or acknowledge uncertainty and vulnerability.
A Set-Up for Disappointment and Depression
By pinning our worth and value on our achievements, we set ourselves up for failure and depression. When we don’t meet our impossibly high goals, we may become anxious or despondent — or angrily blame others rather than take responsibility for our actions.
Being seen as a human being with both strengths and weaknesses may burst the bubble of our belief that we need to be special and better than others to be respected or loved.
Removes Us from the Present Moment
Perfectionism keeps us preoccupied with the future. We’re constantly evaluating ourselves and trying to do better. We rarely relax or enjoy lighter moments.
There is value in wanting to do our best and self-correcting along the way, but having strong perfectionist features can keep us in our heads. We overthink things and try so desperately to control everything that we lose spontaneity; we become overly self-conscious and take ourselves too seriously. We hold a lot inside, fearful that others would be horrified by what we judge about ourselves. We deprive ourselves of the simple pleasure of being ourselves and enjoying the moment.
Perfectionism can lead to being risk-averse. Any activity that might result in embarrassment or rejection is avoided, such as asking someone out on a date, beginning guitar lessons, or starting a workout routine. We cling to the directive to be cautious and play it safe. We don’t expose ourselves to people or situations that might make us look bad. As a result, we live a constricted life.
An Antidote to Perfectionism
The antidote to perfectionism is to make ample room for our shortcomings — and remember that failing at some enterprise doesn’t mean we are a failure. In fact, without failures and learning from our mistakes, we’ll never move forward in our lives. People who succeed are those who have made countless mistakes. The important thing is to accept our human foibles, learn from our miscues, tirelessly forgive ourselves, hold ourselves more gently and lightly, and move on.
People who are addicted to perfection are often isolated. They don’t have many friends. They’re afraid that people will see through them, so they don’t let anyone get too close.
We keep our distance from perfect people because we sense that we’ll never measure up; we don’t approach them. Those who try to be perfect only succeed in pushing people away and removing themselves from their humanity.
Being human, perfection is impossible. By replacing the desire to be perfect with an interest in accepting ourselves as we are and doing our best, we may heal the shame that drives perfectionism. No longer needing to protect our image or have our worth tied to our achievements, we’re freed to relish the moment, gracefully navigate through our successes and failures, and enjoy this precious life.
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