Perfectionism: Helping or Hurting You?
If you are a perfectionist, you may have mixed feelings about it. You may be wondering if your perfectionism is helping or hurting you. You may also have questions about how you became a perfectionist. Here are questions to ask yourself: Did you grow up in a high-pressure environment? As a child, were you made to feel as though your best wasn’t good enough unless you got perfect grades and outshone everyone else?
In the Asian culture, as children we are taught that working hard and excelling at school and work is the sure path to a secure future. As adults, we excel at work, score high grades at college, and enjoy professional success.
However, there’s a price to pay. Intense pressure to succeed can lead to feelings of never “being good enough” and always “wanting more.” Many of us feel that we will need to work hard for decades in challenging jobs with no definite end point in sight. We burn out. We may feel that are driven by a fear of failure rather than a healthy desire for success. As a result, our work can drain our energy and suck the joy from us. Ultimately, these feelings can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and even be a factor in suicide. Where we used to be driven by our drive to be perfect, we now ask ourselves: Is our perfectionism helping or hurting us?
Perfectionism isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be healthy. The problem comes when it’s driven only by the desire to please everyone else, or when you impose your standards on others.
Perfectionism comes in three forms:
Self-Oriented Perfectionism: Self-oriented perfectionists set and attain realistic goals. They are driven, hardworking, and live by their own set of standards for living. They draw on their inner resources, value assertive communication, and feel positive much of the time.
Other-Oriented Perfectionism: Other-oriented perfectionists are concerned with what others are doing. They closely monitor everyone else’s behavior, and chastise them when they make even minor mistakes.
Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: This kind of perfectionism stems from external standards, such as those imposed by family or the media. It results in self-criticism, fears of rejection, and an obsession with being “the best.”
How To Thrive As A Perfectionist
If your perfectionism is other-oriented or socially prescribed, re-evaluating your core beliefs about yourself and the world will help you enjoy happier relationships and self-acceptance.
Acknowledge your successes as well as failures
Most perfectionists have a black-and-white view of the world. They think that if they falter, they are complete failures. This simply isn’t true, but it can take time to break this thought pattern. Take time to congratulate yourself on your successes, and appreciate your talents.
Let yourself feel your emotions–good and bad
Perfectionists have a hard time accepting and working with negative thoughts and fear. Don’t hide your emotions. It’s OK to feel unsure of yourself sometimes. Negative feelings are only a problem when you let them dominate your life. Often, sitting with them and letting them pass is all you need to do.
Learn to let go
If you’re an other-oriented perfectionist, try to loosen the reins a little; sometimes, you need to delegate tasks to others. Let them tackle problems in their own way. Resist the urge to micromanage, and focus on what they do right. Keep any criticism constructive.
Re-evaluate if need be
It’s great to set ambitious goals, but check in with yourself occasionally and make sure they’re still right for you. Maybe you need to re-evaluate or change directions. Maybe your lofty goals are hindering you from what you really want in your life.There is no shame in changing direction.
Love yourself regardless of your performance
Separate who you are from what you do. Don’t put all of your value into how you perform. You are much more than your grades, your SAT score or your job title. You have unique gifts and talents which cannot be measured by a numerical score, title or bank account.
“Good enough” is often “good enough.”
Learn to be “good enough.” Not everything needs to be perfect. Ask yourself if it would be worth it to put in the extra time for that extra 10% in order to be perfect, or would that time be better spent somewhere else?
Be aware of unhealthy perfectionism signs
If your perfectionism is causing you to lose sleep, to feel anxious or depressed, causing you health problems or problems in your relationships, it’s time to re-evaluate if what you are doing is worth it. It depends on the situation, but I often tell my clients that if something in your life is compromising your mental or physical health, it’s time to re-evaluate its place.
About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in the Milpitas and San Jose areas. She helps clients use their perfectionism to work for them without allowing it to weigh them down. She understands that people of all ethnicities struggle with perfectionism but that Asians (including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc.) tend to have a higher incidence of perfectionism. Learn more about Lia Huynh and Asian American counseling here.