At some point in our lives, most of us have lightheartedly labeled ourselves or someone else a ‘perfectionist’. Someone who needs to have things ‘just right’ or it’s all wrong. There’s probably some truth to it in certain ways, but unless it’s a symptom of some type of larger and more severe compulsive disorder, we tend to wave it off as an annoying character flaw. Sometimes that’s really all it is. In other cases, perfectionism can cleverly consume us, affect those we love and rob us of precious life experiences and unexpected moments of joy. That’s when perfectionism is extreme. Extreme perfectionism is debilitating.
How can something so extreme get by so many of us so easily? Simple: we’ve normalized it to the point we don’t even notice the damage anymore. Here’s how to spot the signs:
1. You ignore small victories. Unless it’s 100% complete in your mind, you are flat-out unwilling to acknowledge your progress. For you, 80/20 is failure. You stress about getting to the finish line, but you keep pushing that line farther and farther away. It’s a non-stop, no-win game.
2. You’re easily overwhelmed. Your need to do things a certain way adds unnecessary time to everything you do. Your ‘To Do’ list seems exhausting because you try to do too much. You wear yourself out halfway through and seemingly never get to all the things you set out to do, in the time you give yourself to do them.
3. You tend to be impatient. Throughout your life, people who care have told you this. Your level of expectation is so far above the reality of your day-to-day encounters, that you become irritated by things that others filter out: Long checkout lines, barking dogs, long-winded people, inefficient processes, indecision. It’s much harder for you to “go with the flow”.
4. You give up easily. When your expectations of an outcome don’t match the reality of the situation, you begin to question yourself, your ability and your choices. Ego is deeply-rooted in extreme perfectionism and your ego tells you you’ve failed. Your disdain and impatience for failure convinces you you’re on the wrong path. Instead of realizing the road won’t be perfect, you change the road. You begin again on your next ‘perfect’ path.
5. You fall behind. Focusing so much on that one thing gets you ahead in that one area, but everything else suffers. The house and car sit uncleaned, the laundry and mail pile up, quality family time and intimate relationships suffer. Even when you’re physically present, your mind is elsewhere.
6. You don’t like surprises. You are annoyed by the unexpected. Drop-in visits drive you crazy. Not because you don’t love the people who stopped by, but because you feel unprepared and messy. As you walk to the door, you fret over any signs of disarray. You mentally scan the fridge for a drink to offer or a snack you can quickly pull together. You worry about not being a perfect host. None of your concerns matter one bit to your visitors. They stopped by to see you and be in your company, if only for a moment of fellowship and joy. No judgment. But you completely miss the blessing of that experience because in your mind, you feel exposed. It’s a moment of failure.
7. You lose focus. Your mission is clear when you set out to accomplish something big, but along the way, you change and tweak and critique so much that what you set out to do just doesn’t feel right anymore. It was clear then, now it’s all wrong. You keep moving the finish line because you have to regroup and get it “just right” before you show it to ‘the world’.
If you recognize the signs, don't be discouraged. It's not hard to get your life back again. Read, 8 Ways to Love Your Imperfect Life.
Look for next week's post on "6 Signs Your Ego is Out of Control"