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Perfectly Imperfect: 6 Signs You Have Toxic Perfectionism & 5 Ways To Let It Go

Photo: Anna Shvets – Pexels

When I became a teen mom, I was judged by everyone around me. People thought my life had been ruined by my own actions. Others guessed that I was headed down a long road filled with disappointments and dead ends. That’s where my perfectionism anxiety first started.

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Professor and Writer Brené Brown once said, “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun, and fear is the annoying backseat driver.” People who strive to be perfect in everything they do usually come from a place of shame, overcompensating for something that made them feel ‘less than’.

They fear that stigma will stay with them forever and do everything in their power to mute it by accomplishing more and being everything to everyone. That fear of failure links perfectionism and anxiety together in your subconscious mind.

Video: YouTube – The Perfectionist Trap

Here are 6 signs that you are a perfectionist:

The anxious perfectionist believes that if they show they are perfect in every way, whether it be looks, work, personal relationships, or in what material possessions they have, they never have to deal with shame and criticism. Brown refers to it as the “20-ton shield”, meaning that it will protect you against the unwanted blame, hurt, and ridicule, but is also a heavy burden to carry.

Perfectionism is based on external validation. You want to do your best because you are overly concerned about what people will think. The perfectionism isn’t based on who you authentically want to be as a person, but more on how you want to be seen by the outside world.

Now that we know the ‘why’, let’s talk about some signals that might let you know that you have obsessive compulsive perfectionism.

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1. You have perfectionism procrastination.

Perfectionism and procrastination seem as if they shouldn’t be in the same sentence. But because you have the need to get it right, your perfectionist behavior can show up as ‘analysis paralysis’, a state where you overthink every minute detail. This can lead to falling behind or being so scared to fail that you avoid the task altogether.

2. You desperately need approval.

Obsessive perfectionism makes you prioritize validation and approval from others. You don’t get the same feeling of accomplishment when you know you’ve done something well as you do when someone else compliments your achievements.

3. You either win or lose. There is no gray area.

People afflicted with compulsive perfectionism have an “all or nothing” mentality. Think of the famous quote from Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Perfectionists equate success with being number one. Anything less is unacceptable.

4. You judge others too harshly.

The tendency to point out the lack of perfection in others can be referred to as ‘moral perfectionism’. You believe that your way is the right way and that if you tear other people down, it will place you on some sort of moral high ground.

5. You feel guilty.

Every perceived failure, no matter how small or insignificant, brings up feelings of inadequacy within you. You get the feeling you have let other people down and allow those emotions to take away from life’s pleasures.

6. You are super defensive.

Perfectionists struggle with taking constructive criticism about their work. They get defensive when given feedback and can lash out if they are seen as anything less than perfect.

Video: YouTube – Georgia Dow

How does being a perfectionist impact your mental and emotional well-being?

Outside of feeling that you are never enough, perfectionists can suffer from a plethora of mental and emotional issues. According to the University of Michigan’s Counseling & Psychological Services Department, some side effects of perfectionism are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Test anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Writer’s block
  • Obsessiveness
  • Compulsiveness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loneliness
  • Impatience
  • Frustration
  • Anger

So, perfectionism, though typically framed as a good thing by those who have it, is rooted in insecurity, embarrassment, and a deep-seated need for acceptance from the world around you. It can actually have to opposite intended effect, leaving you unhappy, unhealthy, and keeping success just out of your reach.

Photo: Mizuno K – Pexels

Here are 5 ways to finally let your need to be perfect go:

1. Give yourself some grace.

Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect. It’s important that you take your errors in stride and avoid making them bigger than they really are.

2. Have achievable goals.

If your goals are not realistic, the chances of failure are greatly increased and that will only lead to more disappointment and shame. Aim for S.M.A.R.T. goals; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

3. Understand your value.

Your self-worth is not about what you do, but who you are. Know that you are enough and that just doing your best is success.

4. Stop procrastinating.

Sometimes, you just have to feel the fear and do it anyway. No amount of pondering will make you 100% certain you will succeed. Be willing to take risks and move the goal post closer so you have a better chance of feeling successful.

5. Find your purpose.

Many people do things for accolades and not because they are passionate about them. Your sense of achievement should come from following your life’s purpose, not from doing meaningless things just for recognition.

If you are really struggling with perfectionism and can’t seem to overcome it on your own, it might be time to talk to a therapist. Removing the box you have painted yourself into and healing old internal wounds and trauma can go a long way in helping you focus more on living a beautiful life and less on worrying about what other people think of you.

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