We’ve gotten about 20” of rain in the last couple of days – I’m floating over here on the NC coast. And my kids are out of school today because of it. So I’m going to quickly lay out two ways our perfectionist attitudes start frustrating cycles in motion.
The Stress Cycle:
First, perfectionists set unreachable goals based on unrealistic expectations. Second, naturally, they fail to meet those often well-out-of-reach goals. Third, they become stressed, anxious and self-critical over their failure. Finally, rather than realizing the true problem – unrealistic expectations – they demand a more perfect performance next time, or else avoid the pursuit entirely.
And that’s why procrastination isn’t always tied to laziness as people assume. Often it’s tied to perfectionism. If you can’t do it “right” – or don’t have time to, or don’t have the time to do all of it right now – then you just don’t do it. Which, of course, leads to more stress and self-condemnation.
Another issue may be feeling that it is already ruined so why bother. We perfectionists have lots of quirks based on our notions of what is a “perfect state.” Like, what do we do with clothes that have been worn once, and are not soiled but are not “perfectly clean” anymore either. We can’t hang them back in the closet with the perfectly clean clothes (that will contaminate the clean ones!). Or if the carpet has stains that won’t come out, why bother taking care of it now and vacuuming it often because it’s already ruined. So we abandon it’s care, lament it and hate it. Some of us have done this with our bodies/figures. All of this is stress-producing!
The Relationship Cycle:
Sometimes without even realizing it, perfectionists can apply their unrealistically high standards to others, becoming critical, demanding and difficult to please. Those who live or work with perfectionists regularly feel they can never do right, never quite measure up. The perfectionist’s frequent lack of grace, or unwillingness to cut any slack to themselves or others, damages their relationships.
Children often take on their parent’s perfectionist thinking – causing the stressful, self-defeating cycle to perpetuate through generations. Meanwhile, co-workers, spouses or friends may simply “check-out” of the relationship as much as possible after growing tired of trying, or of being fussed at.
Because perfectionists often lash out at others - in their stress, frustration and unrealistic desire for everything to be just so - they frequently wind up feeling guilty or bad about their relationships. But they get in the habit of controlling and criticizing, of nagging and nitpicking, and can’t seem to stop themselves. Their desire for perfection wins out over their desire for love and peace and fun. When they look back on it, they usually regret that priority.
Furthermore, perfectionists avoid letting people see their mistakes, not realizing that self-disclosure allows others to perceive them as more human and thus more likeable. Because of this, perfectionists often have difficulty being close to people. Keeping people at arm’s length, they only let people in when they are confident they can control the situation and the other person’s perceptions of them. This results in unsatisfying relationships – which only confirms in the perfectionist’s mind their lack of value or their need to strive harder. It’s a giant self-defeating cycle - a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m off through the flood waters for a meeting at the church. Be back later to post about what we can do about this. (And I’d like to talk more specifically about housekeeping and perfectionism as so many readers have commented about that.)
Meanwhile, think and pray through this post – realize what your perfectionism is really costing you.