Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Harmful Cycle

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.

01/27/08 -- Gary Lorton (cq) of Mesa watches the rain fall at Tonto National Forest Recreation Site outside Mesa on Sunday. Rain is expected to fall through Tuesday of this week. -- Photo by Geoffrey McAllister/The Arizona RepublicThe 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. 

feet in puddle 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.


  1. AWESOME POST! I couldn't agree more! Thank you for posting - I am planning to print a copy and present it to my daughter. Your never too young to stress.....

  2. Thanks for your words today...I'm looking forward to the housekeeping there a form of non-perfectionism when it comes to housekeeping--what would you call that?

  3. Wow, you just described me! It's such a blessing to read it and know that someone else understands. Thank you so much for your posts this week. And I thank God for leading me here. God bless!

  4. I asked some friends the other day what they did when they got mad about something. All of us said we find ourselves feverishly cleaning! Cleaning anything and everything that is in our path! What is this all about? Does anyone think this has to do with perfectionism?

  5. I was just talking with my husband last night, telling him I think I have swung from being a perfectionist to just being lazy somehow. It didn't occur to me that perhaps my laziness is related to my condensed time frame with the presence of two young children, thus leaving me to feel that it isn't even worth trying to do ___ (fill in the blank here). Thanks for this perspective!

  6. V- I do the same thing; that is, cleaning when angry! I don't know if it is linked to perfectionism or not. For me, I think I do it because I need some physical outlet and it helps me find something to do (constructively!) with my hands (rather than throw a pillow at my husband!) :)

  7. The stress cycle was a new thought to me when I was in my early 30's. I could not believe how well that discribed me! As I read it today, I do see growth but I'm not so smug as to think I've arrived....I continue to have much to work on. Thanks for posting this series!

    A question...the pic of the tree and person with the umbrella...Is that in your yard? I just love the shape of the tree! We had loads of rain in PA too but not as much as you had...yikes!

    Looking forward to the housekeeping posts!

  8. God is amazing. I usually read your posts but I was not interested enough to read the two previous ones. Lo I landed here today and in reading this post my mouth dropped open.
    I have never seen myself as a perfectionist just someone who likes her own way. But you just described me and most of my relationships! I had a blow out at work yesterday for the umpteenth time and made a decision to take a look at myself.
    Lo and behold your post has done it for me. I thank God for you and your post. I will be addressing my issues.

  9. When I read this line of yours:

    "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!)"

    I said to myself "Dear gracious, that's me!" Then I laughed, then I realized... wow, what a burden to carry.

    I've also often wondered how much perfectionism is tied with Obsessive Compulsive traits. I notice a few of those traits in myself with certain things. Anybody else wondered about that?

  10. I am catching up on your blogs about perfectionists and this one has captured me and given me chills. You have described me so well, it's like you've been hiding and watching me. I think I will print this one and read and study and THINK about what you've said and what God wants me to do. Thank you!

  11. I think you wrote this just for me! I can't thank you enough for this! I'm going now to read Friday's blog.


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