Breaking News: You Can’t Control Everything
You’re the person who always aims to turn in flawless work. Your standards are high — way too high, in fact.
And if something goes wrong, you blame yourself for not doing better, even when it’s not your fault.
While doing your best is worthwhile, striving for perfection can be bad for your mental health.
Unrealistic plans and high expectations invariably result in disappointment, particularly if they lead to negative self-talk and feelings of frustration.
“You must realize that you can’t control everything,” says Daniel E. Jimenez, Ph.D., a psychologist with the University of Miami Health System. “No matter what you do or how much you do, you can’t get something to be perfect because we aren’t perfect.”
Perfectionism can influence many areas of our lives, not just our professional projects and accomplishments.
Some perfectionists expect a flawless physical appearance to match touched-up or enhanced images on social media.
Others may direct all their attention to keeping a spotless house, organizing closets constantly, dusting and vacuuming incessantly, and hovering over family members in case they drop a crumb or a sock.
“Ninety-nine percent of a project may be spotless, but the perfectionist only sees the 1% that is wrong,” Dr. Jimenez adds.
Garden-variety perfectionism is not to be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While perfectionism is a symptom of OCD, not everyone with this personality trait has a mental illness. Perfectionists usually don’t want to stop their behavior. Their habits, considered rigid by others, give them a sense of control.
On the other hand, individuals who suffer from OCD want to stop but can’t. They may also show other symptoms.
Perfectionism can be good in certain instances.
For example, healthy perfectionism can lead to good organizational skills, goal-oriented practices, and excellence. But when taken to an extreme, perfectionism can devastate relationships and the person’s mental health.
“To a large degree, we all are perfectionists in certain parts of our lives,” Dr. Jimenez adds. “But when those behaviors start interfering with your life, it becomes a problem.”
Perfectionists come from all walks of life. There is no single cause or particular personality type.
“It could be something they have learned because they grew up in a household that demanded perfection. But also, it could be a reaction to chaos,” he says. “In some cases, people just come wired like that.”
If you find that your exacting standards are disrupting your life and relationships, Dr. Jimenez has these suggestions to help you let go and move on:
- Acknowledge that you may have a problem. Understand that you may be holding on to unreachable benchmarks.
- Mute that negative nag inside your head. Critical self-assessment and self-blame only reinforce excessive perfectionism.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. You bring your own unique qualities to the table.
- Be nice to yourself. Talk to yourself as you would speak to your best friend or someone you admire.
- Accept that the success of a project doesn’t change who you are. In other words, outcomes don’t define or diminish you as a person.
- Carefully probe if your goals for a project are genuinely attainable. Are you asking too much of yourself? Are you doomed to be disappointed by co-workers trying to meet impossible deadlines?
- Accept that mistakes are normal. In fact, they’re part of the learning process.
- Seek a professional to help you with your irrational fears and unrealistic expectations. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can address the biases and flawed beliefs that lead to the need to be perfect.
Ana Veciana-Suarez, Guest Columnist
Ana is a regular contributor to the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News, and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at anavecianasuarez.com or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.