Table of Contents
- Striving for Perfection: A Double-Edged Sword
- The Origin and Influence of Perfection
- Types of Perfectionists and Their Characteristics
- The Root of Perfectionism: Striving for Perfection and External Pressures
- Overcoming Perfectionism: Strategies to Stop Striving for Perfection
- Personal Journey of Striving for Perfection
- Works Cited
The hauntingly white clock reads 7:00 am. The pillows jump up and down while travelling in circles. The tables join in, and suddenly the room is alive- leaving you, as the only stationary inhabitant. The objects dance faster and faster until they are all blurs. Suddenly, the room becomes shockingly white. Trapped in a white room, no windows or doors, you notice the perfect room with no imperfections. You sigh in relief, but that soon vanishes as you notice a small piece of dirt. You run to the spot and try to get it off, to make the room perfect again. While rubbing it off, your fingers leave a mark and you notice trails of dirt everywhere. You start to hyperventilate and can’t figure out how to make the room perfect again as you continue striving for perfection.
Striving for Perfection: A Double-Edged Sword
Perfectionism, a psychological disorder that can either increase your chance of success or lead to self-defeating thoughts, has become common in society today. Perfectionists try to do everything perfectly, leading them to an unstable and unsatisfying life. This concept of setting unrealistic aspirations often leads perfectionists to experience anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental health issues (Team, GoodTherapy Editor). While downfalls are common side effects of being an idealizer, there are some positive attributes as well. Throughout this essay, the origin, effects, and causes of perfectionism will be elucidated to help explain that being flawed is exceptional.
The Origin and Influence of Perfection
During the late eighteenth century, a group of Christian men headed towards New York in hopes of building a utopian community. They wanted a place with plentiful crops, pleasing weather, charismatic Christians, minimal labor, and economic enterprise. In order to accomplish their goals, the “Perfectionists” worked under John Humphrey Noyes, a well known American preacher and philosopher, to build a “perfect” community. For about 32 years, they were quite successful in maintaining a community that had substantial economic growth and good relationship between the inhabitants. In fact, their community grew from 87 people to 306 in 29 years and they had more than 265 acres of farmland and industrial buildings (Oneida Community Mansion House). However, perfectionism didn’t reach its peak until Sir Thomas More wrote his book Utopia in 1516. In the book, he wrote about an imaginary island with the perfect social and political system (Utopias in America). The more people read this book, the more popular the idea of a utopian society began. People strived to make everything perfect: their home, community, family, and even themselves.
Types of Perfectionists and Their Characteristics
While the general concept of a perfectionist is to correct flaws, there are different types of perfectionists: socially prescribed, self-oriented, and other-oriented. To begin, socially prescribed perfectionists believe that others value them only when they are perfect. So in order to earn other’s respect, these perfectionists hold unrealistic expectations and strive to reach them. If they don’t reach these goals, which is extremely likely that they don’t, socially prescribed perfectionists experience anxiety, low self confidence, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. To put it simply, as psychologist Flett says, socially prescribed perfectionists think that “the better I do, the better I’m expected to do” (Benson). Next, self-oriented perfectionists set high standards to please themselves. They are extremely organized, punctual, and diligent. They are also associated with the characteristics of an adaptive person: positivity, motivation, assertiveness, and problem solving. Finally, other-oriented perfectionists hold other people to high standards. Rather than wanting to improve one’s flaws like self-oriented or socially prescribed perfectionists, other-oriented are extremely critical and judgmental toward others. They want everyone around them to be perfect and that often makes it hard for these perfectionists to build relationship with others. They struggle with maintaining any type of relationship because of their desire to overpower the “inferior” (Wilding).
Given the three different types of perfectionists and their characteristics, what truly classifies one as a perfectionist? According to Brené Brown, a research professor at Houston Graduate College, most people use perfectionism as a “shield” to protect themselves against embarrassment, judgement, and bullying. These people often are unable to complete a task unless deemed perfect by their standards, take extra long to finish a task (even a simple one), procrastinate until the “right time”, and view the end result as more important than the process. Perfectionists also tend to spend hours re-writing a single sentence, believe that anything less than 100 on a test is regarded as failure, avoid trying new ideas or games with fear of not being perfect, and compare oneself to other people’s accomplishments (Perfectionism). Perfectionists are well aware that performing a task perfectly and perfection itself is impossible to achieve. Yet, they continue their drive to accomplish perfectionism. So, what really causes their continued motivation towards perfectionism?
The Root of Perfectionism: Striving for Perfection and External Pressures
According to Sharon Martin, a licensed psychotherapist, “... the root of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements…”. This root of perfectionism can start as early as an adolescent due to extremely high parental expectations and abusive parents. When parents expect too much from their child, they are putting overwhelming pressure on the kid to be perfect. If they make one mistake, they fear that their parents will be angry. Even when parents praise you too much, problems of perfectionism can arise. Due to excessive praise for a child’s achievements, the child feels the pressure to maintain their parent’s happiness. Besides the parental expectations, some other causes of perfectionism include low self esteem, cultural expectations, black and white thoughts, and mental health issues. The main factor asides from believing that your achievements decide your worth is that of cultural expectations. In today’s world, social media culture has portrayed the image of a tall, very slim, Caucasian model as being perfect. Children grow up with these unrealistic beauty ideals and fear not meeting the standards. This causes them to feel insecure and make sure that other parts of them are perfect, so that no one focuses on their imperfect looks (Kishore).
Overcoming Perfectionism: Strategies to Stop Striving for Perfection
While these causes can be maintained to an extent, not all of them are completely preventable. So for the people who are experiencing the symptoms of perfectionism, there are some precautions they can take to overcome that desire. To begin, perfectionists can evaluate their manifestations as emotional awareness. For example, if they realize that they are rewriting a simple sentence over and over, they can pause and ask questions like: Why am I doing this? What emotions am I encountering? Is it necessary for me to improve this sentence? By going through this thought process, they are able to take time to think about why they are experiencing this desire (Kishore). From this information, they can create alternative coping strategies. In the case of wanting to rewrite a sentence, the person can take a break from the assignment and come back to it later. This will allow them to process their thought process and deduce how important correcting the sentence is. By following these two steps, perfectionists are able to better control and accent their emotions, which helps them realize that failure is a necessary building block.
Personal Journey of Striving for Perfection
Personally, I am a perfectionist. Everytime I notice that my notes are out of order or that my notebook is not where I left is, I feel fully and agitated. I want to scream and tell everyone to not mess with my belongings. This feeling of control has always confided in me and it wasn’t until my end of freshman year that I learned how to control it. I decided to take deep breaths whenever I felt frustrated. That simple change has helped me overcome my constant desire to have everything in control. Sure, I still try to stay organized, recheck my work, and live up to my parent’s expectations, but, now, I know when it's too much and how to control it.
In essence, I like to believe that a little bit of perfectionism resides in everyone. We all have desires to write the perfect essay, get the perfect grades, have the perfect relationship, and get into the perfect college. Yet, those are nearly impossible because perfect doesn’t exist. Everyone has a different definition of perfect and as long as your definition of perfect is satisfied, you have achieved success. If people can adapt to this mentality of failure is acceptable and learn to recognize the causes and symptoms of perfectionism, perfectionism will no longer control people’s lives. The aspiration to do your best is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, I spent over a week thinking about how to end this essay and I still can’t think of a perfect sentence. So I’m just going to leave it as it is - imperfect but satisfactory.
- Benson, Etienne. “Many Faces of Perfectionism .” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Nov. 2003, https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.
- Kishore, et al. “What Causes Perfectionism and How to Get Over It.” Nick Wignall, 24 July 2019, https://nickwignall.com/what-causes-perfectionism/.
- Martin, Sharon. “What Causes Perfectionism?” Psych Central.com, 2 Jan. 2018, https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2015/12/what-causes-perfectionism/.
- “Oneida Community Mansion House: Historic Structure Report.” In 1848, a Group of Christian Perfectionists Who Were Determined to Create a Utopian Community, Settled near the Oneida Creek, New York, https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/o/OneidaCommunityCollection/hsr1.htm.
- “Perfectionism.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/perfectionism.
- Team, GoodTherapy Editor. “Perfectionism.” GoodTherapy, GoodTherapy, 8 Mar. 2018, https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/perfectionism.
- “Utopias in America (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 18 Dec. 2017, https://www.nps.gov/articles/utopias-in-america.htm.
- Wilding, Melody. “There Are Three Ways to Be a Perfectionist, and Not All of Them Are Bad.” Quartz at Work, Quartz, 23 Feb. 2018, https://qz.com/work/1213866/there-are-three-types-of-perfectionism-and-not-all-of-them-are-bad/.