Help I’m a Perfectionist! What to do when your greatest strength is also your downfall

Perfectionism is bitter sweet.

For those of you who are self diagnosed perfectionists you’ll know this only too well. Perfectionists have a desire for, well perfection. They’ll most likely have high standards, a strong work ethic, a desire to produce high quality work and a purpose that drives them forward to achieve. They like to dot the “I’s” and cross the “t’s”. Having a perfectionist in your team gives you someone to rely on.  The perfectionist has many many admirable strengths.

But, there is a dark side to perfectionism which often leads to an internal battle of never feeling good enough, not knowing where the off switch is, not being able to see when something is ‘good enough’ and therefore working the hours that are required to reach a standard that is way beyond most people’s expectations.

Perfectionists also tend to have an unhealthy relationship with guilt. It’s easy to feel guilty if you always feel like you’re never meeting the standard or letting people down.

The Stressed Perfectionist

It’s when a perfectionist gets stressed that trouble may rear its head. When you are calm and centred your perfectionist drive can be a source of strength but under stress or pressure the dark side emerges with it’s full force. Here are some characteristics that emerge under stress. Can you relate to any of these?

  • Becoming more and more single minded, seeing only your point of view
  • Feeling the need to control more and more aspects of your work/life
  • Becoming more and more goal focused; maybe to the detriment of the people around you
  • Seeing other people’s standards as sloppy or lazy
  • Being frustrated with the way others approach their work (and their lack of dedication/effort/standard)

Understanding your stress triggers can be a good place to start. What causes you to become stressed? Chances are you will relate to a few of these:

  • Any situation that threatens your sense of control e.g. other people’s perceived “low standards” or “illogical approach”
  • Over emotionalism from others
  • Failure to achieve goals
  • Unrealistic time pressure

What do I do?

So, what do you do if you find yourself as a stressed perfectionist? Here’s a quick tip list….

  1. Be willing to appreciate the different values of others. Not everyone shares your standards and thinks the same way as you. This doesn’t make them wrong or you better. Everyone is different and unique. Focus on how other people DO bring value, even if it’s not as you would expect.
  2. List all of your personal values, rank them in terms of importance, then work out how to respond suitably — under stress the tendency is to treat everything as important and so energy is poured into issues that are actually, in themselves, not meaningful.
  3. Recognise when something is good enough. Calibrate your standards with other people, let others help to guide you so you know when you can pack up, switch off and go home
  4. Be willing to laugh at yourself. Inject some fun and humour, try not to take it all so seriously.

What if you work or live with a perfectionist? How can you help them to moderate their need for perfection. Try some of these:

  1. Be supportive, be gentle but also talk about boundaries. If they cross a line, be firm.
  2. Be practical; keep agreements with them
  3. Never discount their worries, give them space to talk and explore what is going on for them.
  4. Show your appreciation of their achievements
  5. Give them facts rather than forcing them to talk about their emotions
  6. Help them to recognize when something is ‘good enough’
  7. Help them to focus on their strengths and talents and what they DO bring. They may be focused on their gaps.

Remember, if you are stressed and displaying perfectionist tendencies, it’s very likely that you are ‘in’ a scripted pattern of behaviour. You unconsciously think that you need to be perfect otherwise you are not OK.

Reality is you are OK whether you are perfect or not.

A stressed perfectionist is likely to feel inadequate, to believe that they are not good enough or feel the need to prove themselves. Who to? Who knows. Do know though, that it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can start by finding yourself a good coach and if I look like a good match for you, please get in touch.

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