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Alice’s Adventures in Perfectionisim

30 Dec

Perfectionism is a cognitive distortion or thinking error. It is characterised by wanting to make something perfect. The problem being, of course, that there is no such thing.

We all fall into this trap, to a greater or lesser degree, at some point. It is normal. Whether it is trying to lose weight, bake a cake, entertain others, work out, or write an essay. There will have been a time in your life when you strove for perfection.

Plenty of people have built successful careers, fine works of art and even relationships by striving for perfection. Are they happy?


Why not?

Because their standards are so high, they will never meet them. The task will never be ‘finished’, they will never manage their ‘best’.

My Father was once accused of being a perfectionist, he responded with the following statement:

“I’m not a perfectionist, if I were, my work would be perfect”

His family talk about perfectionism as if it were something to strive for, a desirable characteristic.

While I understand the logic, I also find it difficult not to be seduced by the idea of being a perfectionist. To me, it sounds like an ideal, a self-sacrificing commitment to excellence that I wish I could achieve. If I am ever described as a perfectionist, I can’t help but cringe. I fear I give up too easily, don’t try hard enough, can’t find it in myself to keep pushing for perfection.

And there it is: my own error. I believe that it is possible to deploy a perfect level of effort. A level which I can never achieve. Leading me to believe I am basically lazy. Which unhappily leads me to be judgemental towards others; those who deploy less effort than myself: They must also be lazy.

When I am criticised for having standards too high I fear the person accusing me just doesn’t care enough. If I am accused of having standards too low I feel terrible, as if I have failed in every way possible.

In an attempt to manage parts of ourselves we find unbearable we identify them in others and attack them for having those characteristics. I attack others for being lazy. As a passive person (who dislikes even passive aggression) I find the desire to attack others quite unpalatable.

So, what is the answer?

Drop those standards.

Not all the way. But maybe just down a notch or two. It is hard to find the right level and perhaps that’s what causes us to aim too high in the first place. For me, and for now the aim is to try ‘hard enough‘ and to be ‘good enough’, I feel this is the best marker for the ‘middle ground’ I can find and I think it’s okay to put in a little more effort than this without having set standards ‘too high’.

I am working on this one and will keep you posted!

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