The Discontented Perfectionist

by Denise

A lot of times, perfectionists really believe that their insistence that everything they do, say, or attempt be just right is totally justified.  They  do not consider it *perfectionism*, but rather a simple desire for excellence.  Deep down, we consider the trait to be admirable, showing that we have high standards and aren’t lazy about our lives and goals.  And that secret belief that perfectionism is really a good thing is what keeps a lot of people from changing.  But if many perfectionists knew what it was costing them, they’d probably be ready to rid themselves of this trait.  Among other things, perfectionism is an ever-presence source of discontentment.  We feel discontent with our lives when we think that we ourselves, the people around us, or other things in our environment need to be better than they currently are–when we focus on all that could be improved rather than on the good that is there.   A perfectionistic attitude is MiracleGro for discontentment.  Let’s look at the characteristics of perfectionism to see why:

Perfectionism is:
* the irrational belief that you and/or your environment must be perfect
* the striving to be the best, to reach the ideal and to never make a mistake
* an all pervasive attitude that whatever you attempt in life must be done letter perfect with no deviation, mistakes, slip-ups or inconsistencies
* a habit developed from youth that keeps you constantly alert to the imperfections, failings, and weakness in yourself and others
* a level of consciousness that keeps you ever vigilant to any deviations from the norm, the guidelines or the way things are “supposed to be”
* the underlying motive present in the fear of failure and fear of rejection, i.e., if I am not perfect I will fail and/or I will be rejected by others
* a reason why you may be fearful of success, i.e., if I achieve my goal, will I be able to continue, maintain that level of achievement
* a rigid, moralistic outlook that does not allow for humanism or imperfection
* the belief that no matter what you attempt it is never “good enough” to meet your own or others’ expectations

Since we know that life is never perfect, if we can never be content until everything is exactly as we believe it should be, then we will never be content!  We don’t have to be greedy or overly ambitious in order to be prone to discontent; having an attitude that minimizes the good things in our lives and magnifies the bad (or simply “less than great”) things will undoubtedly keep us from the joy and happiness that arises from genuine gratitute for what we have.  It’s impossible to be both grateful for something and unhappy about it at the same time.  Perfectionism short-circuits our sense of gratitude and thus our happiness.  And perfectionism is such that a person could have, on the whole, a great life with lots of opportunities and people who care; but because she’s focused on all the little imperfections here and there–the fact that a certain supervisor is difficult, or a household project remains unfinished, or a friendship is a little rocky at the moment–she can’t see the forest for the trees and allows those individual negatives to define the whole.

As usual, love covers a multitude of sins.  Perfectionism looks to the outcome to judge the value of an endeavor.  But love looks to the process.  It looks to the motive, to the sacrifice involved.  Perfectionism says that unless the end is achieved with a certain result, it is not valuable.  But love is an end in itself.  Love labors, knowing that if you give your all to those around you and to your goals, that you have done well.