I'll often think back to when I was first asked. It was sophomore year in college, and I'd gone to the counseling center for the first time. I was seriously stressed out and I didn't feel like me. A few sessions in, my counselor said, "Lauren, would you consider yourself a perfectionist?" What? Me!? I rejected the idea immediately. I am definitely NOT a perfectionist. How could she be so off base? Me? Flexible, cool as a cucumber, easy-breezy, me? I denied it vehemently. She nodded as she listened to the reasons I was not, and let it go.
The truth was, until the moment she had asked I didn't even know what a perfectionist was, never mind considered the the idea in relation to myself. What's amazing about counseling is your subconscious stays working on the ideas. It was actually a couple years later when her question turned into a realization that struck me again like a lightbulb in the dark. Ohhhh....
Just like that, it clicked. I finally acknowledged that, like so many people, in certain areas of life I have perfectionist tendencies.
I had to sort the "when" and "where" out for myself. It wasn't in all situations and with all things. But recognizing, and then reminding myself of this when it comes up, has actually made life much easier. I now understand that at times things feel harder or more stressful to me because I'm viewing my world from perfectionist glasses. I often step back from a situation and am able to realize its uncomfortable because it's not meeting my pre-set expectations. I can begin to tackle the idea more constructively, and let go or re-orient to the situation.
Recognition is 80% of the battle. After all, we can't address something we don't actively see.
If you're already aware that you're a perfectionist, congrats! You're ahead of the game. I hope you're using your insight to be kind to yourself. If you've been reading this article so far and either aren't sure or are vehemently denying it in your head (see my experience above), take the quick quiz below. My hope is that tuning in to this possibility is valuable to you. By increasing self-awareness you increase your ability to shift, change, and be your true best self.
The Possible Perfectionist Quiz
1. It feels really good when other people are pleased with me. I'm a bit uncomfortable if someone isn't and want to make it right.
Y or N
2. When I've been given a piece of "constructive criticism" I ruminate on it for the rest of the week, even if it was couched in loads of positive feedback.
Y or N
3. If I'm expecting something to be done a certain way, I'm rather grumpy if it's not done how I expected.
Y or N
4. I re-read important emails and often edit them at length before sending.
Y or N
5. A disorganized or messy environment drives me crazy. I have to clean it before I can do anything else.
Y or N
6. I find it hard to let go of mistakes or blunders. I often harp on myself if I wish I had done something differently.
Y or N
7. I can be a bit critical of others close to me, especially my partner.
Y or N
8. Before going to an event I often check with multiple sources about their attire or ETA to make sure I'm in line with what others are doing.
Y or N
9. The phrase, "do it well or don't do it at all" applies to me.
Y or N
10. I often believe there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to do things.
Y or N
Now add up your 10 answers. If you answered mostly Nos, well then you're one easy breezy cat! Nothing ruffles you, and you should certainly continue to enjoy your flexible and relaxed approached to life. If you've answered mostly Yes, you may be a perfectionist. A therapist or trusted friend can help you sort out what this may mean for you and how you can put this possibility to good work!
Perfectionism, in its most persistent and pervasive forms, has been linked to anxiety and depression. This is because if life is not up to our high standards all the time, it can be highly stressful or cause continuous upset and disappointment. In my case, it was helpful to learn that in some areas of my life I was really flexible and didn't have many expectations at all, and in other areas, I held higher expectations and a more rigid outlook that often made things feel more difficult to me than they had to be.
Don't make your perfectionism make you work harder. It could be exhausting. Put your perfectionism to work for you.
How could being aware of the areas where you expect perfection be helpful or healing to you? Could it improve your relationships with others? With yourself? What would life feel like if your inner dialogue sounded like this: "why am I unhappy/uncomfortable right now? .... Could it be that am I expecting perfection and this isn't perfect?"
What could embracing your inner perfectionist do for you?
The possibilities are there.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.