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Response: The Perils of Perfectionsim
October 23, 1997
You certainly have my full attention, as I am a recovering perfectionist myself. Many years ago I was delighted to have someone refer to me as a perfectionist. Now I know that, far from being a compliment (even if that's how the remark is intended), it is a red flag. I monitor myself and realize that when I am into my perfectionism I need to regroup and get in touch with what's REALLY important.
In an effort to keep this brief, I'll just say that I have come to believe that the ONLY thing we are called to do in this life is to be the beautiful, unique human being God created each of us to be. Human beings are NOT perfect. One of the breakthroughs in my recovery came, as it usually does, from a friend's casual comment when I found myself in the throes of a perfectionism crisis. She said, "You are just not able to accept your humanity." That was one of those "Ahah!" moments that zap us from time to time on our search for the Higher Truth. My primary buzz word, if you will, these days is AUTHENTICITY. Perfectionism is one of the primary blocks to authenticity. We are called to be WHOLE, not perfect.
Thanks so much for being there. Your web site is one of my top favorites, and I visit it frequently for inspiration during one of the major crises of my life. God bless you!
Love & Peace
December 1, 1997
Hi! Your article really hits home on a lot of issues for me. I have been fighting perfectionism for years. I always thought it came from my upbringing. My three year-old son however, is exhibiting it also and has been since day one.
What has me searching the web about it, is that he recently said that he will not tell any of his stories because "they are not good enough." He has always derived great pleasure from them, but not now. He also won't use crayons or markers, because he can't write to his satisfaction. His day is filled with "I can't" and "I'm not good enough."
Is there anything you've run across that helps children of this age deal with perfectionism? I do everything I can think of to encourage him to not take life so seriously and loosen up. I have never and do not expect him to be perfect--far from it! I know how painful my upbringing was and am determined not to do the same thing to my son. Unfortunately, with my best efforts still we are facing this problem. He is so intense. It really worries me that he will only get more so.
Any advice? Thanks!
Hi Carole. Have you tried having other people comment on your son's work? Maybe you could find an old story or picture and have a friend take it to your son, telling him how much they enjoyed it. Some of my kids share my perfectionism also, and I don't know whether it is nature or nurture, genetic or modeling my behavior. But I do know that they require much more of my attention, and I have to give constant positive reinforcement. I don't know what else to say. If things seem severe, maybe a professional counselor could help. Also, one or two of my kids in their 20s have no tendency towards perfectionism, and that raises a whole different set of problems. Good luck and thanks for writing.--Mike
December 6, 1997
Hi Mike! Thank you for your advice and encouragement. I really appreciate your quick response. I am going to check into some child psychologists, just to see what they say, but am definitely checking them out before I let them meet my son.
We've tried the "third party" technique, but he doesn't believe them either. I do think consistent positive reinforcement is key. Patience is something I need to work on.
Thanks again! Carole
February 13, 1998
Imagine my chagrin when my therapist diagnosed me as a perfectionist. I never considered myself a perfectionist; my father was a perfectionist and I could never please him. My husband is a perfectionist and nothing I do is ever good enough. I was a self-proclaimed Phlegmatic and fully believed it. Then, about a month ago, during what is apparently a mid-life crisis, I find out why. I am a perfectionist. Thank you for your article. I was searching the web for information and thank the Lord I found this.
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type "perfectionism" in the subject box of your e-mail editor).
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Feb. 23, '98
Mike: A very interesting column. I have never viewed myself as a perfectionist because I have always been plagued with the knowledge that I am not perfect. But I suppose that's what places me in that category.....the fact that I am plagued by not being perfect. Am I reading into this that being a perfectionist and knowing you're not perfect makes a person sabotage their lives without knowing it?
Feb. 27, '98
I just read your article on perfectionism. Thank you. I've been looking into the topic for awhile now, especially during this past year. I am a bonifide perfectionist and my beliefs and attitudes are wreaking havoc in my life - emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
The bottom line for me is that I, for some reason, believe I have to be perfect in no less than the eyes of God!!! Can you identify? So my spirituality has become a burden and cause for anxiety and depression rather than a source of joy and comfort.
How have you worked through yours? And do I really have the power to change what feels so deeply rooted? (I've been able to change some of my other destructive attitudes) I'm discouraged, really.
Some part of me accepts nothing less than God Himself coming down into my room to tell me that I'm OK and that it's safe for me to let go, relax and just be me.
Hi Lisa. I believe it is now out of print, but see if you can put your hands on When Being Good Isn't Good Enough by Stephen Brown. Brown's a minister who deals with the problem. His book changed my whole attitude. Good luck.--Mike
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June 5, '98
Hi Mike, I'm really glad I found your site - I hope it can help me. I guess about a year or two ago my mother would occasionally say that I was a perfectionist when I would get frustrated at trivial things. Since there were many things I was indifferent to, I shrugged it off and thought otherwise. In the back of my head I think I actually looked at perfectionism as something to be proud of. Well, now I see that I really am a perfectionist, and certain things upset me very easily. I often look back on a situation and think of things I could've done differently. I'm often finding myself filled with guilt and depression, finding things wrong with myself and possessions. Another HUGE problem is that recently (or at least I have noticed it a lot more) I have these thoughts "buzz" in and out of my head, almost so quickly that I cannot recall them. Then I feel as if there was something I had to do, or something I had to say to someone - however I cannot remember and it frustrates me a great deal. It's just this horrible empty feeling. I suppose I am a perfectionist with my words and actions. Thank you so much for listening, and is there anything you suggest that I could do to help myself? Even some inspirational words would be much appreciated.
PS - I'm a high school student, and this doesn't seem to interfere much with school, or my social life at school - only sometimes at home or work or talking to my friends on the 'net. (I am definitely not a perfectionist when it comes to studying - that's for sure). Perhaps this doesn't happen as much when I keep busy, but then I'd be a workaholic, and have no fun in life.... (but the whole problem here is that this is making me unhappy).....
Hi Justin--I wish I had some inspirational words, but the father in me has more practical advise. Another problem with us perfectionists is that we always try to fix our own problems, even if they're too big for us. I think you need some professional help here, especially with the "thoughts" you're having difficulty controlling. Please tell your parents that you want to see a professional counselor; maybe even go to the counselor at your school and tell him or her.
You sound like a very bright and insightful young person. Get some help with this, and you will be bright, insightful, and happier.---Mike
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July 12, '98
Mike. What a subject! I often think the mortar of life's bricks is made of the lunacy of perfectionism. One can never be happy if one can not meet one's ideal. Perhaps this is what a mid-life crisis amounts to, a check in our stride towards the wrong goals. Or perceived as such, anyway. I am on the cusp of major change in my 45 year old life and I am so frightened, I can not jump. It may not be the "perfect" landing. Sigh. Lots to consider from this subject. Thank you. Justin, good luck! Pam
October 23, '98
I think that I am suffering from perfectionism. I cannot let go of certain things and the fear of becoming a failure is ever mounting. It is something that is scary, intrusive, and never-ending. I try to give people my all and when I do not get that in return I am disappointed, and furthermore, I do not forget it. I want everything to be perfect. It is extremely difficult for me to admit that I cannot do everything myself and do it well. When the issue of people arises, I am welcoming and looking forward to having a good time. But I think that I become too preoccupied that I am making other people happy. Even though I am the one that is suffering, I feel that I can redeem my imperfections by helping another person out.
There are certain things that I feel that I have to do in order to be accepted and liked. Although I do not have a problem with meeting people and relating to many different types of interests and abilities, I feel that I need to do more. For example, if I am in a group, I have to have the best clothing. I have to come from the best of everything. In a way, that can be seen as a good thing and being ambitious, but it is something that takes away from me enjoying myself. It is somewhat of an insecure preoccupation. Nothing seems quite good enough, and I am unable to derive satisfaction from what ordinarily might be considered a job well done or a superior performance. Deep-seated feelings of inferiority and vulnerability seem to force me into an endless cycle of self-defeating overstriving in which each task and enterprise becomes another threatening challenge.
You see, no matter who you are or what you own, this life you're living right now is the only chance you'll ever get to have fun and do something worthwhile. None of us can start over once we're dead, because dead people can't change the fact that they aren't alive.
This must seem like a really random message, but I was interested in your site, and figured that possibly you can give me some input. I have a really difficult problem talking to people about my problems in person, or if they know me...but I think that this issue has to be dealt with. I feel that you may have some idea about what I am talking about, people that do not have this "perfectionism" in them cannot understand.
I would appreciate any response to this E-mail
Mark, Thanks for sharing. I think other readers may have some better insights than mine, so I've put your message here. I hope you get some feedback--Mike
November 16, '98
Perfectionism is a spirit. Use the word of God to free yourself. The book of Philippians says, "Be anxious for nothing. But in ALL things, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your request known unto God." Repeat this scripture earnestly each time you feel yourself heading for self-defeating behavior which stems from your perfectionism. Remember that God's grace really is sufficient. That's what I do, and it works, if you work it. Peace be to you! Joyce
December 18, '98
So was I... and after many years of soul searching and work, I've finally began to realize my full, honest potential by going back to college...and it's great. I no longer suffer from the fears of failure, but fully enjoy and appreciate the feeling of just being there. Unfortunately, it's not a concept my wife is willing to address. I honestly believe that she is more of a perfectionist that I ever was (if there is such a thing)! I pray every day for a way to help her see how this robs her of the pure enjoyment of seeing without intent, but purely for the pleasure of seeing! I've never really truly appreciated this until my daughter was born. And I thank God every day that I learned this before I decided to have "the perfect daughter!" Thanks... and God Bless...
Jaunuary 17, 1999
Hello, Mike. Due to recent events I have been involved in, I have been thinking very hard about something that I may be cursed with. It is perfectionism. I definitely can relate to the things you say in your web site. Yes sir, I am, at least, a wanna be perfectionist. I know I have many many shortcomings. So I try very hard to overcome these shortcomings. And if I didn't try? I would be a loser. You see, the way I see it is, you can either be a winner or a loser. What is there in between? So I try very hard to be a winner and most of the time I come in 3rd place. To me, this is better than not trying and coming in last or next to last every time. And yes, it causes me big problems in my relationships with other people. So I am going to become a reclusive peson and try to stay the hell out of everyones way and hopefully they will stay out of my way. Cause the way I see it the world has so many folks who do not try to do the right things and that is why the world is on the opposite end of the scale from being perfect. Of course, this isn't a perfect world and the people in it are far from perfect. Only one person has ever been perfect and he died about 2000 yrs. ago. But please don't tell me I am wrong for thinking that everyone could try harder to make this a better place to live. I personally don't worry very much about people who don't try . But when I get beat up for trying to be myself, someone who takes pride in a job well done, whether I did the job or someone else did the job, I dont understand it. I think the people who dont try hard are jealous and just want to drag you down to their level. As you can see, with all of my typos, I am far from perfect. I could go back and easily correct them, but what the heck. It is just easier not to do it. See, I'm trying! Please understand, I am not disagreeing with your philisophy. I just wish it was easier for me to comprehend. Am I making any sense?
Return to The Perils of Perfectionism.
Hi Mike I'm 15 and my 1st grade teacher used to call me a perfectionist, my mom still does. I rodeo and I've never been able to get it down because I concentrate on my little mistakes that I end up hurting myself and my horses ability. My mom says I lack self coinfedence and encourages me to like 2nd place and I guess I just don't. I try but it bothers me. I thought perfectionism was great until I read your page today and I realized how bad it holds me back. Got any advice for me so I can not take things so seriously? Lindsey
Hey Mike Remember me I wrote to you (Lindsey the rodeo girl). Sorry I forgot to put Perfectionism in the subject box the first time. I wanted to thank you for all the help your site has been.
I guess you start out feeling your the only one who feels this way, and it's kind of lonely. All I thought about was how I could win and beating the people I've competed with for years. Now I've realized there's alot more to life than competition. I'm alot more happy and I don't take things as serious: comments from people, competion....etc.
One of my real eye openers was a dream I had. I dreampt I died and my only regret in life was not winning a rodeo. I mean thats terrible I was only thinking about competition and nothing else. I was dead and that was my regret!
I still practice alot but its not so serious I keep saying to myself when I feel the perfectionist coming out "Your only human, except it."
I eagerly await your response to my earlier e-mail.
Thanks Alot Lindsey
Thanks for your two emails. You have a bunch of wisdom for such a young person, and I think you're on the right track now. Keep us posted.
April 16, '99
You hit it - the major sin defect of pride. We can't help it we inherit it from original sin!!!! Not till I went on a retreat with the Legionaries of Christ doing spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola did I 'get it'. I did it all in the past while trying to 'get perfect'- anorexia, bulimia, etc. Writing a recovering book for all those destructive perfectionists. Really like your stuff.
May 1, '99
Mike, Just discovered your website!! Enjoyed the column so much. I, too, am a recovering perfectionist. I liked your point on trying to keep an immaculate house and not giving attention to the PEOPLE who are in the house. AFter having children my standards of housekeeping are much lower. Toys are on the floor in the living room--that's OK. I will even walk out of the house with dirty dishes in the sink!! Several years ago I would have NEVER done that.
However, as I am a recovering perfectionist, I work with a woman who is "a perfectist to the max." She is married, but has no children. Her house is immaculate and anything that is taken out of place for a while is put back into place immediately. I doubt she will ever come to the point of walking out of the kitchen with dirty dishes in the sink!!
Loved your column and I will be reading more......... Donna Carson
May 29, '99
Mike, Wow! Someone who understands. Most of your Ps adequately described me except the phoniness and paranoia. I do have close friends and they are NOT perfectionist. I have chosen to surround myself with people that will help keep me in better balance. I do not have a hard time admitting my failures and being myself. However, for me this is where the pride takes over. I fully expect people to like me just as I am, perfectionism and all! I am very critical of others but have learned to cover it with humor, so that most people find me very funny, and have no idea that I actually mean most of what I say. I do crave others admiration of me, and I do a lot of volunteer work at my church that others would not tackle. I also get depressed really easily when everything I have volunteered to do is not done to perfection, and of course it can't be because I have volunteered to do too much. I am learning however, and have given up some things and am learning to let things go around my house a little bit. I have a 9 year old son who is gifted and is showing all the signs of perfectionism and has since he could talk. We constantly work on it with him as well. Thank you for your article. Sincerely, Melanie
June 7, '99
i am married to a perfectionist and i can't take it anymore. how do you people accept help, being perfect and all? i need to know asap. thanks!
June 21, '99
Snapshot: 31 yr. old SWPF, own my own business (because I can't work with others - they don't do ANYTHING right) - was skipped a grade because I was too smart to stay with kids my age. I'm like the guy in "Sleeping With the Enemy" who evens out the towels and straightens all of the cans.
My biggest issue is that I just asked my (completely devoted) boyfriend of three years (whom I thought I would marry) to move out because he was driving me nuts with his "imperfections" - he says I will never be happy because nothing is ever good enough and I'll never be happy with anything or anyone since I will constantly try to make them and myself better. This brings me to that thin line of where is the balance between perfectionism and just striving for more (aka The American Dream)
Most importantly are there Perfectionist Anonymous groups? Or any reading material you suggest to evaluate and/or overcome perfectionism??
Thanks! And anyone who would like to chat further about this may respond to my e-mail at PRISMJill@aol.com.
August 3, '99
Hi, I just figured out that I have been married to a perfectionist for 15 years. It has always escaped me because he procrastinates everything. He is also a blatant underachiever, with a Master's Degree in a very lucrative field, but choosing to work in a very low paying job. (and denying it). I'm also a recovering perfectionist (1st born as well as my husband). Recently I have started seeing his perfectionism with some compassion. How do I balance the compassion with the fact that his ways drive me crazy? I did stop working after 4 kids, feeling like I was enabling him in some way to continue at "safe" low paying jobs. It hasn't really helped at all, because we just spend our kids college trusts. How do you break these guys' thick wall of denial? How far should our enabling go? Is this trait a perfectionistic one? It is when someone cannot follow someone else's directions, but does something totally different and opposite because that's what they think needs to be done. I didn't know if it was perfectionism or ADD. Anyway the only way I can cope right now, is to physically get away from my family several times a year. My oldest son (13) is also completely perfectionistic and nitpicks on his sister constantly. Sorry to write so much.
August 16, '99
Hello, I have always been a perfectionists and right now I'm in a downtime. I think any perfecitionist might know what I mean. I have a hard time. By that I mean like alot of perfectionists I tend to think rather than feel, which is the backbone of the problem. I just graduated high school. I moved 2000 miles from New York to South Florida and got a bartending job in a week at a prominent hotel. I do very well there. I was always the outgoing type very popular in high school good athelete and had alot of friends. Sometimes being close to people is hard because of the defensive barrier perfectionists put up. Right when things start going good for me (emotionally) start feeling good about something I tend to throw something into it to make myself feel like it's just not right. I make myself feel guilty about something just to later get through it and realize how unneccesary it was. I guess that;s all part of getting better. I change fryom day to day sometimes extremly well, other times highly frustrated and angry. Well good luck I know what your going through..
August 21, '99
I am a 47 year-old woman who has been a perfectionist as long as I can remember. My mother was very particular about her house but not so much about everything else as I am. I am very vain about my looks, practice perfection in my job and expect more from others than I ever receive.
Whenever I hire something done at home, I am quick to find fault with the job that is performed but feel that I am justified in doing so. No one seems to take pride in what they do, nor do they care about the reputation they are developing. It makes me furious yet there are some things I cannot do myself. I always feel that if I were able to do the job, it would be done right.
My husband is a loving, easygoing man. I know that I cause him much grief because he likes to "tinker" and would love to repair things at home but he never does it to suit me. I would rather hire a professional and pay them megabucks than to let him do the job. At least I won't blame him if I am not pleased.
I also find that I worry about things over which I have no control. Apparently, control comes along with perfectionism. I tell myself that no one is perfect yet I continue to want everything to be so. I make myself and others miserable.
Any words of advice?
BB, I have nothing to add to the column, but maybe others have some advice for you. What about it? Anyone have a suggestion for BB?
Thanks for writing--Mike
November 2, '99
I think your page is great. It has finally made me realize that my problems derive from me being a perfectionist. My question is "should I enroll in psychotherapy to break free from my perfectionist behavior"? Thanks!
Rob, I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so my answer comes as a lay person not an expert. My guess is that most people don't need professional help with this but some of us probably do. If it continues as a major problem for you, you might make one appointment and see if the therapist thinks they can help.
November 22, '99
My name is Danielle and I have an 8 year old nephew that is becomming a perfectionist. It seems to be hurting him in school. I am concerned with this as well as his parents. He has the ability to do well but the "need to be perfect" personality as we all know as Perfectionism is really slowing him down and putting him behind. I know there is not cure for this but what I would like to know is, is there help for a child with this distressing personality trait. I would like some advice about how to cope with this. Or if anyone has some advice for me, my email address is email@example.com
I am not a professional counselor, just a columnist with my own struggle with perfectionism. However, I will post your message and maybe someone will have an idea for you.
December 25, '99
Hi Mike, here i am online, trying to find out about perfectionism. I am searching for traits of a perfectionism as i think my husband may fall under that category. would you have a list of traits i can look over. He is not one to straighten out the house but other things in his life is never good enough, trivial things are made to be worse than they are. He always sees the bad side of things. Always striving to solve his own problems no matter what they are. And always striving to reach his impossible goals. Please help. Do you have any tips and can pass on. We have two children, one of them was showing signs. he would draw pictures or write words and he would start crying thinking that it was not good enough because it was not perfect. After working with him, he has seems to have gotten better. Working with my husband is a different story. I'm hoping you can guide me through this. Thank you Mike for listening. Carmen
Carmen, See my response to Danielle above. Good luck. Mike
February 3, 2000
I really enjoyed reading your article on perfectionism! I have
been living with a perfectionist husband and I wondered why he can be judgmental
and critical at times. I have been very confused until I found a
suberb book! The title is "Never Good Enough, Freeing Yourself from the
Chains of Perfectionism" by Monica Ramirez Basco. It is a fabulous
book and has been invaluable to me. Now I finally understand my husband!
We have been married for 23 years. If you believe you are
a perfectionist or have one in your family you must read this book. The book describes 2 kinds of perfectionism "inwardly focused" and "outwardly focused". It also has a test to see if you are a perfectionist and which kind. It also has wonderful advice for perfectionists who are in close relationships and advice for people who live with them. Yeah!
Please read the book and let everyone on this list know if it helps you.
Good luck in your self-discovery,
February 27, 2000
Mike, I just found your perfectionism column after an i-net search on
the subject. Many things you said hit very close to home. After reading
all the responses, I get the feeling that I am missing some previous writings
on the subject, or other columns/sources. Can you direct me to anything
else on the subject such as discussion groups, related in-depth psychological
Don't know what those previous writings would be, but you might check the "more columns" page. And I bet the web has more articles on the subject. Good luck in your search. If you find some pieces that are particularly helpful, you might revisit and post to this page, and I'll let others know where they are.
February 29, 2000
Thank you for your article. It really ministered to me. I have always
known to some degree that I am a perfectionist, but it seems that lately
it is really affecting me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I am
a pastor's wife, mother of four young daughters, and a homeschooling mother.
I try to be the perfect wife, mother, and also minister to the needs of
those in our church. I teach a ladies Bible study as well as do a lot of
personal counseling with women. Because I desire to be perfect,
I constantly struggle with a fear of failure. It is very hard for me when I disappoint my husband or others. I also feel very prideful about all that I do and am able to get done. My home is perfect and must always stay that way. I put a lot of pressure on my children to help me maintain the perfect surroundings. I worry constantly about what I am doing to them, but never enough to change. It is very difficult also because I expect others to commit to the same level to me that I am willing to commit to them. It has really hurt two intimate relationships with dear friends. They are frustrated with my expectations as well as
me being frustrated with their lack of commitment to the friendship and their word. At this point, I feel it is much easier to not deal with people in an intimate way. I have felt so hurt and also emotionally have felt the need to withdraw. At least until I can understand my sin problem and deal with it so that I can be a better friend. Physically, I have been struggling with stomach problems. I know that it is all related. I pray daily for the Lord to live His life through me and change me. Thank you for letting me share.
March 4, 2000
I'm a perfectionist too. It's horrible!! My self-esteem is low and I'm
always wanting to be totally
perfect!! But I am getting better. I show that I care about other people by saying good night, and I love
you every night to my family. And I don't think bad thoughts that much anymore. Your website helps.
March 10, 2000
Thank you for sharing your experiences in such an open and insightful
manner. I particularly took note of the multiple references made by yourself
and others to God and the relationship between religion and perfectionism.
Personally, I have always believed that perfectionism was a negative rather
than positive trait, but somehow I've also lead myself to believe that
it was a stipulation of sorts of what God wants us to be. I'm tremendously
grateful for your page and for having been given the chance to stumble
upon it, because it has reinforced what I have always believed deep down: and that is that perfectionism is NOT what God intended, in fact I would even say that it contradicts God's intentions, because as a perfectionist a person is always focused on him/herself and not on those around them.
I identify completely with contributors to your page who wrote about feeling 'robbed' by perfectionism. I can't tell you how many things I have simply not had the courage to do because they had become too large of a mountain to climb. Doing things perfectly made the simplest tasks incredibly labour/time intensive, so much so that I could no longer generate the effort to even start them.
This really is a horrible thing, and I can't thank you enough for initiating this public forum-- for all of our sakes.
Good luck to everyone and God Bless.
Return to The Perils of Perfectionism.
April 15, 2000
Thanks for your column on perfectionism. I'm a college student
who has been battling with perfectionism for probably my whole life, but
I'm just now coming to the realization that it is a problem. As I
read through your column, I can relate to all of the traits of perfectionists
that you list, but I have never thought of my problems as resulting from
my obsessive need
for self-perfection before.
I am a high achiever student who often knows the answers to questions in class, yet I very rarely speak up because I'm afraid I won't be right. Then I am angry at myself for not speaking up. I completely know about the "phoniness" trait as well; I'm never relaxed when I am with other people, not even the ones I've known most of my life, because I live in constant fear of what they will think of me if I do something wrong, if I say something dumb, etc. Plus, I am paranoid that all of my friends don't really like me, or that they like other people better. I'm often afraid of trying new things for fear of messing up also. I'm depressed or worried about issues in my life a majority of the time, and that is no way to be.
I'm glad I found your column because it makes me realize that I am not alone in this, and it is always helpful to know that there are other people out there who are suffering through the same feelings that I am. Thanks again,
June 26, 2000
Dear Mike, thanks for your site+your insight! Can this problem be handeled without drugs if you have already gotten to the point of being almost paralyzed by fear, so you just quit trying? I just stick to the basics+do the housework+ feel like giving up on all else, but I probably won't though. I intelellectually know my identity in Christ+most of the time feel it as well, but when having a slump, I fall for the devil's lies that I'm horrible+no one likes me. What do you think? I just got off an antidepressent, which was an incredibly courageous+difficult thing to do, I felt really good about it for a while, but am not sure I can survive without one, dont want to take anything, What can I do to keep from getting so low at times? Thanks+God Bless, ALS
As I've said before, I'm not the expert, just a fellow struggler. You need to see a pro. Check the yellow pages for a licensed counselor or ask your pastor or priest for advice. I do think you will get better. I did.--Mike
July 13, 2000
I began to tell you the story of the beginnings of my perfectionism, when somehow or other, I was cut off. In case you did not get the beginning of this, I will just tell you that a lot of my struggle with perfectionism began in college in French class with constant criticism by my professor. It grew into fear of speaking in any of my classes until I dropped out in shear misery. I did not realize that it was perfectionism that caused this. Rather, I blamed myself, thinking something was really wrong with me not being able to speak in class...and I began to tremble through life. At first I took jobs where I would not have to speak, or go to meetings. Those jobs were like prisons, and eventually I took on more challenging positions. Inevevitably, I would be asked to speak, and I would call in sick when I could, or really suffer through a speech. I was petrified and trembling. My sinuses were killing me, and I felt sick and tired all the time. Eventually I tried meditation, which helped to a degree. But soon I managed to trip myself, though I continued to meditate all these years. Today, I talk in front of people, with less trepidation, but it is still there. Then, just recently, I had a phone conference, in which we were all doing things on the computer. I fell behind, and everyone had to wait for me. I became physically sick, and spent an agonizing afternoon blaming myself. Out of the blue came the insight that I am afraid to make mistakes. That was only several days ago, and I cannot describe the improvement since I started mindfully watching my fear to make mistakes...and it comes up all the time. Now, I cut if off, let myself make a mistake" and discover it is not really a mistake at all, but just a human occurrence. I realize the beginnings of my problem and, in midlife, realize I can change my life...but I need some help with this (which I am going to pursue). It would be wonderful if there were a "Perfectionists Anonymous" somewhere. Thank you for listening, and for all the wonderful people in this discussion group.
July 25, 2000
Hi, my name is David, and I've often been called a perfectionist, which I thought, to a degree was a complement. I received a wake up call from my 13 year old when she stated that she is sick and tired of this families "high standards." I hope to write about my own struggles with perfectionism+mental illness+? but would like to comment about you going off medication (antidepressants.) I hate taking medication for my illness but I do know that they help. When I get enough sleep, some physical activity, and eat reasonably well, I feel better. But I still recognize the need for my medication. If you have received a prescription for antidepressants, and they help without interfering with daily functioning (i.e...drowsiness, or some other side affect, which, if so, I'd discuss with your doctor or therapist before going off them.) I also question the reasons why you don't want the medication. Since this discussion is about perfectionism, a perfectionist couldn't possibly take medication for depression, that would suggest that something is not perfect. I apologize for my lack of good wording, I'm only suggesting that perhaps, as with myself, that as a Christian and a perfectionist, taking medication is hard, that would be admitting that we do need help, and we are "not good enough to function without them." Mike mentioned that he's not the expert, and neither am I, but I just wanted you to know that it is not shameful to take medication, as prescribed, and then continue working out this peril called perfectionism. I sure hope to lighten up on life, it keeps coming at me everyday, and I sometime wish I could run and hide, but the day won't stop for me. I hope in some way this helps, if not, please respond so that I might learn how to be more helpful in the future.
August 28, 2000
I was just curious to know if your research or thoughts are Christian based? I have a very good Christian friend who seems to meet the requirements for perfectionism. I rarely do anything as good as he does, according to him, but why continue to scrub an already clean counter when there are other more important things to do like... live. Maybe the house is always spotless(and I'm sure to always express deep "appreciation" for it), but I feel like our relationship is so stifled and tense that we don't seem to have time for much more than elaborate meals and an immediate clean up and then there's the anticipation of
a long and drawn out thank you for all that hard work and "love" that went into all that work. About that defensive thing you talk about, it's right on; almost to the angry point. If you happen to mention you're tired from a long days work there's the response, "Don't think I'm not tired." Why makes things complicated? I guess what I'm saying is that I don't mind if we eat a piece of cold toast once in a while if we're running a little behind and we want to enjoy other things for once, but that's not acceptable. It seems like an obsession for orderliness and perfect meals that dictates each and every move so that there's not a lot of time left for enjoying real life. Do you address the significant other and their part in this craziness in any of your books? Do I border on that Pygmalion concept? When I tell him how I feel he just can't understand why I'd want anything else but "perfection" and why can't we be "perfect"? Is there anything I can do to become accustomed to this or is there actually people out there that live like this the rest of their lives?
Mel, Good questions. I suppose my approach is influenced by my Christian beliefs, and the point of the Gospel seems to be that none of us are good enough; only Jesus was. So the Perfect Man died that our imperfections might be forgiven.
As to the other questions, I'm not sure what you should do, but I'll post this and maybe others will have advice.
Thanks for writing.
September 17, 2000
I am fasinated by your web page. I too am a perfectionist who only recently is realizing how negatively this trait of mine has impacted my life. It presently is causing problems between my husband and I. He has turned to another woman to get the ego boosts and validation that "he's OK just the way he is". And it hurts like hell to know that my fault finding has played a part in this. I also realize that it has held me back from doing what I love - Art. I only go as far as I can without the fear of failure. I take classes, and enter fairs, etc. all to try to build my own belief in myself and my abilities. What have you done to curb these tendancies? How have you made your life better and still been able to live with perfectionism? I sense that you have been there and done that and I am ready to hear any advice you have on this subject. Thanks for listening!
I am a 30 year old Masters student studying in Japan. I am struggling with perfectionism but believe that God is giving me the opportunity to try to change. I'll try to make my story short.
3 years ago I studied under a brilliant professor in Japan for 1 year. At the end of my one year, he wanted me to give a presentation about my research. But I felt I wasn't ready to, and besides, it wasnt due in my home country for several more months. I did not want to present something that I had not thought through enough in front of him and all the Japanese students I had been with the past year. So I rebelled and turned up with a 40 minute presentation about my association with Japan and the joys and woes of being a foreigner in this country. I got many things off my chest and told the Japanese students many things I thought they should be aware of. It went down fine with the students, but the night before I flew out my professor took myself and my fiance out for dinner. It was a horrible ending to what had been a great year. He expressed his disappointment in my presentation. And I, quite stubbornly and as headstrong as ever, told him that all year his expectations of me had been too high and that from day 1 I was never going to be able to reach them. The thing is that though he denied this, I believed he just couldn't see the stress and pressure he places on other people. I still felt he was in the wrong and I was in the right. We spoke on the phone a few hours before my flight was due to leave. It was a very solemn conversation and he said to me 'Sally, you are a perfectionist. And you have to stop looking for praise from other people. You have to find your own worth in yourself.'
I was shocked. How did he see that in me?
I was actually supposed to go back and study under him again to do a masters starting some 9 months later. As it turned out though, and I believe for the best, I had to go to another uni. I believed that he was bad news for me. As much as I admired his teaching, he places too high expectations on people and because of him, I believed, I would not reach my potential for fear of disappointing him.
So I have been at a different uni for these past 3 years. And I have seen that he was right and I have held my own self up and tortured myself in the quest for perfection. It has truly come to light in this country because I simply can't operate at an equivalent level to the natives - not in what I write or present. But I just can't seem to set my own standards as a foreigner.
Then a few weeks ago, I met up with this old professor. We had only met a few times in the years in between. He knew things weren't going so well between me and my new professor so offered to help me. And he's obviously thought about things a lot, and is accutely aware of my 'condition'. He was careful to say he would help me as a 'friend'. He has not told me 'do this and that' by such and such a date. He seems to want to really help me achieve my best.
And since that meeting, I have realised how wrong I was. He never put the expectations on me. I put them on myself!! And when I couldn't achieve them, I blamed him. I know this because ever since that meeting, I have started to get scared about my work. To procrastinate more than usual (hence the reason for sitting here typing this when I should be working) and making up things in my head that he will want. I've caught myself!
Perfectionism actually helped me go places in my previous jobs in Public Relations - it can be a very helpful quality when things need to get done fast and accurately. But in academia, it is a millstone around my neck. I want to shake it so badly because I know I'm smart and am capable. But being driven all my life by competition in a western society and thriving on praise all my life and then coming to an eastern philosophy society where you are expected to know your own worth and noone says 'well done', I am finding it so hard to change. I know though that if I can, I will actually achieve even greater things and enjoy them more.
I am my own greatest obstacle. You see in PR you know what has to be done and you know if you can do it (which you generally can or you quickly give it to someone else) but with academia, you don't know till after you've done it! I hate this aspect and quite frankly, am so not cut out for it. Nevertheless, having decided I am not cut out for it, and that's fine, I still want to prove to myself that I can combat this perfectionism and use this as a chance to change my ways and learn a new way that will serve me forever.
I don't know. Are you born with perfectionism? Do we do our children wrong by praising so much in western society?
Thanks for your helpful site.
October 23, 2000
Hi Mike and all the other perfect (well, we try anyway) people out there.
I think I have this perfectionistic thing pretty bad. I am trying
very hard to not be such a perfectionist because I know now that in order
to be perfect, you cannot be such a perfectionist. So therefore I
try to be perfect by not being perfect. I am not kidding here either.
I am reading through a cognitive therapy book on perfectionism and doing
all the exercises and spending lots of time on it... and when I think about
why I'm doing it... well, it's so that I can be better... which in my mind
is to be more perfect which means not being such a perfectionist but really,
I'm striving to be more perfect. I believe it's very important to have
balance in our lives... which is
very hard when you are always trying to be perfect... I take each balance characteristic to the extreme trying to get it perfect which doesn't leave time for any of the other balance characteristics. Take spirituality for example, I started going to church to improve on this neglected trait, well, I ended up spending so much time in church that I neglected the other traits, as in family, physical health, etc. How on earth is one to ever break the perfectionistic cycle when every thing you do is to reach that goal of being that perfect person... even if it means learning not to be a perfectionist... I find this a bit humorous, which I find that laughter is my only relief from perfectionism... but I also get caught up in the fact that the joke has to be perfect before I will laugh... This is a very complicated mindset to overcome... but I will never ever quit trying to defeat this perfectionism thing because anything less would be less than perfect... :-/ I know this sounds crazy, but believe it or not, it is actual thoughts that frequent my mind... I drive myself crazy with this... but then I laugh! Nobody's Perfect! and that just adds to the challenge.... :-/
October 30, 2000
I was so glad to find your web-site... I am married to what I think is a perfectionist and she is driving me and the children crazy and I don't know what to do about it. I don't want to leave her but I can't go on living like this. I know if I show her your article she'll "deny" that she even has a problem and get up set with me for suggesting so. Can some one like her be changed after a life time of being a perfectionist or what ever term you want to put on it? The following quote hits home " It's a lot
easier to maintain an immaculate house than to maintain warm and nurturing relationships with those who live in the house." Her heart is in the right place but she doesn't realize the things she does and how she speaks topeople. She just recently got demoted from a manger to a lower non-management position at her work place, yet it's always some one else's fault. She will go to great lengths to prove she is not wrong about something even when it is so obvious! And why? It would be so much easier to simple laugh it off and admit she made a mistake... and I'm talking about trivial things. We have no sex life because her body is not perfect any more! She is 36 and I'm 42... we've been married 3 years. We have a complicated life as I have two other children and she has one so it is very hard to try to make things work out and she puts lots of her time and energy
trying to make things for our "family" just right. For example...if all the kids are over and she plans a special dinner ... if the kids "being kids" don't act in just there right way or like the food... she gets up set and ruins the entire evening rather than have an attitude of if it doesn't work out just the way I planned so what... but she'll ruins the entire evening for everyone because Alli didn't like the pea's (9) or Michael (14) and Josh (12) broke a dish because they were playing....what can I do? any advise
would be greatly appreciated.
November 6, 2000
First and foremost, I want to thank you for writing an honest column and being so candid about everything. I am 27, and have been trying to deny or run away from my perfectionism since I was a teenager. I finally started counseling yesterday, and hope that it helps to guide me towards the path of contentment. I do not want to lessen any more years of my life by succumbing to this quality. Thanks again!
November 27, 2000
I was reading your article and found myself at the core of the reason for my own unhappiness. I am a 34-y/o female married 7 years to a wonderful man and I also have two sons 3 and 5. I often find my family walking on egg shells to please me when I'm not sure if I am pleased with myself. I am very meticulous and often procrastinate to complete tasks because I feel I MUST get them exactly right. I remember during school I use to waste many trees writing papers (using the old typewriter back then) just to make it right. I have started my quest to find a self cure because I am too "perfect" to seek help from a professional that might not be as perfect as myself. Your article has helped me at least see that I AM NOT PERFECT and that I must learn to live with real life. I'm not sure why I have developed this personality disorder but am willing to find out.
Thank you for helping me to began that path:)
sign, unhappy for no reason
December 25, 2000
Dear Sir, thank you for your words on perfectonism which fit me perfectly. I've been fighting it for 44 years. Many years ago a wise man told me to quit trying to jump 6 feet when in reality I was capable of jumping 5 foot nine (an analogy). I am now playing senior softball. When I take batting practice I hit well..but in the game I'm a different person. I tighten up and am paralyszed like you refer to. I read your article at good time. Thanks again.
Ken Pfeffer, Carlsbad, Ca.
February 05, 2001
Your article truly struck me as if someone had opened up my own mind. Though I am only eighteen, I have suffered through my adolescence in the lonely endeavor to become perfect. While I have always acknowledged that perfectionism is a vicious cycle, I felt that it summed me up, gave me identity, and made me feel whole inside. Perfectionism can both make you and break you.
While I have a difficult time dealing with failure, I have an even worse ability to deal with changes in life that are out of my control. By striving to maintain perfect grades, a perfect body and a confident attitude on the outside, no one could see the pain I was feeling inside. Although I thought perfectionism was what kept me sane during this time, I realized that it was tearing me apart inside and alienating me from others.
Your words, "when we're always playing a part, we no longer know who we really are" rang true of my experiences. While I am aware that no one is made to be perfect, the hardest thing for me to do is to learn to accept myself for who I am. I want to thank for writing such a raw and honest piece. It gives me comfort to know that there are others who are going through the same emotions and that there is hope for all of us.
February 12, 2001
Great article. I found it during an initial search for information on perfectionism. It just began to dawn on me today that perfectionism is a problem for me.
I'm wondering if you can point me to some more resources to help me deal with this. I feel the need to discuss this more with someone knowledgeable about it, so information about email lists, discussion groups, web sites, and organizations would all be welcome.
Thank you for contribution on this subject.
I don't know of any resources, but I'll post your message and maybe others will know and will repond here for everyone to see.
March 8, 2001
I think that your perfectionism article is very well written and true. I realize that Perfectionism is the source of all my problems. I was wondering how you and others have gotten past your perfectionism problem so that I have some idea of how to take on mine.
Good question. It demands an answer better than I can give. I suggest you ask a trained counselor. Also, people share their thoughts from time to time on this page.
May 15, 2001
I'm sitting her searching the web for information on perfectionism and
what do I find? This wonderfully, long multi-layered, unselfconscious stream
of information. Thank you. I don't know whether to laugh cry. Originally,
I was looking for answers to help my 13 year old son who is not only going
through a strong dose of puberty with hormones flying all over the place
but a strong case of the big "P". Now I find that his father and
I both have most of the symptoms on your list. I feel like we are headed
for a major breakdown. I've suggested counseling but no one will go, we
are too Perfect to admit we have a problem.
I'm am forwarding this discussion to both of them so they might admit they have a problem and decide to do something to help themselves. Me, I've decided to go to acupuncture school and learn how to help other people feel better. I'll try not to feel like I must do it perfectly and hope that 3000 years of eastern medicine will help me learn to love myself and others. thanks for letting me add my two cents and good luck to everyone else out there.
Susan in Austin
September 16, 2001
Hi Mike. I happened to find your article on perfectionism because I was looking to find out more information on twelve step groups, particularly ones that dealt with anxiety and depression. I am a definitely a perfectionist, and it has sucked the life out of me to the point of suicidal depression and hospitalization. Luckily I have a great therapist and a top notch psychopharmacologist and I seem to be making slow but steady progress. However, I would really like to start up some sort of discussion group or support network in order to connect with others who also battle this disorder. Anyone who is interested may write me at firstname.lastname@example.org Take care
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