The Dangers of Perfectionism

There is considerable value to caring about the details. Those that take the time to make sure that they are performing all tasks with perfection are the ones that often go above and beyond with their work, and are able to reduce errors and improve outcomes in all aspects of their life.

Some of the most successful people in the world are these perfectionists, as perfectionists are often high achievers who can accomplish a great deal. However, those same individuals are also, on average, some of the most unhappy people in the world, and that is because perfectionism is not without its challenges.

Why Are Many Perfectionists Unhappy?

Perfectionists may be high achievers, but they are also frequently setting themselves up for failure. That is because, for the perfectionist, the only way to be happy and satisfied is if things go exactly according to plan – if they are perfect.

But that’s not how life works.

In life, things can and will go wrong. Perfectionism creates this illusion of control that simply does not exist. It is impossible to control every component of a task or action, and in the end, something will usually happen to make the outcome “less” than expected. Similarly:

  • “Perfect” is Subjective – Perfectionists often struggle to find satisfaction because their idea of perfection changes based on how they’re feeling. There is not always such thing as objective perfection, and so they may complete a project perfectly only to dislike it the next day. In some cases, they may experience stress and anxiety trying to figure out how to make perfection possible when it is not.
  • Perfect is Baseline – When “perfect” is the standard you use to judge success, there is very little opportunity to experience extra happiness. You cannot be “pleasantly surprised” or experience greater rewards for exceeding your expectations when your expectations of yourself are only perfection. Some of life’s greatest happiness comes from doing better than expected. With perfectionists, what’s expected is the “best.”
  • Perfectionists May Have Troubled Relationships – Sometimes, perfectionism can cause problems in personal and professional relationships. For example, in personal relationships, perfectionism may be expected of the partner. In the professional world, perfectionism may delay others in completing their own tasks.

Perfectionism has its strengths in terms of productivity, but it also has its weaknesses when it comes to life satisfaction. In therapy, we look for ways to maximize your productivity, but also cope with setbacks and learn realistic expectations of yourself and the world around you.