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I’m a recovering perfectionist. I used to think that if you looked up the word perfectionism in the dictionary you might see a picture of me but what you actually find is something like: “A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.”  If you’re anything like me, you know it can be an exhausting way to live.

Perfectionists, while sometimes being hard on others, most often place the highest expectations of perfection on themselves. These are the folks who keep a spotless house and belong to a gym and actually work out there. Daily. They get straight A’s in school, have wonderful manners, and they’re every boss’s dream because they’ll stay late and go the extra mile to do a job perfectly. Their hair is perfectly coiffed, their clothes in perfect taste, and they’re likely to show up with freshly baked cookies. I think it’s safe to say that Martha Stewart is a perfectionist.

But sometimes a perfectionists looks like a couch potato. The fear of not doing something perfectly can easily translate into not doing it at all. Perfectionists often present as your classic underachiever or someone who continually starts projects but abandons them before finishing lest they risk producing something that is less than superb. If a perfectionist is convinced they can’t obtain the perfect six-pack or buns of steel, they’re likely to just give it all up and pack on the pounds. If they can’t get an A in the class, it’s best to drop out entirely.

Either way, perfectionism can be a debilitating thing to deal with and difficult to recover from. One of the things I’ve come to understand about the perfectionist is that most of us don’t really want to be perfect. We all know that simply isn’t possible. But we do want everyone else to think we’re perfect. There’s a deep seated belief that if we don’t do it perfectly (whatever “it” is) then we won’t get approval which equals love. And I believe that deep down, everything we do (or don’t do) is on some level about trying to feel loved and accepted, a basic human need.

But of course it’s our very humanness, inherent in all the mistakes we make and all the ways that we fall short, that makes us truly lovable. Don’t we often resent those people who seem to be so perfect? How can you feel OK about your wrinkled shirt or your store bought contribution to the potluck when you’re standing next to a Martha Stewart? I think that’s why we all liked her better after her fall from grace. She’s not so perfect after all! But even understanding this, for the perfectionist it takes a great deal of willingness and a lot of love and support to shift from being “displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards” to really knowing that “good enough” is good enough.


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