The Perfectionist's Prison: How Perfectionism Hurts You and How to Break Free

Updated on July 28, 2018
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Geri McClymont believes that to move forward, we must be intentional about the decisions we make each day and learn from our mistakes.

Perfectionism is a dead-end road.
Perfectionism is a dead-end road. | Source

We all know at least one perfectionist. Maybe it’s a spouse, colleague, or roommate.

Maybe it’s you.

We live in a society that values ongoing advancement and self-improvement. These are worthy causes and most of us want to move forward and believe in making the most of who we are.

A perfectionist, however, sets the standards for himself unrealistically high.

Are you a perfectionist?

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Perfectionism Works Against You

On the surface, perfectionism appears to be a noble pursuit. But below the surface, perfectionism actually works against you. Here's how:

1. Perfectionism has a paralyzing effect. It often keeps you from moving forward. Because the thought of failing is terrifying to a perfectionist, perfectionists play it safe and avoid taking risks, including the risk of succeeding.

What perfectionists don’t realize is that part of success is falling and getting back up again, and that "failures” are lessons in disguise, often leading them on the pathway to success.

In addition, by refusing to step forward into the unknown, perfectionists prevent themselves from unleashing unlimited amounts of inner potential which could otherwise steer them forward into the very arms of success.

Perfectionism robs you of close relationships.
Perfectionism robs you of close relationships. | Source

2. Perfectionism robs you of close relationships. Perfectionists keep people at arm’s length. This is a self-defense mechanism they use to prevent their flaws from being exposed because they fear they'll be rejected for their imperfections.

To perfectionists, acknowledging their need of others is a weakness synonymous to failure. Since the perfectionist believes that the words success and failure are mutually exclusive from one another, he refuses to make himself vulnerable by exposing his need of others.

He is an island and makes sure to keep his ocean of space around him as a buffer.

3. Perfectionism affects your health. Keeping people at a distance results in perfectionists feeling isolated, which impacts their mental health. In addition, all the energy perfectionists spend in putting up walls to shield themselves from being known by others (and creating an image of perfection) eventually results in exhaustion, as facades can only be sustained for so long.

It's not uncommon for perfectionists to experience frequent mood swings or bouts of depression as a result of exerting so much energy in maintaining an outward veneer of perfection.

The greater problem is that when perfectionists come crashing down, there's nobody there to help them get up because they've spent all their lives shutting people out.

The perfectionist trades her authentic self for a facade of perfection.
The perfectionist trades her authentic self for a facade of perfection. | Source

4. Perfectionism makes you live a lie. Because the perfectionist is afraid of being his genuine self, he lives an unauthentic life, trading his authenticity for a facade of perfection.

5. Perfectionism cheats you and others. In refusing to take risks, perfectionists prevent themselves from growing personally and professionally, thereby hindering themselves from living their lives to their full potential.

As a result, perfectionists have little to offer others in terms of life lessons and advice. They likely wouldn't make very good mentors or life coaches because they haven't allowed themselves to learn and grow from failures.

Their life experiences are limited because they choose to live sheltered lives.

6. Perfectionism keeps you from enjoying life. We’ve all had that full time job we ended up walking away from (or wish we could have) because it consumed all of our energy and didn't allow us to have a life outside of work.

Being a perfectionist is that full time job. It's safe and familiar, but drains us.

Perfectionists are reluctant to let their guard down and enjoy the things they love because they fear their self-exposure will make them vulnerable to others' criticism.

If you're a perfectionist, allow yourself the freedom to start taking risks.
If you're a perfectionist, allow yourself the freedom to start taking risks. | Source

Break Free from Perfectionism

So how does a perfectionist break free from his self-imposed prison? Here are some steps you can take to break free from perfectionism:

1. Change your mindset. Expect success but be prepared for failure. Convince yourself that failures are facts of life and stepping stones to success.

Remind yourself that some of the world's most successful people failed countless times before they succeeded. Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Abraham Lincoln are all examples of individuals who didn't allow their failures to hold them back.

2. Start small. Take one risk. Once a day or once a week. You decide how big or how small. The main thing is to allow yourself the freedom to start taking risks.

Reward yourself for each new risk you take. Even though to others your risks may appear insignificant or inconsequential, remind yourself of what an achievement it is for you each time you take a risk. After all, you are the only one who has walked in your shoes.

Writing in a journal is a great way to move forward as you start to break free from perfectionism.
Writing in a journal is a great way to move forward as you start to break free from perfectionism. | Source

3. Keep a journal. This can be a great outlet for expressing the emotional roller coaster ride you may experience as you start this new, uncharted phase of your life.

Record your progress towards your personal goals, including setbacks, obstacles, and “failures,” and what you learn from these experiences.

If you keep a journal long enough, you can begin to see how these experiences and the lessons you learn from them lead you to success in the long run.

4. Develop meaningful relationships. Recognize that we all need people to help us through life's ups and downs.

If you've been hurt or disappointed by people you trusted and who let you down in the past, acknowledge that it is unfair to hold everybody else you meet accountable for those past experiences.

Recognize that there are trustworthy people on the planet. Allow past events to make you wiser in who you choose to trust and open up to in the future.

Allow past experiences to make you wiser in deciding who to trust.
Allow past experiences to make you wiser in deciding who to trust. | Source

5. Surround yourself with positive people. Keep in mind that positive people are generally risk takers because they don’t allow their failures to hold them back from chasing after their goals or to cloud their perspective on life.

Positive people tend to see the big picture, so when things don't turn out as they hope, they consider the impact these turn of events have in the long run or "in the great scheme of things." Their "glass half full" mentality is both encouraging and contagious.

6. Keep moving forward. If you keep taking risks, you'll keep moving forward.

It may not seem like you're making progress at times, or ever, but if you're taking risks, you are inevitably making progress because with every failure and success you experience, you are growing and getting closer to reaching your goals and dreams.

Conclusion

If you're a perfectionist, convince yourself that failures are facts of life and inevitable stepping stones to success. Without raking risks, you may avoid experiencing failures but you'll also most definitely avoid any chance of experiencing success. So in a sense, by not raking risks you're already failing.

In addition, recognize that acknowledging your need of others is a strength rather than a weakness because it's cowardly to not acknowledge the truth. We all need the support and encouragement that relationships offer us.

Determine that you'll begin to take risks, including making yourself vulnerable in developing meaningful relationships, and be prepared for the thrilling ride ahead, which ultimately can only lead you to success!

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Geri McClymont

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