Perfectionism: Our Own Worst Enemy

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding other's evaluations.

Perfectionists are often hard workers and are motivated by the goals they set for themselves. However, since these goals are sometimes unattainable, perfectionists are prone to depression and self-destruction. 

I'm a perfectionist. I don't expect those around me to be perfect, but rather, I expect this of myself. It's only been in the past year and a half that I've begun to realize how this trait has been damaging to me. The flip side is, this same trait that causes me despair and anxiety, has also helped me to be so successful since I'm so incredibly dedicated to my goals. I'm actively working to find a balance and tame this perfectionist trait that lives in me so strongly. Old habits are hard to break, so despite my efforts this will be an ongoing battle. 

I've always held very high standards for myself and am truly my toughest critic. Essentially, my perfectionism is my worst enemy. My parents had high expectations of all of us, but I don't think they caused me to have this trait. I think both my parents and a couple of my siblings carry perfectionistic tendencies as well. It's just part of our genetic make up. 

I do think, however, that this trait could've been so much more pronounced and damaging to my siblings and me if my parents hounded us about our grades or always expected us to look or act a certain way. They had a good balance of holding high expectations, but also allowing us to fly on our own and be who we needed to be. 

Each day I see my son struggling with this same trait. It's such a gift and a curse at the same time. He's such an incredibly hard worker and puts so much of his heart into all he does. However, he expects to be able to do everything perfectly and is so hard on himself when it doesn't happen. When he makes a mistake on the ball field  or out on the ice I can so easily see what happens to him when one of his coaches, another parent or his dad attempts to provide him with feedback during those moments. It's simply too much for him. He's already beating himself up internally for what happened and then to have someone add fuel to the fire just makes it burn even more. I see this, because it's what I've experienced myself so many times. My son wants to learn and get better and will want the feedback, but he can't receive it in these moments. Timing is everything. 

There's only so much we can do when our children have certain personality traits. They often come into the world with these. However, sometimes there's things we can do to avoid accentuating the potential dangers of these traits. Since perfectionism can easily lead a person to feeling depressed due to not meeting their goals (even if the rest of the world would be able to see that these goals were unattainable), we want to be mindful of our response to our perfectionistic children. 

Other children might need nudges to work harder in school or to put more effort into studying so they can get higher grades. Chances are your perfectionistic child is already working so hard and is likely feeling quite down if he isn't making the grade he set out to make. In this case the child needs quiet reminders (timed outside of "the moment" of despair) that there is more to life than grades and school. Emphasize the effort and process. They need guidance on taking the pressure off rather than putting more on. 

If you see that your child has perfectionistic tendencies, take time to look within yourself to see if you might have these as well. Be mindful of how your perfectionism comes out in front of your children. Begin to model mistakes (even if this means carefully planning some), emphasize that failure helps us all to grow and ease up on yourself. 

I'm grateful for my dedicated work ethic and high expectations for myself, but it's time for me to be easier on myself. "Good enough" needs to be sufficient for me. I hope my son can eventually ease up a bit too and move closer to an attitude of "good enough" rather than aiming to be "perfect" in everything he does before this enemy gets the best of him.