Perfectionism and Mental Health

What is perfectionism?

“Simply put, it’s an inability to tolerate faults,” writes clinical psychologists Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud in their book “Safe People.”

That means a sort of phobia or fear about people’s imperfections, shortcomings, or mistakes, including one’s own.

Perfectionists often have a lot of “shoulds” and impossible standards for people to meet. They tend to be critical and judgmental.

Daniel is 37. He’s pretty intelligent, good looking, and successful in his work. He does not have any vices like drugs, alcohol, smoking, or sexual addiction. He’s clean.

You may imagine that a clean and gifted guy like Daniel could have a happy marriage or love life and a network of friends or relatives around him.

But the reality is, Daniel is unmarried. Never had girlfriends. He has no close relatives or friends.

He is mostly isolated, prefers to be very, very alone. And he has only recently felt its depressive, unhealthy effects on him.

When you understand the basic nature and effects of perfectionism, you may infer how it could have played out in Daniel’s life. It makes logical sense.

Perfectionism isolates. It unnecessarily cuts us off from relationships.

Instead of connecting, perfectionists can’t stand to see others’ blemishes or mistakes, even the trivial ones.

They turn their desires into demands. They’re obsessed on fixing the other person or they impulsively leave the relationship.

Where did perfectionism come from? It could have originated from a conditional relationship, a set of perfectionistic parents or guardians, or a legalistic family/religious background.

You can heal from that. You can choose to give up your perfectionism, your sense of entitlement. You can learn to experience being both accepted and flawed at the same time.

As Drs. Townsend and Cloud put it, “Remember the antidote to perfectionism isn’t being good - it’s being loved.”

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