I am terrified of failure. Absolutely terrified. I know that out of failure you can, for example, learn how to write a better or how design a better classroom instruction. But it’s still terrifying, because I want do so well on those activities. I want people to know I’m an expert in what I’m talking about or presenting. It can be so terrifying that anxiety begins to settle in me that I don’t want to do activity anymore…until the last minute, making easy for others to think I’m a procrastinator, when I am not. I’m really a perfectionist.
Perfection is defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect or even believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. The thing is…true perfectionists think nothing they do is good enough, regardless of how much they have achieved. What they do has to be absolutely perfect. Instead of giving themselves a pat on the back or kudos, they may withdraw from the activity (something I’m too good at). Having such personality traits may lead to and/or coincide with anxiety. Though perhaps if we conquer such unreasonable expectations, we can achieve more practical, achievable goals.
To begin with there are different types of perfectionism…3 kinds to be precise: personal standards perfectionism, self-critical perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism (Good Therapy, n.d):
- Personal Standards Perfectionism-This person may have a set of standards they live by. These standards may look high to others, but it’s what drives the individual to achieve their goal. This form of perfection (as long as it doesn’t leave the person fatigued, stressed or paralyzed) can lead the person to success.
- Self-Critical Perfection-This person is more likely to be intimidated by goals they set upon themselves (haha! Me!) thus making themselves less driven, because they feel the goal is hopeless or it may never come true. This form of perfectionism can lead to stress, anxiety, avoidance and self-condemnation.
- Socially Prescribed Perfection: This kind of perfectionism can affect a person in one of two ways:
A) when a person is in a job in which precision is heavily required. People who work as, for example, lawyers, medical professionals, and architects can be affected by perfectionism. Such jobs can cause professionals to experience hopeless thoughts, stress, and a higher risk for self-harm and suicide.
B) The other form of socially prescribed perfectionism is when individuals aspire to meet unrealistic goals that can be set by high cultural or societal standards. this can include when kids try to meet the goals set by parents or individuals trying to obtain a particular body type high regarded by society.
So which one, do I think I identify with? I would have to say self-critical perfectionist. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have procrastinated on projects just because I fear how I won’t execute them well. I expect nothing the less from myself, but possessing such a mindset can be crippling because I think can’t perform the task well. Such mindsets can also induce major anxiety for me. Speaking of which…
How can anxiety trigger perfectionism…or visa versa? Well that relationship is …complicated (Kvarnstrom, 2016). All that is known is that one, perfectionism is the onset of the individuals’s inability to cope with the stressors they ave set upon themselves and then on top of that, perfectionism itself worsens anxiety that in turn prevents the person from achieving their goal. Huh…go figure. Makes sense why I procrastinate.
So how can you help yourself overcome perfectionism. According to Healthy Place article, “How to Stop Being a Perfectionist” try to:
+ Recognize perfectionism as a problem
+ Set realistic goals for you
+ Look for positives in yourself and your life
+ Love yourself in your entirely, including your imperfections
+ Embracing your uniqueness
+ Stop procrastinating (This includes when something is just not right)
+Think of mistakes as lessons
Speaking for myself, failure should not be looked as a stain that would forever blotch out any opportunity for success. That’s not what failure is. This is what it means to F.A.I.L: First Attempt in Learning. It’s only in failing it’s pushes us to reach deep within ourselves and pull out sleeping and dormant skills and resolve we thought we’d never had or we thought we exhausted. However, this cannot be achieved if we strive for perfection instead. Perfection only leads to a shallow, unreasonable and perhaps unattainable goal(s). As the old saying goes: To err is human. So it’s not just much we should accept our errors, but our humanity as well. We need to start accepting our humanity.
Agathanelou, F. (2015) How to Stop Being Perfectionist. Retrieved from: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2015/09/how-to-stop-being-a-perfectionist
Good Therapy. (n.d). Perfectionism. Retrieved from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/perfectionism
Kvarnstrom, E. (2016). Why Perfectionism and Anxiety Disorders Go Hand-in-Hand. Retrieved from: https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/blog/why-perfectionism-and-anxiety-disorders-go-hand-in-hand/
You Aren’t Lazy–You’re Just Terrified: On Paralysis and Perfectionism