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I Kissed Perfectionism Good-Bye

A perfect bullseye with darts.
A bullseye is a really poor metaphor for life.

When I was in high school about a decade ago, it was a fad among some people to identify as “perfectionists.” It started with teachers, society, and then trickled down to the students. The label was like a brand that people took pride in. What, after all, could be better than perfection? Isn’t God perfect? Perfectionism means not being satisfied with just excellent. Perfectionists want everything to be perfect, and, more importantly, they don’t let themselves experience positive emotion unless they come dang-near close to achieving that goal.

The Psychological Ills of Perfectionism

Striving to be something you are not designed to be creates stress at work and school, but it can be doubly damaging when applied to bodies and environments. Many eating disorders are associated with perfectionism. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)–another mental disorder that people used to make light of–is similarly correlated. Our heart should go out to people suffering in this fashion, and it’s one more reason why perfectionism isn’t something to glamorize or take pride in.

Perfectionism Is Based On An Illusion

One of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life is to “Tell The Truth, Or At Least Don’t Lie.” In sum, perfectionism is based on an illusion that denies human nature. Perfectionism is typically fueled by insecurity. Its incessant pursuit is often a mask for dealing with the fact that perfectionists–and all human beings–don’t have it that all together. Rather than confront this reality, perfectionists distract themselves with the illusory pursuit of perfection.

Perfectionism is not adaptive. It is a defense mechanism that seeks to avoid a painful reality. . . I have worked with a lot of “successful” people in my practice, and perfectionism is often one of the culprits that cause mental health problems for many of these seemingly put together and successful people. Yes it is closely linked to depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.

Oak & Stone Therapy On Perfectionism

Maybe it’s the research that’s come out in recent years on the myriad ills of perfectionism. Maybe it’s the countless books that have been written. (My personal favorite is The Gifts Of Imperfection by Brené Brown. 5 stars). In any case, fewer people today in my home country, the US, identify as perfectionists. In fact, I don’t know a single one, although I know many recovered perfectionists, including myself. From middle school through high school, perfectionism was a part of my identity. Today, I strive for excellence, but I understand my natural, normal, and healthy limitations as a human being. And I don’t live life or base my identity on a false premise.

Integrity is about being true to who we are, whereas perfectionism is best analogized, not with a bullseye, but with bullsh*t.

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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