Perfectionism – Helpful or Hurtful?

   (3rd entry of a 4-part series)
 Psychologists have many classifications for perfectionism:  neurotic perfectionism, normal perfectionism, maladaptive perfectionism, and adaptive perfectionism, to name just a few.  They’ve even coined something called self-oriented perfectionism. This is defined as the constant desire to achieve ideal physical perfection out of vanity.  If I wasn’t going to look any further, I’d think, Oh I’m that one, but while there may be vanity involved when I work out at the gym, the process of looking deeper serves me much better than simply attaching a label to myself.  Besides, I have negative associations with any derivative of “vain” the same as I do with the word “perfectionism,” and I always try to keep my focus positive.
      The real key isn’t to fixate on a label, but to determine how thoughts and actions are affecting you; is perfectionism helping you or getting in your way? 
      If there is pleasure in your process and perfectionist tendencies cause you to strive and grow, they can be considered psychologically healthy.  Many athletes and business people focus on positive outcomes and are motivated to strive for excellence.  They’re active and engaged in life; their tendencies classify them as high achievers and they’re looked upon favorably.  
      Perfectionism hurts you when it debilitates you, blocks you, defeats your confidence, deflates your esteem, keeps you from being involved in life and from making real progress.  You know if perfectionism is negative and getting in your way if you’re:
  • stalling tasks or activities
  • rigid about behaviors 
  • unable to play (for example, you can’t simply have fun with a game you have to
  • not learning new things or aren’t open to learning new things
     If you think you’re fixated on being perfect in any way, the questions to ask yourself are:
Why?  What is my focus? 
  • Is it positive?  Am I deriving pleasure from my efforts?  
  • Am I hopeful and motivated setting realistic goals and reaching them?  
  • Are my goals impossibly large?  Am I able to reach my goals?
  • Does striving for my goals only cause me to feel distress, that I never measure
    up, and negative about myself? 
     With these questions in mind I can deduce that while staying physically strong as I age is important, I’m no longer using my body rigorously as I did when I was a dancer.  Also, my body doesn’t need to march into battle and my mature wiser self doesn’t need to protect from psychological attacks—I’ve survived criticism, rejection, and questioning.
     Once you answer these questions for yourself, you’ll know how your actions and words affect your self-image.  You’ll have a clearer knowledge and understanding and can then choose to take actions that help you feel motivated, good about yourself, and happy about your efforts.  This will help you grow your self-respect.