Sunday, March 6, 2011

Perfectionism & The Distortion of Identity

-Anna Quindlen

I've always been surprised at how tightly perfectionism and identity/self-esteem are tied together. When a Client says they struggle in one area, I automatically ask about the other area as well. Most of the time, I'm spot on (and they seem to be surprised at the quick connections I make) and they do, indeed, struggle with both. I get it because at one point I was there myself. In high school I had extremely rigid, perfectionistic standards for myself, yet I felt terrible about myself. It was as I began to challenge and loosen these standards and rules for my life that the distorted mirror I saw myself in began to become more and more clear. It was through this that I began to figure myself out, and feel good about the person I was (and am). 

Perfectionism isn't realistic, and it distorts the way we see the world (remember yesterday's post on black/white thinking about how we need shades of gray to see the entire picture). It distorts our needs & wants, our identity, our self-statements and beliefs, and our relationships. All of this combined leads to a distortion of how we live within the world, and how we feel about ourselves as we go about daily life. Perfectionism tends to say that I am a failure (unless I'm 100% perfect in everything then I'm a failure), and when we are constantly "failing" we will obviously feel really bad about ourselves. This type of thinking is detrimental to us, and quite honestly, not fair to ourselves either. 

I found a website that listed some reasons that perfectionism lowers self-esteem:
  1. Fear of failure is among of the reasons for perfectionism. Often times, perfectionists blame their failures to lack of personal worth.
  2. Another reason is being afraid to make mistakes. For perfectionists, mistakes and failure are the same. They miss opportunities to learn and grow by living their lives avoiding mistakes.
  3. Fear of rejection is a one of the most common reasons. Perfectionists are often afraid that if other people see their flaws, they will be rejected.
  4. Rigid Rules. Perfectionists live with rigid rules structured by a never-ending list of “should”.

If you do just one thing for yourself this week, give yourself a break and try to start identifying how perfection & your identity are tied together. Be fair to yourself and loosen the grip you have on perfectionism.

*you can find the rest of my series on perfectionism here.

What I'd like to know:
Did you do anything fun this weekend? Any steps to furthering your health and wellness? Have you seen perfectionism distort your self-esteem or identity?


  1. Very interesting posts on perfectionism. You've brought up a lot of points that I hadn't considered including points that I might have brought up to defend that I am not, in fact, a perfectionist. (Cough Cough) Procrastination........ sigh. Very interesting read! Love all the quotes too.

  2. Perfectionism is something that's really interesting, and I believe that more people struggle with it then we all think. And, like you said, some of the aspects of perfectionism seem like something opposite, so it can be hard to recognize. I'm continuing this series and will include challenges for changing perfectionistic thought. Good luck!

  3. I've reached a point in my life - approaching 70 - where I can see that perfectionism has played a dirty trick on me all my life and I have a sense that nothing I have done has been good enough... OK, good, but not good enough.
    Now I am facing a crisis financially and I keep asking myself, "What choices did I make that put me here?" and "How could I have done it differently?" but answering those questions doesn't change the fact that I am about to be in desperate straits and am quite depressed about it all.
    I am living in South America as a retiree, but came here with the expectation that my finances would provide an adequate life-style. Now that is all gone and I cannot even return to the U.S. on what I have left.
    Your blog popped up as I was looking for subjects about how to deal with depression as it has been a family issue and I want to avoid slipping into the void, even as bleak as things look right now.
    It is my suspicion that perfectionism affected my marriages and was why they didn't last and I am angry - not even sure at who - that I don't have a loving husband in my life now.
    Thanks for your subjects... I will check back again.