ESCAPING THE DARK SIDE OF PERFECTION
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Why is it that so many successful, intelligent, high achieving professionals and business owners become stressed out, less productive, and lose their passion for life? One key stressor is perfectionism - which acts as a double-edged sword and is a major contributor to these emotional disorders. While perfectionism is a seemingly desirable trait, it can lead to adverse effects and predisposes many professionals to depression and addiction.
Perfectionism is often thought to be a positive characteristic in which individuals strive to achieve ambitious standards without mistakes. However, when one's pursuit for excellence goes too far, it can lead to a form of neurotic perfectionism that can trigger mental health/substance abuse problems, work-induced alcoholism, and burnout. Many people are stuck in this paradigm of dysfunctional perfectionism and are not even aware of how it is consuming their time and robbing them from truly enjoying life.
The first step from escaping the dark side of perfectionism is awareness. Striving to be your best is not the problem, it is when you dwell in neurotic perfectionism fueled by irrational beliefs that prevent us from being human. Is excessively working overtime and having OCD tendencies to be the perfect professional, CEO, or business owner worth the price? Does how you feel about yourself depend on achievement? Yes, you have your BMW and lavish home, but are you defined only by your performance at work? Are you sacrificing time away from your partner, friends, and family? Does your partner complain that you work too much and when you are home, you have difficulty disconnecting from your job? Does every day seem like Bill Murray's movie "Groundhog Day" because you have forgotten how to take care of your physical/mental health or how to have fun? Once you recognize that your irrational beliefs of excessive perfectionism no longer serve you, then you have the choice to free yourself to achieve both success and happiness!
The source of your unhealthy perfectionism is likely embedded in the blueprint of your beliefs learned from your childhood and life experiences. For example, your high-achieving parents, teachers, and coaches (all wanting the best for you), may have instilled the need for you to get perfect grades or win at all costs with no room for errors. Professionals, CEOs, and business owners have immense pressure to be perfect to please their clients or customers and be the best at their job. This high achieving mentality contributes fear and anxiety of making mistake that may lead to malpractice, lose their business, and/or being forced out of the profession.
There are many self-help books and articles for dealing with perfectionism and stress management, but they tend to only focus on distractions and coping skills. While meditation, yoga, going to the gym, medication, CBD oil, or a nightly shot of whiskey may be helpful, they are merely temporary remedies for a deep-rooted issue. To truly address the issue of perfectionism, one needs to change their core mindset. Struggling perfectionists can begin the process of changing their thinking once they are aware of their core irrational beliefs (schemas) and have the desire to change any habitual negative thoughts. To give an illustration, think of a computer operating poorly due to a virus. If only there was an antivirus program that could scan one’s brain and delete all neurotic perfectionist tendencies. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Instead, one needs to challenge their counter-productive thoughts and beliefs. This could include shifting self-evaluation to be less dependent upon achievements or deciding to leave the work mindset at the office. It is not as easy as turning off a light switch to the unhealthy habit of negative thoughts, but rather it is a work-in-progress to reprogramming one’s thinking software. Changing your core thought processes takes time and consistent effort through a treatment plan that works for you. An effective treatment for cognitive restructuring (changing your thinking) is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). You can begin to implement CBT at home by practicing counter-thoughts and daily affirmations. However, depending upon the extent of your maladaptive thinking, these actions may not be enough. Daily mindset training at home, aided by a formal personalized treatment plan, will help free you from the paradigm of dysfunctional perfectionism and guide you to live a happier, healthier life. Some resources used for this article that may be helpful for individuals to learn the basics of CBT and evidenced-based framework for treating perfectionism include: The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy by Aldo R. Pucci, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Basics and Beyond by J.S. Beck, and Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism by Sarah J. Egan. Many extreme perfectionists remain stuck in their thinking because they are afraid that they will no longer be productive unless they control every aspect of their lives. Do not let your faulty perceptions and mistaken beliefs become your reality. In some cases, hiring a Licensed Therapist or Life Coach trained in CBT may be helpful. It is time to escape the dark side of perfection and improve your quality of life!
This article was written by Ben Hedberg, MC, LPC, BCC and first published in the Arizona Dental Association under the title: "The Perfect Dentist - The Dark Side of Perfection" in August 2022. See link: https://inscriptions.azda.org/2022aug/8/