So, this is a very personal article. Many of you will know that I’m a ‘recovering’ Perfectionist – and I still have to work at it. For most of my life I have been obsessed (sometimes literally) with getting things just right – whether it’s my work, my house, my life or myself. I have spent countless hours and worked my ass off perfecting things when I could and should have been resting. I know it isn’t healthy but sometimes I just can’t help it. Then, just over 2 years ago I had a major health episode which forced me to look really hard at how I was living my life.
The idea of perfectionism being an addiction came from Dr Gabor Mate at a talk recently. He is the best-selling author of the books “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress”, “Scattered Minds” and “Hungry Ghosts”. He works with drug and other addicts and has devoted his life to helping people that society has ‘given up’ on. And part of that work involves educating people like you and me about the nature of addiction.
ANYTHING can be an addiction when we use it to an unhealthy degree – whether it’s food, shopping, TV, work, exercise or things more commonly associated with addiction like gambling, drugs and alcohol.
Addiction is characterized by a high state of craving that gets relieved when we do a specific activity – the activity gives us a ‘fix’ and we feel a temporary sense of peace or relief. Studies have shown that the SAME brain chemicals are triggered and released whether the ‘addiction’ is alcohol, work or perhaps perfecting things…
So are you ready for 10 Signs You May be Addicted to Perfectionism? Here goes:
- You feel COMPELLED to perfect things. It’s not a ‘nice to have’ – something inside of you LITERALLY CAN’T LET GO until it’s perfect. You may even recognize it’s unhealthy, but you just can’t stop.
- When things are NOT perfect, you feel UNCOMFORTABLE or ANXIOUS. You may also feel guilt, shame or find yourself making excuses. And you’re probably just ITCHING to tweak it that little bit more.
- You may get STRESSED or anxious when something prevents you from completing things to the standard you would like.
- You feel a sense of RELIEF, RELEASE or INNER PEACE once you have actually perfected or finished something to a high enough standard.
- Your need for perfection IRRITATES, annoys, frustrates, upsets or – at its worst – drives other people away (even if only temporarily).
- You get a THRILL from the act of perfecting – I call it ‘cheap thrills’! So, even though you may recognize it’s unhealthy or other people don’t get it, you truly ENJOY perfecting things. After all, it wouldn’t be an addiction unless it felt good!
- When you’re stressed you feel the need to be perfect or ‘be under control’ EVEN MORE than usual.
- The feeling of RELIEF you get from perfecting is only TEMPORARY. You may enjoy the perfection for a while – until the next ‘thing’ to be perfected comes up and it all starts all over again.
- You’re really good at giving reasons or making excuses as to WHY this thing needs to be perfected. And I’m not saying they’re not real reasons – just that you’re REALLY GOOD AT JUSTIFYING the need for things to be perfect.
- You’re probably a worrier and a control freak. What if this? What if that? You like to be in control – so that everything goes perfectly.
Where to go from here? Well, any addiction is a way of coping with our fear and emotional discomfort. If an activity leaves us feeling better (in the short term), why wouldn’t we do it? It’s a coping mechanism and makes complete sense. But at some point it can become a destructive habit.
The FIRST and most important step in change is ALWAYS AWARENESS. Noticing what we do and when we do it – is essential to moving forwards. Top Tip: It MUST be KIND, COMPASSIONATE awareness because if you beat yourself up when you notice, you’re not going to want to notice very much are you? You find this article on Fierce Kindness helpful.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get really good at noticing when you’re perfecting things unnecessarily. If you’re unsure you can always ask the opinion of someone you trust and feel safe with, but I think if you pause and look inside, you’ll know the answer. Simply begin to notice and say, “Ah – I’m doing it again!” And there you are – on your way.
By taking this first step – you won’t be a perfectionist any more, you’ll be a ‘recovering perfectionist’. Well done!
and share with your friends and colleagues!