Category Archives: Perfectionism

Are we teaching our children to be perfectionists?

We have heard it our whole lives and now we are saying it to our children: “practice makes perfect.” In our minds we are encouraging our children to keep trying. We are telling them they will get better at a task the more they give it a shot. We are teaching them to not give up. But our children are hearing they need to be perfect, they should be perfect, there is no room for failure. 

I started thinking about this when my own daughter, at the young age of five, starting showing signs of being a perfectionist. She wanted to do everything perfectly and was highly frustrated when things failed. She saw herself as a failure. As a parent that was hard to witness. I knew she was just learning and through practice she would get better, but as with all things in life there was bound to be some failure along the way. 

A Hard Road

The life of a perfectionist is not an easy one. It is a hard road full of feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The reality is that nothing is perfect so to task ourselves with such lofty expectations is exhausting.

So rather than continuing to tell our children that “practice makes perfect,” perhaps we may want to change it to “practice makes easy.” I mean that is really what we are trying to say anyway, right?

If you have a child who is showing signs of being a perfectionist there are some things you can do to help:

  • Provide your child with unconditional care and respect.
  • Try to keep their environment calm and structured.
  • Give lots of praise.
  • Avoid comparing your child to others.
  • Stay away from words like genius, brilliant, or perfect.
  • Help them to understand everything cannot be perfect.
  • Listen to them, talk to them.
  • Help them set realistic standards.
  • Let them know they are loved.
  • Provide them with opportunities to succeed and improve self-confidence. 
  • Explain to them that failure is an opportunity for growth.

The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are proud of them for trying their best, that is really the only thing we have control over, right?

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

Are you really being ‘fake’?

Clients tell me all the time that they feel “fake.” They are not their “true selves” when they are at work or with certain groups of people. But, is that really being fake? I often ask my clients ‘what are they pretending?’ And, then I ask them to consider if it is possible to be an authentic person but be different in different contexts of life? 

Having an authentic voice in different environments is a flexible, adaptive personality trait. It is a desirable and positive skill to have as a person, and some people struggle their whole lives to attain such a skill. We are made up of many different parts that together make our whole selves. Just because we might act differently in different environments doesn’t mean we aren’t being true, we are just acting on that part of our personality at that time. Think of ourselves as being onions with many different layers. We are not two-dimensional. 

Maintaining strong relationships

Being able to adapt your behavior, improves your ability to make and maintain strong relationships with people. I think we can all agree that in many cases we should be different people at work than at home. There are things that we do or say or wear, in the comfort of our home, or with friends, that would not be acceptable in a place of business. There are also different groups of friends or family that we may act differently around, for example, you are probably going to be different with your grandma than your college roommate. That doesn’t mean you are being fake. 

The traits that make up our true selves, tend to be the moral ones—the qualities of ourselves that lie deep down.  The traits that have been ingrained in us since we were children—be kind, be truthful, don’t hurt another, don’t steal, etc. Those traits stay consistent across all situations. Those are the core of the onion. 

So, next time you fear you are being fake, take a minute to think about what you are pretending? Are you really trying to be someone else? Or are you just a different genuine version of yourself? 

Why do we lie?

We have always been taught lying is bad. It is socially unacceptable. It is wrong. Good people don’t lie. But, let’s get real here—everyone does it. 

There are the bad lies. The ones that could be detrimental to the future of your relationships, the ones that could ruin your image and unravel your life as you know it. Then there are the ones that don’t seem as significant—“I was late because I was stuck in traffic” but really you were distracted by your phone or the dishes in the sink. There are a million reasons for someone to choose to tell a lie. 

So why do we do it?

Lying is a means of wanting to keep a relationship but in a conflict-avoidant way. Humans are social animals, we crave love and connections—who wants to spoil that? We lie because we are wanting to remain loved, and avoid rejection. We lie because the truth is painful to others, we lie because we don’t want to start an argument, we lie because it is easier. And, we lie because in our minds we believe the truth would be unacceptable to the person we are lying to. We lie to please others. If you have ever faked an orgasm, you have lied.  

Lying is ingrained in us. It is part of our cognitive evolutionary biology (according to Psychology Today). It has become a tool in our survival kit. It appears in young children when they throw fits to get attention and only grows as we move into adulthood. 

That doesn’t mean it is ok to lie, of course, it isn’t, but it is part of being a human. 

Many times people lie to protect their own egos, making it easy to convince themselves what they are doing is ok. They are ashamed and are afraid of the consequences, like when a friends husband told her he was dieting and she later discovered an arsenal of donuts and cookies in the trunk of his car. It is isn’t that he was dishonest across the board, but he wasn’t mature enough to own up to the fact that he didn’t really want to participate.

It can become a vicious cycle if you let it. If you do find that a spouse is lying to you in a repetitive fashion, the best way to handle it is to talk about it—let them know how you feel but be careful not to throw hurtful things in their face. After all, the reason they didn’t come clean, to begin with, is that they want your acceptance. 

Exploring the Relationship Between Perfectionism and ADHD

On the outside looking in, many would assume that ADHD and Perfectionism would be polar opposites. Where ADHD is a disorder that deals with hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and difficulty with focusing, Perfectionism is most commonly associated with requiring a high level of attention to details. However, despite their perceived differences, there is a strong relationship between having ADHD and being a perfectionist that many may not realize.

According to Mabel Yiu:

  • Perfectionist behavior can develop in someone with ADHD as a means to cope with previously perceived failures in your life.
  • Perfectionist behavior can also develop in someone with ADHD as means to not be judged for their ADHD diagnosis.
  • ADHD Perfectionism can greatly affect women, men, and children in how they function in their daily lives and relationships.
  • Commonly diagnosed amongst school-aged children and is often a behavior that continues into adulthood.
  • Perfectionism in people with ADHD can lead to feelings of needing to overcompensate. People with ADHD are often told to “try harder”, without fully understanding the underlying conditions of the disorder. A perfectionist with ADHD will constantly feel the need to prove their worth in order to be seen as “trying harder” as requested.
  • The inability to properly focus on a task the first time due to ADHD can lead to perfectionist behavior that forces the person to harp on the next task until it’s right.
  • Attempts at attaining unrealistic expectations set forth by perfectionist behavior can cause a person with ADHD to devote too much time to a specific task or project. This in turn affects time management skills and can develop into anxiety.
  • Some people who only have ADHD are already prone to developing anxiety disorders over missing important details or fear of mismanaging their life. When perfectionism is applied, the anxiety is multiplied.
  • Perfectionists with ADHD use perfection as a means to measure their own value, both from internal and external pressures.
  • ADHD Perfectionists are harder on themselves for making mistakes and take the notion of imperfection to heart.
  • Sharing feelings for an ADHD Perfectionist is hard and often unwelcomed. Showing more signs of vulnerability is not ideal.
  • Though perfectionism is not always bad, the shared relationship between ADHD and perfectionism tends to be more maladaptive in nature. This means the results of the disorders coming together typically create unhealthy behaviors and perspectives.
  • Perfectionists have maladaptive coping strategies that force them into a mild degree of disassociation. The inattentiveness that is presented can mimic ADHD.
  • ADHD and Perfectionism are in a constant battle with one another. Perfectionist behavior can force someone with ADHD to feel the need to “make up for lost time” that occurs when they lose focus on a task.
  • ADHD Perfectionists need help setting realistic perspectives on accomplishing tasks and personal behaviors.
  • Helping people with ADHD and Perfectionism cope with their behaviors is about teaching how to accept natural flaws, prioritization, and accepting mistakes.
  • Positive reassurance is the most effective method.