5 Things Perfectionists Should Know When Life Feels Like An Uphill Battle

Perfectionism is something that almost everyone deals with in one way or another. For some it's about capturing the "perfect" Instagram of their travels, while others constantly stress about doing a "perfect" job at work. Either way, striving for perfection tends to be a fruitless battle, one that causes more stress than satisfaction or reward. But there are ways to cope with these feelings, as well as things perfectionists should know when the expectations of life seem a little too overwhelming.

For one thing, anyone who struggles with perfectionism should know they are most definitely not alone in what they're going through. According to a 2017 analysis published in the academic journal Psychological Bulletin, perfectionism is becoming more common, particularly among young people. What's more, as Business Insider reports, this research has also found an association between perfectionism and mental health issues such as depression. Lead study author Thomas Curran, Ph.D., of the University of Bath, said in a statement,

Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life. Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.

He added,

These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations. Today's young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.

Again, everyone deals with the pressures of perfection, of meeting unrealistic expectations, of not feeling like you're "enough" — the whole nine. The best thing you can do in the face of these struggles is acknowledge how they're affecting you, and cultivate an arsenal of tools and strategies that foster a healthy, more rewarding sense of self. If you're a perfectionist, here are five things experts want you to know.

Your Definition Of "Perfection" Is Probably Wrong

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First of all, what does the word "perfect" even mean? Yes, there's obviously a legit, dictionary definition of the word, but chances are, what you consider to be "perfect" is likely just a standard you've created or latched onto yourself, that may even only exist in your state of mind, and no one else's.

To really wrap your head around this point, Sara Stanizai, a licensed therapist and owner of Prospect Therapy in Long Beach, California, suggests asking yourself to recall the last time you did something "100 percent perfectly." The point of this question, Stanizai tells Elite Daily over email, is to realize that such a time doesn't really exist — and, more importantly, that that is completely, 100 percent OK.

"Perfection" Is An Obstacle, Not A Guideline

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"Perfectionists sometimes freeze up when they think of what could go wrong if they don't do something perfectly, [which often] ends up costing [them] opportunities," says Stanizai.

In other words, perfectionism tends to act more like an obstacle to success rather than a genuinely helpful guideline or standard. So, instead of asking yourself what could go wrong in a situation, try focusing on all of the things that could go right, and what you might gain from a situation rather than what you might lose. And remember, there is no harm or shame in making mistakes along the way; in fact, that's really the only way to learn, says Stanizai.

If Anything, "Perfection" Is A Constantly Moving Target

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When it comes to perfectionism, Stanizai says it's important to remember that what you think of as "flawless" today, probably won't be the same tomorrow. Like, remember when you thought that running a 13-minute mile was impossible, and now you slay an 11-minute mile like it's nothing? As Stanizai tells Elite Daily, "your best is always changing," so don't let your expectations stand in the way of trying something new or continuing to work toward a goal that's important to you.

"If we waited until everything was 'perfect' before we did anything, we would just always be waiting," Stanzai explains. Truer words have never been spoken.

Your Expectations Are Probably Unrealistic

Maybe you already know that you tend to be hard on yourself or that your personal expectations are usually unrealistic. But, according to Marinelle Reynolds, a licensed clinical social worker based in Georgia, it's crucial to learn how to acknowledge these things, rather than let the stress of it all weigh down on and sabotage you.

"The best advice for us when we know we’re stuck in the grasps of unrealistic expectation is to acknowledge it," Reynolds tells Elite Daily over email. "Practicing awareness that our own emotions are even in play [when we approach a situation] is sometimes the biggest barrier."

So, if you feel anxiety, dread, or general negativity when you're in the throes of a situation that triggers a need for perfection, take a moment to breathe, and to recognize that what you are feeling or thinking is simply that: a thought, a feeling, and nothing more. These things are not fixed, nor do they even necessarily represent the truth about you or what you're really capable of.

Be Curious About What Drives You

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If there's any upside at all to being a perfectionist, it's that you have drive and motivation; you're always looking to improve yourself in some way. However, instead of allowing that drive for perfection to serve as an excuse to beat yourself up when you do something "wrong," Reynolds recommends considering the emotions beneath these things, and feeding your curiosity about them. "It’s [about] letting go of the belief that emotions are either good or bad," she tells Elite Daily. "All emotions have a function, even the messy ones, and this emotion is trying to tell us something."

Ask yourself what button is being pushed, so to speak, when you start getting hard on yourself, Reynolds explains, or ask yourself what good it does to be stuck in a negative thought cycle like this. "Ask, 'What is it about this event that is bothering me,' or, 'What story am I telling myself about this,'” Reynolds suggests. "Awareness and being curious is the first step toward integrating the knowledge that perfection is an impossibility."