The suprising ways perfectionism sabotages you.
When I was growing up, I experienced my home life as a rigidly controlled and orderly setting. At any given time, one could open a door, closet, drawer, cupboard or shoebox and find pristine neatness. There was a right way to do everything, and a right time for everything. Consequently, there were more wrong ways than right. In summary, we didn’t “going with the flow” or allow for flexible outcomes. The standard was really high, and to me felt unreachable. For a long time, I used my home life as the definition of perfectionism. Reasonably, I concluded that I must not struggle with perfectionism because this demanding level of order choked the life out of me. It still does. For a naturally spontaneous, free-spirited, people-oriented type, this way of living is torture. There is no way I struggle with perfectionism, I thought. I was wrong.
Often perfectionists are misunderstood as just ultra-high achievers. However, those who struggle with perfectionist thinking and behavior experience high stress, low life satisfaction, and are extremely critical (of themselves, but also often of others). They hone in on the flaws, set unrealistic standards, and struggle to bounce back from disappointments or setbacks. Because of their strong resistance to failure, perfectionists procrastinate, avoid taking risks, and react defensively to outside criticism. Not exactly the kind of behaviors one finds in high performers and accomplished people. It’s easy to see how perfectionism sets one up for unhappiness, low-success, and a trail of relationship problems.
A true, all-around perfectionist is pretty easy to spot. But sometimes perfectionism touches just a particular area in someone, rearing up in specific situations, in certain areas, and with predictable behaviors. Most likely, your perfectionism doesn’t completely define you. Perhaps your perfectionism gets in your way in some very precise places. What is your “Perfectionist Type”? While these descriptions are somewhat generalistic, they provide a starting point for understanding how perfectionism presents in you.
The Commander: This perfectionist type jumps to action when the atmosphere feels urgent or important. She focuses on controlling the situation, including the uncontrollable elements like what other people think, feel or do. These types take charge of others, delegate tasks, and set expectations and deadlines in a reactive way rather than a cooperative style. Rapidly changing their approach or plans, they can appear irrational or inconsistent. When identifying problems, they blame others quickly and feel an urgency to implement solutions. As they push their perfect, solutions, they create stress for everyone. The good news is, once the problem is solved Commanders quickly return to normal.
The Performer: This perfectionist type rarely believes he measures up when doing things for others. Their standards for self in their natural setting are usually reasonable; they can prioritize, adjust, and manage setbacks. However, when anticipating that others will be evaluating their efforts or performance, all reasonability is thrown out the window. This perfectionist over-works, over-spends, and over-does it, even when those around him comment that his effort or product is more than good enough. Even with reassurance or praise, he doubts that others are being completely honest and creates excessive anxiety with self-doubts. When he uses his talents and abilities “out of the limelight”, he experiences great satisfaction, but when people are present, perfectionism ruins his joy. No amount of admiration or appreciation satisfies, and he misses out on enjoying his success.
The Deliberator: This perfectionism type believes there is always a way for everyone to win. She will wait, ask questions, research, confer with others, ask more questions, and resist offering her opinion as she works to find the perfect way. Her unrealistic expectation is that everyone should equally win and be happy. She procrastinates, avoids taking action, and loses opportunities. She can seem wishy-washy as she changes her position based on her perception of how others feel. She may cautiously proceed and even achieve success, but to her it is a loss because of her impossible expectations of finding a way to make everyone win. The world misses out on many of her ingenious ideas and remarkable skills because she wanted to avoid conflicts and disappointing people.
The Inspector: This perfectionist type emerges whenever there are details, especially details that tap into his expertise. The forest gets lost in the trees, as he meticulously scrutinizes details, data, and the “way it’s done”. This type will double and triple check, noticing even the slightest problem. The bigger picture fades in the background, and those around him do, too. They sweat the small stuff, because the small stuff needs to be perfectly accurate. Demanding and critical, he becomes increasingly persistent in his high standards. He has a hard time letting go, accepting less than the best, and becomes very independent. In exasperation, these types will give up and quit rather than accept something most people would be quite pleased with.
Don’t be discouraged if you see yourself in one or two of these descriptions, because if you look very closely, you'll find some absolutely wonderful traits mixed into those types! The Commanders are brave and willing to go against the status quo and popular opinion to make great things happen. The Performers have a talent for seeing what will excite, impress, and influence others, and passionately pours heart into their work. The Deliberators are an advocate for other people’s ideas, needs, and feelings and have little concern for accolades or getting the credit. The Inspectors have the ability to go deep into a problem and do the analytical work that most people would find exhausting; they are smart, creative, and aren’t afraid to slow things down.
We can overcome the perfectionism that holds us back from being our most successful, productive, and joyous self. Whether you see yourself in one trait, a blend of two, or perhaps in all FOUR, it’s worth the effort to make the mindset and behavior changes. You’ll sleep better, enjoy your accomplishments, overcome your failures, relate better with others, increase emotional wellbeing, reduce your blood pressure, and have more time for what you love. The first step is always awareness. Pay attention to when your perfectionism type rises up in you and what that looks and sounds like. Be kind and patient with yourself and acknowledge your successes as you work to overcome perfectionism, no matter what type you are. You aren’t the only Commander, Performer, Deliberator or Inspector in the room!
Would you like to understand your perfectionist type more? If you’d like to uncover more about your personality, motivators, and communication strengths and learn how to appreciate yourself and others better, DISC personality consulting and coaching is a great tool for transformational growth!