I spend lots of time with my cousin, Ann, when I was a young girl. Her mother, my aunt, kept everything in her home as neat as a pin. I thought this was great. My mother was much less organized. Organizing gave me a sense of control and I liked it. I especially liked not having to look for things when they had a place to belong.
Later in life I came to understand that my aunt had a compulsion for perfection. My mother was a well-adjusted woman and she may not have been organized and neat around the house but she was creative and a fantastic seamstress with a good business head on her shoulders.
New studies of perfectionism, according to Dr. Lisa Firestone, reveal a darker side to this typically positive-seeming quality. And that research reveals that it can lead to burnout at work and school. I saw this in students when I taught high school English and art. The English student wanted an A on every paper and would argue about a few points less than 100 on exams. The art students who were so detailed they lost the pleasure of the process.
Of the four personality types in many of the personality profiles perfectionism is most common in the blue, perfect melancholy, or the #1 on the enneagram. Some people simply have a nature that is given to perfectionism. All of us have a shadow or challenging side. For those with the drive to be perfect life can be stressful.
People often think that striving for perfection is an admirable goal. Your better goal is to aim to be the best you are capable of being.
We all know of the highly successful perfectionist like Barbra Streisand and Martha Stewart. I read that Barbra insisted on recording People for Funny Girl nineteen times before she thought it was acceptable. And can you imagine working for Martha Stewart? It is said that she wouldn’t allow her daughter to sit on her made bed because it might mess it up.
I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist and yet I am certain that some perfectionists are created in their early years. Children whose parents are overly demanding or only reward the child when he/she excels may need to reevaluate their approach. In their desire for approval the child becomes unhappy unless he not only excels but also performs perfectly. I once told “perfect” parents of a ninth grade boy that it might be time to allow him to fail. I’m sure by the look on their faces that they were wondering why the district would hire such a stupid teacher.
I also think that some perfectionists are attempting to be perfect to avoid criticism. It could be that criticism in their childhood created a internal drive to be or perform perfectly so that they wouldn’t have to endure the pain they had in their past.
Some people are determined to have control and perfection gives them a sense of control over their lives. Perhaps they grew up in a household that was dysfunctional and/or out of control.
Whatever the case perfectionism casts a shadow that blocks light from your life. Light that gives joy, peace, and contentment. Contentment even when things aren’t perfect.
Gail holds a degree from Lamar University in Speech and a Master’s from the University of Texas. She was an educator in regular and special education for twenty years, finishing her professional career as a Braille teacher. She is a Certified Professional Coach with Fowler International Academy. She married Sam after raising three children as a single mother. In 2007 She founded SMORE for Women. SMORE is a nonprofit association whose goal is Single Moms, Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, & Empowered. Her stories have been published in several Christian books and magazines. Her book, Living Learning Loving, published in July 2015, is available for purchase on CreateSpace, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble online.