Prevent Perfectionism From Ruining Relationships

April 13, 2010
Notice how perfectionism can have a very negative effect on relationships.

Dr. Warner's Perfection Waist corset of 1895Aren’t you glad we don’t need to wear corsets anymore, like they did in 1895 with this “Dr. Warner’s Perfect Waist?” But we have our own ways of putting ourselves in a straight jacket: perfectionism, which is something I did for many years. Now I have been able to gradually shift my thinking from that of a practicing perfectionist to a recovering perfectionist.

In the process, I’ve found greater peace within my heart and an ability to feel closer to many people,  strangers and friends alike. And I think, in fact I know, that I don’t make as many mistakes in my relationships that require a lot of repair as they did in the past.

Before I learned how to manage this troublesome “trait” within my personality, I made many mistakes in my relationships. In Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do is Never Enough I wrote about the effect my perfectionism had on raising a son with whom we had difficulty. Would he have had problems had I been able to be less of a perfectionist when he was a child?

I am sure his problems would have been different, and maybe more manageable. But as I write in the book, how we turn out is influenced by many factors, not only by parenting. So part of my recovery from perfectionism has been to see my life, and my relationship with my children, in perspective without giving all the credit for the way things have turned out well to my skill as a parent, or on the other hand, when things haven’t turned out as I would have liked, to place all the blame on my perfectionism.

Before you can “recover” from perfectionism, you need to understand the role it plays in your psyche and the damage it can have on your life and your relationships. You can begin by recognizing that perfectionism is a way we avoid having to deal with what we fear is at the center of who we are — either nothing of value or something so bad that it must be hidden.

Strangely, what I have found is that at the center of who you are there is nothing, that is, there is no dark force you must keep hidden, no reason for feeling shame over unmet standards. Rather, what you will find at the center of who you are is the wise, calm heart of the soul. How do I explain that place within? I don’t, although I understand that perfectionists, and others, want an explanation, a definition for this place or state of mind.

But there isn’t any “explanation” I can give for my experience of being present in the moment, the reward of which is so much greater than the reward of meeting, and even exceeding, expectations I place on myself. One way I’ve tried to express my understanding of this experience is a flash presentation I call Explaining a Spiritual Experience.

Accomplishments are great, of course; I love the feeling of doing something well. Even more, though, I love the sense of being at ease most of the time, even when things aren’t going well. Explaining how you can take this same journey out of the pressure-cooker of perfectionism can’t be shared in one, or several, blog posts. Besides, you didn’t become a perfectionist overnight and you won’t quickly become a recovering perfectionist either.

So sit back, read the blogs I will be writing now and then about perfectionism and put my suggestions into action as well as you can. Then watch your life — and your relationships — turn around.

4 thoughts on “Prevent Perfectionism From Ruining Relationships

  1. I’ve stumbled upon your blog in such an obscure way as I was not even looking for self help. I feel as though this is a “Godly intervention” or a path that the universe simply tugged me along until I reached your site. I am 47 years old and have never thought about how or why I’m a perfectionist…I have always been so proud to be one. I have been suffering terribly with anxiety and seasonal depression. Tormenting myself with all that I’m not getting done in my “dark” winter months, trying to do double duty during the summer months- never being able to relax.Your postings literally smacked me into reality…my perfectionism had been making me sick! Well, no more! I will devour all of your articles. THANK YOU. ~Susan

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    1. Whenever I can help someone discover how perfectionism has made their life miserable, or at least less than effective, I am so very thankful.

      I assume you have also read the articles in the perfectionism section of Support4Change at:
      http://www.support4change.com/change/goals/perfection-intro.html

      I write a number of blog posts that focus on perfectionism, or are related to that topic in some way, so if you follow the blog you will continue to learn how to reduce your desire to be perfect.

      Good luck!

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  2. My boyfriend of 2 years is a perfectionist and it is tearing us apart. He doesn’t see how stressful it is for me. I can’t tell him when something upsets me because that means I am telling him he isn’t perfect and he freaks out. I can’t take it anymore, I won’t take it. Is there anything I can do for him, or do I just give up before we hate each other?

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  3. Holly,

    If you have read my articles on how to live with a perfectionist, you will understand the reasons why these uptight people are difficult to live with. And you will see that they are constantly on guard against being judged inadequate.

    Your boyfriend is likely afraid that you won’t love him if you point out to him an error (in your mind, at least) of actions or words. Unfortunately, there is only so far you can go in holding in your feelings before something blows. He’s trying to avoid that by not discussing the issue. But he’s like the little child who covers his eyes and thinks you can’t see him.

    Unfortunately, if you want an honest and healthy relationship, you will need to be able to discuss differences between you. You will both need to be open about your feelings.

    You have said that you won’t stand for it anymore, and I don’t blame you. Have you told him this? He may need to know that while you love him, you are not willing to be in a relationship that does not allow you to express your feelings.
    Assure him as much as possible that you love him, but don’t want to live with a perfectionist who is not willing to look at his perfectionism.

    He will either realize that he will lose you if he can’t discuss what you want and he will thus be open to change. Or he will not be able or willing to change, which will be your cue to decide what you are willing to do.

    If he can’t accept that request, it’s his loss.

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