Imperfection Is A-Okay – Conquering Toxic Perfectionism


We all have things that we’d like to do better… whether it be perfecting that piano solo, consistently hitting that three-point basket, submitting a perfect report on the job, or simply being the perfect, charming dinner date. A quest to improve is part of what makes us human and high-value citizens… but that quest, for some, comes with a dark side.

In an effort to perfect that piano solo, you find yourself no longer finding joy in your playing and wasting unsatisfying time at the piano, starting over every time you hit a wrong note – you can no longer remember the last time you actually finished the entire piece, let alone enjoyed what you are doing.

At work, you receive feedback on your work – in an attempt to make the next one “perfect,” you stay late and work harder than ever… but when there is feedback on that project as well, you begin to despair.

At dinner, you say the wrong thing and find yourself blushing, replaying the incident that anyone else would brush off over and over in your head, finally resolving to no longer date.

Your quest for perfectionism has gone toxic in a disorder known as “Toxic Perfectionism.”

Exploring Toxic Perfectionism

For a perfectionist, life is an endless battle of one upping their last efforts in an effort to achieve a perfect version of themselves. The problem is, in life, there is no such thing as perfect. That view of perfectionism is self-defined and the problem with that is that views change – and with them, so do definitions. What may have been perfect to one a year ago is now a step merely above failure. And so, sufferers of toxic perfectionism find themselves in a constant battle that is quite simply impossible to win.

This treadmill effect often leads to more severe and clinical problems, such as depression, eating disorders, or obsessive compulsive disorders that manifest and develop over time.

Toxic perfectionism is particularly prevalent in religious areas or communities. For example, the Church of Latter Day Saints has been found to have a particularly large volume of sufferers of this disease due to the pressures placed upon members of the church. Sufferers have a tendency to take their religious beliefs to an extreme out of fear for what will happen if they do not live their beliefs.

Utah, for example, is the area in the United States most affected, evidenced by also being one of the states with the highest prescription rates for Prozac and other subscription antidepressants, as well as the top spot in the nation for plastic surgery.

However, despite this geological hotspot for toxic perfectionism, this disorder can affect anyone. For some, it is a result of feeling their own shortcomings or by feeling inadequate when comparing themselves to others. For others, it is a frustration with some element of themselves that transpires into something bigger.

Women are more prone to toxic perfectionism than men, but men are also susceptible.

Treating Toxic Perfectionism

It is far easier to beat your toxic perfectionism in the early stages than it is to conquer it once it has transformed into a more severe disease or disorder. Although not all sufferers land in depression or other difficulties, most do – if not in the short term, over time.

Treating toxic perfectionism often includes a variety of treatment options, including working with a psychologist, medicinal support, such as antidepressants, and community-based support groups or organizations.

Since toxic perfectionism often results from a culmination of biological and psychological factors, most sufferers will leverage multiple coping and treatment options, rather than focusing on just one approach.

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