The Hidden Treasure

Where Ancient Wisdom Meets Contemporary Psychology

Perfectionism: Friend or Foe?

Written By: Vic Rebman Ph.D - Mar• 09•15
Contemplation #10

“No one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them.

  Every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fire is surrounded by smoke.”

The Bhagavad-Gita

Over the years in my role as a clinical and performance psychologist, I have worked with literally thousands of individuals. In doing so, I have become quite familiar with mental and emotional patterns that promote or deteriorate one’s well-being, spiritual growth, and personal performance. I’m wondering if it will be of any surprise to learn that perfectionism is by far one of the most detrimental psychological patterns in which we can engage. There is, of course, a difference between striving for perfection with the conscious awareness that it cannot ever be truly obtained, and the need to experience perfection in order to feel satisfaction and self-worth. Psychologically, the term”perfectionist” applies to the latter.

Individuals who suffer from perfectionism have a compulsive need to experience perfection in whatever they do in order to feel self-worth and peace of mind. Obviously, because a state of perfection does not exist in the physical realm, they are constantly dissatisfied, frustrated, and struggle with esteem and self-worth. This is why perfectionism has been shown, through clinical research, to be a significant high risk factor in the development of eating and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse and major depression.

You can’t develop  healthy self-esteem through perfectionism anymore than you can heal the pain of a struggling relationship by focusing on your partner’s shortcomings. Such patterns in focus only serve to amplify the problem; perfection erodes self-esteem and chronic criticism perpetuates relationship distress.

To develop a healthy self image, and maximize one’s performance potential, requires a paradoxical focus. You must set your sights high and strive for perfection, all the while knowing you’re going to fall short!  It’s like the old saying, “shoot for the moon and when you miss you will land among the stars!”  When Jesus said, ” Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), he was reminding his disciples not to seek their  perfection in the physical realm; perfection is a spiritual quest.

 As long as we reside and work in the physical realm, we must never allow perfectionism, or the lack of it, to define our worth. Strive for it, yes, but as the Gita teaches us- don’t allow the lack of it to derail our efforts or detour our striving. We must leave the attainment of perfection in the spiritual realm where it belongs. In the physical world, to maximize our performance and peace of mind, we must entertain perfection as an ideal and not a reality; strive for it, but enjoy with satisfaction the imperfect results derived from efforts driven by love, compassion, and selfless intent.


 Have a “perfect” day!

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