Perfectionists often use negative self-talk and measure their worth by how well they do things in a perfect manner. They often think things like:

• “I can’t make a single mistake. Everything has to be just right.”
• “There is only one right way to do things to make them the best.”
• “People won’t accept me if I make any mistakes.”
• “I don’t need help from others - I can do better than they can.”

Perfectionism occurs when you start out with low self-confidence and then set impossible goals to prove your worth to yourself as well as others. This often doesn’t end well and you end up failing the unrealistic goals and getting angry with yourself, which in turn fuels more low self-confidence.

The second time around, you set even higher unrealistic goals, which results similarly and can cause you to have much lower self-confidence or even give up and avoid goals entirely.

Exercise

Writing in a notebook, keep track of all the perfectionist tendencies, thoughts, and behaviors you have throughout the week. I’ll be describing these in Parts 1 and 2. Record what you feel each time you don’t do something well enough or see yourself as not being good enough. At the end of the week, review your list and notice which tendencies, thoughts, and actions were the most frequent and write about how you and those around you are hurt by those things.

There are many common ways that perfectionists sabotage themselves and those close to them. This article and Part 2 explain what these are and how to identify them within yourself.

Feeling Deeply Upset When You Make Mistakes

Being a perfectionist means you think that you should be the best at everything - no mistakes allowed. Should even the smallest error occur, you are extremely critical of yourself and may even devalue your life because of it. Even if you do something well, you downplay your accomplishment and ask yourself, “Is there something I could have done better?” The point is, you’re never satisfied with the result and aren’t happy as a result of it.

Since mistakes are totally unacceptable, you stick to the things that you know you’ll do well at, which reduces your ability to take in new information or take advantage of new opportunities. If you’re not sure if you fall into this category of perfectionists, ask yourself these questions:

• Do you believe that being perfect is achievable?
• Do you believe you have to be perfect to be liked, accepted, and viewed as smart and capable?
• Do you put yourself down mercilessly for any mistake you make?
• Do you find that you rarely take risks or try something new? If so, how has this affected your career?
• Do you minimize your achievements?

Feeling Stupid When You Perform Imperfectly

As a perfectionist, you feel like something is wrong with you if anything you do isn’t completely flawless. Your standards are unrealistically high, and you simply must reach these personal standards or else you’ll feel stupid. You feel guilty if something is not done perfectly and you think that if you do everything perfectly, then you can have a perfect life and somehow avoid these feelings of shame and guilt.

Unfortunately, feelings of shame and guilt can lead to anxiety and even depression if you don't reach your goals. Then you will be performing at very low levels because your anxiety over being a failure is so high. Even if you acknowledge that your standards are too inflexible, you continue to believe that you must have them in order to excel and be productive.

Ask yourself:

• Do you belittle yourself or think that you're just mediocre?
• Do you create standards for yourself that are impossible to achieve? If so, what are those standards?
• Do you feel shame, guilt, anxiety, or depression about your performance? If so, how has that affected your performance?

Not Letting Others Help You

Because everything has to be done perfectly, you must personally see to it that everything is done right. Letting others assist you is out of the question - they may not do it the way you like. You have to make sure everything is done just the way you like it to reach your end goal.

You may spend an excessive amount of time worrying over every little detail in a project. Everything has to be just right to prevent other people from seeing your flaws and disapproving of you. That fear of rejection and disapproval drives you to work harder and longer to do the best job possible. Doing so ends up making you less productive because it takes you so long to do one task and more tasks pile up.

Working so hard, you end up forfeiting your well-being to keep going to make it absolutely perfect. You won’t get the right amount of sleep or take breaks to relax at work. Forget about having fun too. You eat fast food on the run because you have so much to do. And downing those energy drinks and coffee keeps you awake to continue working. Your run-down body is insignificant in comparison to the importance of getting things done perfectly.

Check to see if you fit into the perfectionist category of having to shield your work from others:

• Do you turn people down when they offer to help you?
• Do others get upset with you when their help is declined?
• Are you afraid of being rejected by others if you don’t do your work perfectly?
• Do you have to examine your work over and over again before you feel it’s flawless? If so, has this reduced your productivity?
• Do you set even higher expectations for yourself if you don’t do something well enough the first time?

These are three of the ways that perfectionists harm themselves by trying to be flawless. In Part 2, you’ll learn three more ways.

Perfectionism can hurt you in many ways. If you discover that you have perfectionist tendencies, don’t despair. There is a way out! In future articles, I’ll teach you how to change your thoughts, habits and behaviors so you can be a healthy high achiever instead.

Author's Bio: 

Vivian Harte is the co-author of Self-Esteem for Dummies in the Dummies series. She has helped over 12,000 people learn and use assertiveness skills during the last 14 years. She teaches online classes on assertiveness, self-confidence, and teamwork. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Public Administration. She taught college classes for many years in Tucson, Arizona. She has two grown children who are both successful. She lives in Tucson with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

She offers three online courses and 1-on-1 coaching, and you can find out more about these at her website, self-esteem-for-me.com. Are you having difficulty in your workplace? If so, check out Vivian's online course to learn how to increase your self-confidence at work and do a better job: How to Be Successful at Work.