Tuesday 25 October 2016

Why being a perfectionist is far from a perfect life

Patricia Casey

Published 27/09/2016 | 02:30

Procrastination can be one consequence of perfectionism
Procrastination can be one consequence of perfectionism

Chances are that at some interview you will be asked what your weaknesses are. If possible your flaw should be an attribute that is regarded by most as an asset. One of the things most employers would like to hear from you is that you are a perfectionist.

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You could explain that this may be seen as a drawback because your family may feel you work too hard or spend too much time in the office and that you run the risk of burn-out. However, in the eyes of an employer it would cast you in the mould of a high achiever who gets things done. For most people that is what perfectionism amounts to and this is not misleading.

There are personal rewards for perfectionism also. Among these are that you will achieve what you have set out to do, you will go home each evening satisfied that you are organised and able to plough through your work methodically.

It means you are self-motivated and do not need to be driven to act by others. You feel empowered, responsible and fulfilled. Perfectionism is adaptive and worthy of praise. Usually!

For some, perfectionism is a curse that generates frustration in the individual and annoyance in those involved with the person. One of the difficulties that maladaptive perfectionism brings is indecision.

The person may be fearful of making one decision over another lest the wrong choice is made. So contracting one company over another to do the office cleaning may become an intellectual battle between the pros and cons of each company, swirling around in the brain during the working day and after.

Completing a document such as a contract of employment may take the person into the ramifications of employment law that are out-with the usual contact. These mind-bending deliberations slow the person down as documents are incomplete or overly prescriptive.

The individual is overwhelmed with information from meticulously gathered information and extracting the relevant parts is impossible. Procrastination rules the day.

One of the major frustrations of working with a perfectionist is their fear of risk-taking and of errors. As a consequence they are closed to new ideas. The shut-down that an employee faces when a new idea is discussed with a rigid boss is palpably exasperating and discouraging.

This may lead to a stolid and unimaginative business with no room for healthy experimentation or expansion. Staff turnover is likely to be high if the person is in a position of authority.

Perfectionists don't just have high expectations of themselves but this extends to others also. While wishing for high standards, they are incapable of forgiving those who are unable to meet their expectations and cannot accept that forgiveness itself is one of the most noble acts we can extend to others.

They hold grudges and do not easily let go of what they perceive as let-downs in the past. Thus long-term relationships are often problematic and contact with other members of the family may be severed on foot of simple misunderstandings.

One of the difficulties in dealing with perfectionists at this end of the spectrum is that they are reluctant to admit their own vulnerability and that they, too, make mistakes. They defend themselves against self-doubt and set themselves up as an ideal, unable to confide their mistakes when they make them.

It goes without saying that such people seldom present for treatment. Indeed changing personality is very difficult and interventions take years to active success, if at all. The person has to accept that perfection is not a requirement in life and that nobody achieves it.

They have to be taught to challenge their perfectionistic thinking by perhaps getting involved in some activity they are not very good at and then accepting that failing at this does not amount to total personal failure.

So when a prospective employee indicates that s/he is a perfectionist, it would be wise not to accept this at face value. It may not be as good a prize as it seems and it may indicate the employee from hell.

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