Overcome the Painful Need for Perfection

“I find I am more effective when I can listen accepantly to myself, and can be myself … It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function … It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”

—from “On Becoming a Person” by Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers

Perfectionism can drive people to accomplish great things, like a masterpiece work of art or musical composition. People can set high standards for themselves and their achievements to surpass their expectations to pursue perfection. However, when does pursuing excellence become harmful and even painful? When do we need to take a step back and “leave well enough alone”?

What Is Perfection?

Perfection is a state of flawlessness or unmatched excellence. However, perfection is also somewhat subjective. Not everyone perceives things the same way. The standards and ideals that one person sets might be different from another person. One person may look at their best work as their definition of perfect, where another person sees flaws within. 

Most people who struggle with perfection believe that an objective, definitive ideal exists for which all things are measured. While many people strive to achieve an ideal, they realize that ideal forms are just that—the ideal. Ideals do not exist in reality, only within minds and thoughts. Perfectionists struggle to accept the difference between the ideal and reality. They believe that they can achieve a replica of their ideals in reality.

How Perfection Impacts a Child’s Development

When parents expect perfection from their kids, they might have good intentions at heart. They could believe that they are setting their kids up for success by learning to continually strive for something greater. While self-improvement and excelling in a passion or field are not bad things in and of themselves, when we tie these things to a child’s self-worth, they can be detrimental. The unending pursuit of perfection can prove painful for those who never feel that they are good enough.

Parents might withhold love and affection for their children depending upon their behavior. When a child does well in school, the parent may well praise them with attention and affection. However, when a child is not meeting the standard set, perfectionist parents could withhold attention, believing that affection must be a reward for acceptable behavior. The child might grow up thinking that they are only worthy of love and acceptance when they are perfect. 

Children who believe this think that their self-worth is intrinsically tied to their performance in sports, school, or other activities. They pressure themselves to be the best, striving in the pursuit of perfection. However, they are really looking for love and acceptance, thinking that being perfect is the only way to earn such things. To survive the challenges of growing up, kids need to be loved, even when they disappoint or upset us.

Kids Need Unconditional Love, Even When They Disappoint Us

To develop healthy self-esteem, kids need to hear and feel loved and cared for—no matter what. As kids grow up, they will fail. They will test limits and misbehave. They will make mistakes that can land them in trouble. Kids might disappoint us because we know that they can do better. However, failing and making mistakes is part of growing up and developing into a healthy, well-rounded adult. 

Perfectionist parents might struggle with showing their kids unconditional love. They may have their child’s best interests at heart, believing that never being satisfied with one’s performance is the best way to succeed. Yet, actual change and growth come from accepting our kids for who they are. To build confidence and believe they can do great things, kids need to feel secure and realize that failure and mistakes are a part of life.

Change Comes From Acceptance

Perfectionists struggle to believe that they can improve by accepting things the way that they are. To motivate themselves to do better, perfectionists believe in not being satisfied with what they have or who they are. However, perfection is unattainable. Nothing will ever be perfect, as we can always find flaws when we look for them. Therefore, we might need to let go of our high standards and let things be “good enough.” Otherwise, we set ourselves up for an endless pursuit of the unobtainable.

The pursuit of perfection can be never-ending and discouraging. We might struggle to find the line between what we can accept and what needs improvement. While seeking improvement and growth are not harmful themselves, we can set ourselves up for failure when we never believe we are good enough. How can we ever experience satisfaction if we only see the flaws and failures rather than recognize the value of the effort? When we expect our kids to be perfect, we can set ourselves—and our kids—up for disappointment. Our kids will make mistakes; they might not become the people we expected them to be. They may struggle with mental health issues and problematic behaviors. They could perhaps not pursue the career we want them to. However, to truly succeed, kids need to know that we will love them unconditionally. If your child struggles with addiction or other challenges, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for you. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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