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Perfectionism

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  1. What is perfectionism?
  2. We are encouraged to be perfectionists.  
  3. Perfection is not a worthy goal.
  4. Techniques for eliminating perfectionism.


What is perfectionism? It is the obsessive idea we should strive for "perfection" in our actions, our products, and ourselves.


We are encouraged to be perfectionists. This encouragement comes from various sources:  

  1. Our parents. Some parents withhold love and acceptance when a child fails to meet the parents' ideals; in some cases, those ideals are excessively high or are simply unattainable at the child's current age. When those children become adults, they continue the tradition by imposing unreachable standards upon themselves, in an ongoing attempt to prove their worthiness to themselves, their parents, and other people (from whom they expect to receive the approval which their parents did not give to them).
  2. Our religions. Some religions say that we are inherently flawed, and that we cannot achieve perfection. Other religions say that perfection is indeed the goal; the students are expected to seek perfection in various ways:
    • Perfection of thought. The ideal is that we always have thoughts of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, etc.
    • Perfection of emotion. The ideal is that we express only the emotion of love.


Perfection is not a worthy goal.

  1. Perfection is impossible. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. Even if a project is perfect in one way (e.g., perfect spelling), it cannot be perfect in every aspect, satisfying every possible desire of all parties. Obviously, there is no point in having a goal which is innately unachievable.
  2. Perfectionism is a waste of our resources. It diminishes productivity by binding us to a project compulsively; instead, we can perform it to a level of adequacy (and even "excellence"), and then move on to another project. At some point, our effort is "good enough" for the purposes of the endeavor, and any further exertion adds nothing of value; as Joseph Kennedy said, "Once you've done your best, the hell with it." Without achieving perfection, we can generally attain our goal; for example:
    • We can have success, even if we are not the best in our field. There is room for only person at the top, but the rest of us can still have satisfaction, a good income, and a full life. (Note: Even the person at the top is not perfect.)
    • We can have love, even if the person has flaws. Despite those imperfections, the person is ideal for us.
  3. Perfectionism evokes unnecessary psychological responses. For example, it might evoke shame, fear, anxiety, stress, anger, and frustration. To avoid these painful responses, we might repress our awareness of them, and of the mistakes which triggered them. If we cannot look at our mistakes, we cannot learn from them, and so we will make more of them.
  4. Perfectionism can cause us to avoid new challenges. We might not attempt to learn a new skill at all, if we believe that we will not be able to meet our standard of perfection. Thus, we limit ourselves to the activities with which we are already familiar and competent.
  5. Perfectionism can lead to a vain over-assessment of our importance. In most cases, our imperfection will not destroy an entire project. We generally make allowances for mistakes (and their remedy).
  6. Perfectionism distracts us from the task. In order to perform the task well, we need to maintain an intimate, mindful, moment-by-moment contact with the task's unique requirements. In contrast, perfectionism distracts us from the task itself by imposing various distractions:
    • The image of an abstract ideal of perfection (as opposed to the very real task which is in front of us).
    • Our anxieties regarding possible imperfections. The emotional turbulence draws our attention away from the task.
  7. Perfectionism keeps us from enjoying our accomplishments. Perfectionists rarely feel satisfaction, or pride, or a sense of completion. Instead, they look at the flaws, and so they dislike the process, the results, and themselves.
  8. Perfectionism damages our self-esteem. The ego's self-esteem is established when our accomplishments match our values -- but perfection is an unattainable value, so our self-esteem is constantly injured. We attempt to ease the pain of that injury by trying to be more "perfect," by comparing our faults to the bigger faults of other people, by criticizing ourselves cruelly (as if the additional pain would motivate us toward perfection), and by trying to "prove" our fundamental validity through superhuman accomplishment. In contrast, if our self-esteem is healthy, we feel good about ourselves, and about having done our best; the attainment of each reasonable goal further strengthens our self-esteem.
  9. Perfectionism inflicts an unfair standard in human relationships. We are uncomfortable around people who judge us against the standards of perfection. In contrast, we enjoy being around people who make us feel adequate and safe but still challenged toward excellence in our own ventures.
  10. Perfectionism is a logical "category error." In the study of logic, a "category error" occurs when we assign something to the wrong "category." In the case of perfectionism, we try to assign the trait of perfection (or "perfectability") to human beings; this error occurs because we intuit the perfection of soul, and we mistakenly try to re-create that quality within our human life. Perhaps the correct course is to seek the experience of soul itself, and to acknowledge that human life cannot be perfected, nor is it meant to be perfected. We are not in this world to become perfect; soul is already perfect. Instead, we are here to learn about the archetypes (i.e., the various aspects of spirit); the learning experience includes many errors (because we are experimenting with the archetypes in their various real-life manifestations). Perfectionism does not come from the soul; it comes from the mind. The mind creates such goals in the "vacuum" which exists when we are not receiving input from intuition; our intuition would lead us from one experience to another -- honoring the human and material needs of the moment, but not being bound to the irrelevant standard of perfectionism.
  11. The world's dynamics do not support perfection. As we approach perfection, we increase the requirements of energy; an infinitely perfect creation would require an infinite amount of energy to sustain it. Any attempt to achieve a perfect creation is automatically balanced by destructive forces which seek only to break down (or "cripple") the creation to a sustainable level which does not deprive other creations of the resources. For example, as prosperous nations seek material perfection (i.e., "everything that money can buy"), they consume a disproportionate amount of resources, thereby causing material suffering (and protest) in other nations.
  12. Perfectionism is a denial of our human condition. Mistakes are a normal part of our common experience of life. When we accept them humbly as badges of our finitude, we might even appreciate the reminder that we don't have to carry the burden of perfectionism; instead, we can relax and simply work to the best of our ability instead of driving ourselves endlessly -- and we allow life to "make up the difference." Perfectionists, in their arrogance, try to claim an attribute which is not bestowed on human beings; perfection is a quality of a deity, not of a person.


Techniques for eliminating perfectionism.

  1. We use archetypal field-work:
    • Self-talk. For example: "I devote the proper amount of attention to each of my responsibilities." "My work is good enough to meet the needs of the job." "I am glad that spirit is perfect, so that I can be human."
    • Directed imagination. For example, we can visualize ourselves being congratulated for a task which accomplished its aim without being perfect.
    • Energy toning. We can enhance the energy tones of contentment, peacefulness, joy, pleasure, and other energy tones which counteract the mental and physical stress of perfectionism.
    • The as-if principle. For example, we act as if we are satisfied with tasks which are well-done, even if they are not perfect.
  2. We enhance our awareness of intuition. Intuition discerns and honors all dynamic factors -- our needs, the needs of the other people, and the needs of the material objects. Our intuition can help us to clarify our goal, and then direct us to accomplish it, and then tell us when our effort is adequate such that we can stop. When we look back on a task which was intuition-driven, we sense a type of "perfection"; the various factors came together as perfectly as the available resources would allow.
  3. We determine the amount of "perfection" which is required in each task. For example, we need to come closer to perfection in a business report than in a casual game of tennis. Perfectionism is a neurotic habit which imposes the same demands upon every task.
  4. We develop self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the acknowledgment of who we are; perfectionism is the demand that we be something which we cannot be. When we give up perfectionism, and we see ourselves as we really are, we discover a type of "perfection" in our overall life, including the foibles.
  5. We can deliberately make an imperfect creation. This is fun; it releases tension; and it allows us to express the shadow (which contains perfection's opposites: chaos, carelessness, irresponsibility, etc.). For example, we can intentionally paint a sloppy picture, or sing off-key, or write a letter which is full of incorrect grammar, or do another harmless act as badly as possible. While doing it, feel free to laugh, and enjoy your freedom from the useless tyranny of perfectionism.

 

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