Perfectionism: Why It’s Both a Blessing and a Curse
On May 20 2019 the Formula 1 icon Niki Lauda, a perfectionist who had a lot of useful skills, died. A loss for the sport – for those who love it – but also a loss of insight into perfection. He won three world championships in 1975, 1977, and 1984 and could have won them four times if he hadn’t had a terrible accident at the Nürburgring in Germany in 1976.
During the crash, he was on fire for more than a minute and survived the accident barely. Niki soon got the nickname “The Computer” during his career because he drove every lap as flawlessly as a computer. He didn’t believe in coincidence, for him, it was all about skills, training, and ultimate perfection.
Niki was the perfection of discipline and perseverance. He was only interested in one thing, and that was winning. Six weeks after his almost fatal crash he took back his place in the race with a modified helmet and the bandage for the burns still on his head. His team Ferrari had already appointed a replacement because it was not considered possible that Niki would ever race again.
That year he finished second in the battle for the world title with a minimal difference. His good friend and opponent James Hunt became the world champion because Niki missed two races.
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Perfectionism can bring you a lot
Continuing to strive for perfection can bring you a lot and enhance useful skills in top sports. The perfect adjustment, the ideal lines ride, the complete pit stop, and so on. Even Niki’s weight had to be perfect to balance the car. Every day in Niki’s life was a battle for perfection.
It is also said that one day after his accident, he was almost dead, but he didn’t want to go yet because it wouldn’t be a perfect death. He was always striving for better and more. It will not surprise you that after the first two victories he founded his airline called Lauda Air. Within aviation, it is also about perfection. One small mistake can cost the lives of hundreds of people.
Unfortunately, Lauda wasn’t lucky, because, on May 25, 1991, a small detail turned out to be fatal for 213 passengers. Flight 004 which flew between Bangkok and Vienna had a minimal defect that caused the plane to crash. Nobody survived the crash. Lauda was so upset that he remained personally involved in the investigation into the cause of the accident.
Perfectionism can cost you a lot
For many athletes, it is an advantage to be a perfectionist. In combination with strong discipline and perseverance, you can improve a lot of useful skills. Unfortunately, the top sport is not for everyone, and unfortunately, perfection is no guarantee for success. How else can “The computer” have such a dramatic accident and have one of his planes fall out of the sky?
For anyone who doesn’t do top sports, perfection has few advantages. It can even cost you friendships, love, and happiness. Always striving for perfection has been proven to lead to loneliness, depression, and burnout. Perfectionists are generally rarely happy.
Perfectionism | The actual disadvantages
A perfectionist may want to know whether a budget of millions to two decimal places is correct. If the painting hangs at an angle of a millimeter, the holes will be filled up again, the wall will be repainted, and another attempt may be made. It often results in a lot of frustration for the people around them, who find this a pure waste of time.
With the time it takes to know those two numbers behind the decimal point and to hang the painting for a second time, completely different things could have been done. For example, bringing in a new client. Or putting the second painting on the wall and then having a drink with friends.
The real perfectionist, however, makes the details so vital that it is demanded that everyone around him should also consider them essential. As if the perfectionist has a monopoly on the truth. Especially in relationships, this can lead to a lot of frustration because it puts so much undesirable pressure on the people around him.
The perfectionist does not understand that others do not care about the details and can label others as sluggish and lazy. The environment – who are often the only ones to realize that they are dealing with a perfectionist – is irritated by the nonsense and the insult of being lazy or sluggish.
Perfectionism | Living with disappointments
The problem with a perfectionist who can’t express and prove themselves in a top sport is that they have to deal with big disappointments every day. Because of the deep conviction that everything has to be perfect, they never achieve the desired result.
Niki could say that he became a world champion because of his perfect laps, but what can John Do do or achieve on average perfectly? The world and people are not perfect, so they strive for something that doesn’t exist — a kind of ghost hunt without ghosts.
Everything they do has to be perfect. When visitors come, the house must be perfectly tidy, and the ideal drink must be served in the ideal glasses. If not, it will cause panic. And once the visitor is inside, there is no longer any attention to the visitor because all focus and energy are lost to making sure that everything is perfect.
Because that’s not possible and therefore never succeeds, the visitor goes home early because it wasn’t enjoyable. They probably won’t come back next time, and the perfectionist goes to sleep unhappy because it wasn’t perfect.
Disappointment after disappointment follows every day. And if the son doesn’t get the highest grade in the classroom or if there is a scratch on the car, frustration comes around the corner. This frustration is usually addressed to the partner who is not perfect either, and slowly after ten or so relationships, this frustration turns into loneliness.
A perfectionist has an extreme urge for external stimuli and has forgotten to rely on himself. Knowing that no one – including themselves – is not perfect is unacceptable. You could say that they find themselves unacceptable and therefore focus on what they think they have control over. That is their environment.
The pans can be perfectly clean, and the glasses can be placed right in the cupboard. Then at least there is something in the direction of perfection. A perfectionist has a lot of trouble accepting himself as he or she is. Usually, self-esteem has dropped to zero and is compensated by artificial self-confidence. These two are the ultimate ingredients to cause depression in the long run.
To understand a perfectionist, it is therefore essential to know that he or she lives every day in displeasure with himself or herself. Sometimes without daring to admit it openly. All attention is paid to external affairs. How am I seen, what will people think of me, and how can I positively manipulate that image? These are critical questions that a perfectionist deals with.
Perfectionism and physical health
Striving for perfection is a physically debilitating mental disorder. Not only because you increase the risk of loneliness, burn-out, and depression to an extreme degree. The fear of failure and not being good enough tends to cramp your muscles. If you consider that your heart is also one big muscle, you can guess what the consequences might be. But it could be even worse.
Women who become pregnant will, of course, have an ultrasound made if the insurance or financial means allow it. However, perfectionist women do not have an ultrasound just once, but sometimes even 10 or more times. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but doctors know how this can end.
A pregnant perfectionist also wants a perfect birth. Everyone who has ever given birth knows that striving for perfection will positively not contribute to flawless delivery. Due to cramping, perfectionist women are more likely to experience complications during childbirth.
Because we have gained more insight into this over the past few decades, it is possible to take action against it, utilizing the right coaching, guidance, or medication beforehand. If, of course, the doctor does see any signs of striving for perfection in the pregnant woman in time.
Perfectionism | How do you get rid of it?
As explained above, perfection is usually a lack of self-esteem, and artificial self-confidence, and is not always a useful skill. Through coaching and therapy, you can learn to appreciate yourself for who you are and how you are, despite your dark sides.