In the end, perfection is just a concept - an impossibility we use to torture ourselves and that contradicts nature.Guillermo del Toro
How is your need for things to be “perfect” or “just so” impacting your marriage, or otherwise important relationships? Those of us who suffer with the need to be perfect, or have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or obsessive compulsive tendencies, often need things in our lives to be “perfect” or “just so” or “completely organized”. We need things to be a certain way to feel comfortable and anxiety-free or else we suffer. When I say we suffer, I really mean suffer. The suffering is from the anxiety that ensues if this isn’t just so, or if things are in disarray, or not the way we need them to be. Unfortunately, our need for perfection often inadvertently spreads to those closest to us and can negatively affect our relationships.
More often, our partner, spouse, children, friends, or boss, are not going to necessarily see things exactly how we do, or do things the way we want them to do. Thus, we walk through our lives feeling as if we are in a perpetual state of anxiety, agitation, anger, resentment, and perhaps even depression.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Often people who strive for perfectionism suffer with severe anxiety. It often appears that we are controlling, and we really are, however it is not because we necessarily believe we are better than others, it is more about having trouble emotionally tolerating any type of chaos or disorder. We are not trying to be overbearing, mean, or authoritarian, even though it may seem that way at times.
For some of us, our perfectionism may be a result of a parent being perfectionistic when we were growing up and it is a learned behavior for us. For others, it may be due to having a parent who was the opposite: out of control, an alcoholic or drug addict, someone who overreacted, or from growing up with a hoarder or an abusive parent. Perfectionism has become our way of feeling in control of our response to emotional or physical chaos.
We might strive for perfectionism:
- To avoid feeling anxiety, inadequacy, shame, or fear
- Because we believe if we control the outcome we will be loved and accepted
- From associating perfectionism with approval and success
- Because our parents shamed us for not meeting high standards
- To deal with abuse and neglect, by associating love with perfection
- As children, believing if we are perfect, then the drinking, drugging, or abusive behavior will stop
When We Can’t Compromise
When we are not able to make space for beliefs, opinions, feelings, and actions that are different from ours, conflict often ensues. I recently asked one of my psychotherapy clients who was struggling with wanting things a certain way while his wife did not. He had repeatedly said, “I need for this to happen this way,” and he asked for what he needed. He addressed it on multiple occasions. The issue became a constant conflict in their marriage. Even though he expressed what he wanted, it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen. At that point, he was angry, full of resentment and still believed his way was the right way. I then asked him this question, “Would you rather be right, or happy?” His response was, “I’d rather be right.”
For my complete article, and more tips on how perfectionism, or the need to control, can impact our relationships, please click on the link below.
My wish for you today is that you are able to accept a little imperfection and that this small step in nurturing your relationships leads to bigger emotional rewards.
-Kathleen Dwyer-Blair, LCSW, BCD
Director, Nassau Guidance and Counseling