Q: I am a perfectionist. I used to think that was a good thing and I was proud of my perfectionism. It seemed to me that people who are more successful set high expectations for themselves and that is what I thought perfectionism was. Lately my wife has been on my case. She says that she is tired of living with someone who never finishes what they start and is never satisfied with whatever he or anyone else does. She is tired of worrying about our children. She thinks that I expect far too much from them and she wonders why it is that I never praise them for what they do. In short, unless I make some major changes, she is threatening to take the children and leave me. I am not sure what to do. I don’t want to lose my family but I am not too sure that I can fix this.
A: You need to rethink this whole idea of perfectionism and consider making some serious changes.
Apart from your immediate family problems, perfectionism can cause insomnia, depression, cardiac arrest, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.
Nothing is wrong with setting high expectations. The more that we expect from ourselves, the more that we are likely to succeed at whatever it is that needs doing. What could be more satisfying or personally rewarding?
But for the perfectionist, nothing is satisfying because likely they do not know what their expectations are. As a result, they never know when expectations have been met so they are never satisfied. It means trying harder and harder, always in search of that satisfaction, to the point of exhaustion. Perfectionists often quit trying and they fall into the well of procrastination.
The bottom line is that perfectionism is just another anxiety disorder. You are not going to fix it unless you confront the anxiety that perfectionism causes.
In fact, you will probably never completely fix it, but you can get good support by working with your family doctor and finding medication that is helpful.
Hopefully, your family doctor will also refer you to a mental health clinic where you can get further support.
Until then, be gentle on yourself. I do not know of anyone who is more castigating to his or her fragile ego than a perfectionist.
You need to change that and while you are at it, you could practice being gentle to both your wife and your children.
The more positive and rewarding you can be, the greater the chances that they will stick around.