The Trap of Perfectionism

Screen shot 2013-11-16 at 7.31.42 PM

Perfectionism Is Accepted As A Norm

Our society is obsessed with perfection. Pop culture constantly bombards us with gorgeous models, clever tweets and the newest trends for home decorating.   Some of us develop an unconscious filter for these messages. However, many people are greatly affected by the subliminal concept of perfection and feel inadequate about themselves. They have low self esteem. 

Compounding the problem, social media has now upped the ante.  We now “Instagram” or “Facebook” ourselves in peak moments of our lives and broadcast them for all.  We snap a picture of the perfect centerpiece, the most magnificent sunset, the classic family moment, best vacation ever as if our lives were constructed of never ending perfect moments. 

Even our service workers constantly ask us, “Is there anything else we can do for you?” Real life does not give us unending pampering and perfection but we begin to expect such service from others and ourselves—-unending nirvana.  We forget it is normal to have things go wrong, be disappointed or lose in competition.

Perfection is an illusion

We accept the mantra in our heads saying, perfection is possible, we should strive for it at all times and once we reach the state of perfection, we will be happy.  What is the cost of our constant search for perfection?

Harms Of Perfection Seeking

Many people feel they must be perfect or they are unlovable.  They hide the imperfect part of themselves to get approval.  They feel it is not ok to make mistakes.  They are addicted to approval and allergic to criticism.  Often immobilized by their perfectionist tendencies, they fail to achieve goals and become discouraged and depressed.  Perfection is an illusion and those who seek for it will find them selves unfilled their entire lives.

Mathematics is perceived as an exacting science but BYU professor, Travis Jarvis, Ph.D. says, “Even a mathematician admits sometimes the perfection solution is just too complex and we can become utterly paralyzed by looking for the perfect answer.  Jarvis recommends the following formula:

  • 1.    Accept imperfection. If we are willing to accept a solution that is only close to perfect, we can come up with some very good solutions—not perfect answers but very close.  All processes are subject to random variation.  Imperfection is normal.  
  • 2.    Act on your best approximation
  • 3.    Do it again, practice improves performance.  Be persistent!
  • 4.    Recognize that’s how the light gets in.  In other words imperfection leaves us open to enlightenment from other sources be it God or others.   

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

From Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem

Earlier this year Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, fumbled her pageant answer in front of a national audience. The clip showing her slip played mercilessly in the media for several days.Screen shot 2013-12-27 at 7.53.52 PM

When a recent interviewer asked her about the humiliation, Marissa said, “The comments about being an airhead really hurt. But I learned it is ok to not be perfect. It is ok to mess up. It is what you do afterwards.” (see her interview here

There is a beautiful song from Kenneth Cope called “Broken.”  The song talks about God likes broken things…. The earth is broken so it can accept new seeds and bring forth life The sky is broken in a rain storm and we see light… Clouds are broken to bring forth rain….. Hearts are broken so they can become closer to Him.  You can listen to it here:


Stop trying to make things perfectIMG_0660

Do your best and forget the rest! Just like my favorite barn in Cascade, Idaho—we can be perfectly broken.  Acceptance of our imperfections allows us more human, more lovable and more able to learn from mistakes. Stay out of the perfectionism trap and you will find life more enriching and satisfying.  

Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW

Contact Me/  801.472.7134/ 

See also my post:

Great TED talk on self esteem:

Source: BYU Magazine. Fall 2013 p.26-30


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s