Those people who have expectations of themselves in recovery that are unrealistically high will be setting themselves up for repeated disappointments. They can develop an all or nothing approach that all too often means that they end up with nothing. Striving for perfection is a noble endeavor but only if people are able to accept their limitations. It is also vital that the individual learns to be grateful for all the good they have in their life and not always be demanding more.
Perfectionism can be defined as a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards. In psychology the word is used to describe those people who:
* Feel an inner need to strive for flawlessness.
* Set excessively high performance standards for themselves.
* Tend to be overly critical of their performance on tasks.
* The individual will be excessively concerned about the appraisals of other people.
The word perfectionism can have negative or positive connotations. Many people are proud of the fact that they are perfectionists because it shows that they take their work seriously and do their best. At other times the word can be used in negative terms to describe people who are never happy with their progress in life – they have an all or nothing approach to life.
The actress Michelle Pfeiffer has talked about her own experiences with perfectionism:
“I’m a perfectionist, so I can drive myself mad – and other people, too. At the same time, I think that’s one of the reasons I’m successful. Because I really care about what I do.”
There are pros and cons to being a perfectionist. Some of the benefits of this type of attitude include:
* It means that people do a better job because they have high standards. They will not feel comfortable allowing shoddy work to slip by them.
* Such people tend to do better in their career because they are so dependable and able to achieve high standards.
* The individual can feel a great sense of achievement from their work – a sense of a job well done.
* This type of person will pay more attention to the smaller details. This further ensures that their work is top class.
* They won’t be willing to settle for second best in life.
* The fact that the individual is so focused on getting the job right at the start means that they have fewer corrections to make later on – this saves time.
* The care and attention they put into a task shows in the final outcome.
While a certain degree of perfectionism can be a good thing there is no doubt that this attitude can be pathological if taking to extremes. Some of the dangers of being too much of a perfectionist can include:
* The individual might never be satisfied with their performance. This means that they cannot reap the rewards of doing a job well.
* Such people can push themselves too hard so that they end up exhausted and unable to continue. This means that their seeking of perfection has led to a negative outcome and not a good one.
* People spend most of their life in the process of achieving goals and not in the act of achieving them. This can mean that those who have expectations of themselves that are too high will need to deal with excessive stress and negative thinking.
* If the individual pushes themselves too hard it can be detrimental to their mental health. The individual may turn to substance abuse to help them cope with the strain.
* If the individual expects perfectionism form other people it can make their life miserable. This is because humans are fallible and to have expectations of them that are excessively high leads to bitterness and resentment.
* It can mean that the person is unable to see all the good things they have in their life. This may mean that they get to the end of their life full of regrets about what they missed out on.
* It can be used as an excuse not to do things.
* The perfectionist can make life miserable for those around them – including family, friends, work colleagues, and subordinates.
It is not unusual for people who give up an addiction to alcohol or drugs to become perfectionists. This might sound strange given the fact that these people will often have wasted many years doing something that was clearly self destructive – almost the opposite of self perfection. The reality is though that these people may have always been perfectionists but they turned to substance abuse to deal with their sense of failure at living up to their own standards. This means that when they become sober their tendency towards perfectionism can return with a vengeance. If the individual is not careful their all or nothing approach to things can sabotage their recovery, but if they manage this tendency it can actually benefit them greatly.
Perfectionists can sabotage their own efforts to build a new life in recovery. In fact in some cases the individual may even be doing this consciously or unconsciously as a means to justify a relapse back to addiction. By putting excessive demands on themselves the individual is ensuring that they will fail. They will then use this failure as their excuse for returning to alcohol or drugs.
The dangers of perfectionism and the all or nothing approach to recovery include:
* Life rarely goes to plan and those who expect things to be perfect are going to be regularly disappointed.
* These self demands for perfection lead to increasing levels of dissatisfaction and stress. Staying sober can begin to feel like an endurance race instead of the escape to happiness that it should be.
* The all or nothing approach is often used as an excuse to do nothing. It can mean that the individual fails to do those things that they need to do in order to stay sober.
* It can be a way for people in recovery to procrastinate from taking important steps to full sobriety. This procrastination can increase the risk of relapse.
* Demanding perfection in early recovery can be particularly dangerous. The individual will already have enough of an adjustment to make without putting unnecessary demands on themselves.
* Those individuals who feel grateful for their recovery are far more likely to remain sober long term. One of the dangers of perfectionism is that the individual is always pushing for more so they never feel grateful for what they already have.
* It can mean that the individual feels disappointed when other people when they fail to live up to expectations. This can then be used as fuel for resentment and other forms of stinking thinking.
The lyrics of a song by the Rolling Stones contains some great wisdom that can benefit perfectionists:
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need”
A perfectionist attitude can help or hinder escape from addiction. In order to ensure that it does the former the individual can:
* Develop feelings of gratitude for all the good things they already have in their life. One way of doing this is by maintaining a daily gratitude list or journal.
* They need to be willing to accept that where they expect recovery to take them is often not as exciting as where it is going to take them. If they trust in the process it will make it easier for them to let go of expectations.
* The individual needs to understand that goals are not created in stone and that sometimes it will be better to change them.
* One of the most important skills that the individual needs to learn in recovery is how to let go. All the individual has to do is try their best and have faith that the universe or their higher power will do the rest.
* The individual needs to have realistic expectations – particularly in early recovery. It takes time and effort for things to improve and there is no real way to rush the process.
* By getting sober the individual is already on the right path, and they should feel good about that. All they have to do now is to keep on walking that path and it will take them where they need to go.
* It is important to accept that other people are fallible and not to have expectations for them that are too high. Addicts are notorious for having expectations of other people that are excessively high and expectations of themselves that are excessively low.
* It is vital that people are able to recognize when they’ve done a good job. This is so they will be able to repeat the same in the future – and by acknowledging their success it will give them the motivation to continue to do good work.