The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control is about understanding your perfectionist traits and making them work for you, not against you. It details different types of perfectionists and explains how all of them can adapt to their perfectionism.
Introduction: Harnessing the power of your perfectionism.
Some books will advise you to murder your perfectionism. You will be told it’s an illness that needs to be cured. You will be advised to purposely miss deadlines, run late, and color outside the lines.
This summary will do none of those things.
Instead, you will be told perfectionism is power. You will learn about the different shapes that power takes, and how to harness it. You will be advised to adapt to your perfectionism so it doesn’t mutate into a monster. You will exchange seeking the superficial control that comes with misunderstood and mistreated perfectionism for the life-changing force that is adaptive perfectionism.
Author Katherine Morgan Schafler is a self-described perfectionist who specializes in working with perfectionists as a New York City psychotherapist. In The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control, Schafler delves into layers of mental health issues that help support her theories on perfectionism. This summary won’t go that deep. It will focus on Schafler’s five types of perfectionists, the number-one problem for all perfectionists, and how to adapt to your perfectionism successfully.
Perfectionism is Power, not a Problem
Picture the typical perfectionist. Most see someone who needs everything to be perfect all the time, and who gets upset when it isn’t. Most see perfectionism as a problem.
But this perspective is too narrow, and the judgment is flat-out wrong. There are many shades of perfectionism, and none of them is a problem to be solved. They are all gifts.
Society has long treated perfectionism as a negative trait, especially when it comes to women. It’s viewed as something to be cured or eradicated. Treated that way, or ignored altogether, perfectionism can manifest in negative ways – obsessive worrying, indecision, anger, lack of commitment – the list goes on. But if you can channel your perfectionism, if you can adapt to its demands and drives, it will change from a destructive force to a constructive superpower.
The mental health field doesn’t have a comprehensive definition for perfectionism. It is, however, accepted that perfectionists constantly notice the gap between reality and some ideal, and they constantly want to take responsibility for bridging that gap. Many, although not all, mental health professionals also accept that perfectionism can be broken down into two categories – adaptive and maladaptive.
Adaptives mobilize their perfectionism to work for them. They understand ideal visions are supposed to inspire, not be brought to life down to the last detail. They enjoy the process instead of obsessing over the outcome. They can handle failure because they learn from mistakes. They tend to have high self-esteem, solid relationships, and an overall sense of fulfillment.
Maladaptives are punished by their perfectionism. They are afraid to fail and driven to avoid shame. They feel stuck. When they do achieve a goal, it’s often anticlimactic because they didn’t embrace the process. They can be anxious, depressed, and withdrawn, and they tend to have problems in their personal relationships. They are usually trying to recover from their perfectionism.
The obvious question is, how do you adapt to perfectionism? We’ll get to that answer– but first, let’s meet the 5 Types of Perfectionists – classic, Parisian, procrastinator, messy, and intense.
The Five Types
Abigail (don’t call her Abby) is right on time for her Tuesday appointment, as usual. She’s waiting on the left corner of the couch, where she always waits. When the office door opens, she carefully picks up her phone and places it in the designated phone pocket inside her bag. She smooths her precisely ironed pants as she stands up, smiles and saunters into the office.
Abigail looks put together in every which way, but her personal life is a mess because she hasn’t adapted to her perfectionism. That’s what she works on during her Tuesday therapy sessions.
Abigail is an example of a classic perfectionist. She’s organized, reliable, and efficient. The adaptive classic can tackle enormous projects and organize them with ease. Their cars and homes are spotless and running smoothly. Maladaptive classics leave no room for creativity and play, even in places where it’s needed, like personal relationships. They can feel misunderstood and left with only superficial connections to others.
The Parisian perfectionist doesn’t care about structure and order like the classic. The Parisian longs for ideal relationships with everyone around them. While classics proudly display their perfectionism, Parisians hide theirs. They work hard to cultivate connection, but they want it to appear effortless. This is like French women who appear effortlessly beautiful but fuss over their appearance when no one is watching. The adaptive Parisian focuses only on reciprocal relationships and creates fruitful networks of friends and support. Maladaptive Parisians feel like they constantly need to earn everyone’s approval, and they will neglect their own needs until they get it.
The procrastinator perfectionist has a million plans, but can’t pull the trigger on any of them. They fear starting projects and bringing them into the real world will make them lose the luster of perfection they held in the procrastinators’ minds. They avoid that potential pain by not starting anything, ever. The adaptive procrastinator has accepted that change is natural, including the change an ideal vision will take once it enters reality. They are open-minded, can see multiple options in every scenario, and are excellent planners. The maladaptive procrastinator is stuck in a place of indecision and self-loathing.
The messy perfectionist loves the thrill of starting, but is bored by the grind it takes to finish, and can wind up surrounded by messy piles of discarded projects, careers, and relationships. The adaptive messy is a champion brainstormer who can turn dreams into reality with enthusiasm and optimism. The maladaptive Messy is scattered and doesn’t follow through on any tasks or promises.
Intense perfectionists crave the ideal outcome. They ignore the process and fixate on the goal more than other types of perfectionists. The adaptive intense perfectionist is an inspirational leader with a relentless drive to succeed, but also appreciates the journey and understands that mistakes happen. Maladaptive intense perfectionists have impossible standards and drive people away with their demands and critiques.
From Self-punishment to Self-compassion
Keep in mind the five types are only archetypes. You may identify with one or several of them. Or maybe you resemble one type at work and another type at home. All of these labels and definitions are open to your interpretation. The key is adapting by connecting to your perfectionism’s strength, not its weakness.
So how do you adapt to perfectionism? To start, you must replace self-punishment with self-compassion.
The mental health field may be lacking when it comes to perfectionism, but all experts seem to agree that perfectionists are masters at punishing themselves. This self-punishment is the truly dangerous part of perfectionism – not the endless striving.
Some perfectionists mistake their self-punishment for personal accountability. The difference is punishment is focused solely on blame, while personal accountability shifts the focus from blame to taking responsibility for the solution.
There are many forms of self-punishment, like denying yourself simple pleasures, self-sabotage, and ruminating on past problems. But the most common form for perfectionists is negative self-talk – beating yourself up for each and every mistake you make, no matter how innocent or understandable.
Negative self-talk leaves you feeling down and bad about yourself. In this state, you don’t have the energy to unpack your issues or do anything to improve your situation. Instead, you avoid the pain by numbing yourself with drinking, drugs, overeating, or watching too much TV – or you get rid of the pain by blaming others.
To escape this negative mindset, perfectionists have to practice self-compassion. They have to remember that everyone makes mistakes and nothing is flawless. They have to shift their focus from what’s wrong to everything that’s right, and all the future possibilities that will make things feel even more right.
Self-compassion is not easy for perfectionists because they have such a low tolerance for anything they view as a mistake or less than ideal. It’s also difficult for them because self-compassion can be a slow and non-linear process, and perfectionists tend to prefer full speed ahead. But there are some guidelines to help perfectionists find compassion for themselves.
First, you have to focus on the process, not the goal. You need to stop thinking, “I’ll be happy when I finally get this.” Again, this isn’t easy for perfectionists, but when you focus on the process you can celebrate the little victories along the way. This will help create the positivity, energy, and confidence you need to examine your issues honestly and actually do something about them.
Learning from your failures, as opposed to beating yourself up for them, will also foster self-compassion. Adaptive perfectionists “fail forward.” They see the lessons in their mistakes. They understand they can grow from these experiences and that growth will, eventually, help them achieve their perfectionist goals.
Remembering that everyone suffers can help perfectionists be compassionate with their own pain. Remembering that our feelings – no matter how strongly we feel them – are not facts can also help perfectionists shift their self-punishment to self-compassion.
Connection and Restoration
There may be days when self-compassion isn’t happening. You just can’t do it. That’s okay. When those days arrive, you can connect with other people as a substitute.
Connecting with others doesn’t always bring immediate relief to anxiety, depression, or shame. Sometimes the impact is felt in the future, but it is always felt. And connecting doesn’t just mean talking and processing your feelings. It can be that – but support comes in many shapes and sizes.
There are times when tangible support should be the first priority, like when someone needs housing, food, or sleep. This kind of practical help is also valuable in a non-crisis situation. If someone asks, “What can I do for you?” give them something to do, even if asking for help isn’t easy. Maybe they can bring dinner, or babysit, or walk the dog. Paying for tangible support, like finally hiring the plumber to fix the leaky sink or paying neighborhood kids to rake the leaves, is also a positive form of connection.
You can find physical support by connecting with yourself and others through movement and exercise. Biking, Tai Chi, taking a walk with friends, or joining a sports league are all great options.
Going to a regular yoga class can produce two kinds of support – physical and community. Not only do the movement and stretching help your physical well-being and lead to positive emotions, but being part of a group on a regular basis also creates a sense of belonging that is critical for mental well-being. Traditional communities like a church, parents’ group, or recovery meeting will all foster that sense of belonging, but even a group chat, a newsletter, or an active and inclusive Facebook page can work as community support.
Replacing the terms “better or worse” with “different” is another way you can adapt to your perfectionism. Instead of judging yourself and your achievements against others, just remind yourself they’re different. Remember, we’re all unique individuals – so you’ll never replicate that other person’s life or career that you view as “perfect.”
It’s also important to remember that even small amounts of self-compassion and subtle shifts in your mindset can make a big difference. Sometimes you only have to stop berating yourself for a moment and give yourself a few minutes of forgiveness to clear away doubt and depression. It’s like turning on a small light in a dark room.
Finally, perfectionists need relaxation and restoration (just like everyone else) in order to have enough energy to harness their perfectionism. This is difficult for perfectionists because relaxation can feel like doing nothing, and that feels horrible to a perfectionist. If that’s the case with you, engage in active relaxation like cooking, writing, dancing, or diving into the favorite part of your job.
To restore yourself fully you will eventually need some passive relaxation, too – but that doesn’t have to be sunbathing with your eyes closed or taking a nap. Reading something simple, watching light movies, or taking your time eating a meal can all work as passive relaxation for the perfectionist.
Perfectionism isn’t a problem to be fixed. It’s a power to be harnessed and used.
Getting out of the cycle of self-punishment and shame can be difficult for perfectionists. The path is winding, and there will be missteps, which are not forgiven easily by perfectionists. However, by showing yourself compassion and connecting with others, the cycle can be broken. You can make peace with your perfectionism and make it work for you.
But it’s important to remember this is an ongoing process. You must keep adapting to your perfectionism or else it will turn on you. It’s like eating – you can’t eat once a week and expect to stay full. You have to keep at it.
About the author
Katherine Morgan Schafler is a psychotherapist, writer and speaker, and former on-site therapist at Google. She earned degrees and trained at UC Berkeley and Columbia University, with post-graduate certification from the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy in NYC.
Psychology, Personal Development, Nonfiction, Self Help, Mental Health, Adult, Counselling, Education, Womens
Table of Contents
Introduction: Perfectionism Is a Power xiii
Quiz: Which Type of Perfectionist Are You? xxi
1 Expect to Be Graded on This 1
The Five Types of Perfectionists
2 Celebrating Your Perfectionism 25
Reclaiming the Gifts and Advantages Behind Your Insatiable Desire to Excel
3 Perfectionism as Disease, Balance as Cure, Women as Patients 46
A Model for Pathologizing Women’s Expressions of Power and Ambition
4 Perfectionism Up Close 66
A Deeper Understanding of Perfectionism and the Fluidity of Mental Health
5 You’ve Been Solving for the Wrong Problem 119
It’s Not that You Approach Your Life with Perfectionism; It’s that You Respond to Missteps with Self-Punishment
6 You’ll Enjoy the Solution about as Much as You Enjoy Getting an A- 147
Let Go. Fail Forward. and be Compassionate with Yourself No Matter What
7 New Thoughts to Think to Help You Stop Overthinking It 179
Ten Key Perspective Shifts to Help You Find the Success You’re Looking for in Everyday Life
8 New Things to Do to Help You Stop Overdoing It 223
Eight Behavioral Strategies to Help Each Type of Perfectionist Build Restoration Habits that Enable Long-Term Growth
9 Now That You’re Free 257
Giving Yourself Permission to Enjoy Your Life Today
Author’s Note 296
From psychotherapist Katherine Morgan Schafler, an invitation to every “recovering perfectionist” to challenge the way they look at perfectionism, and the way they look at themselves.
We’ve been looking at perfectionism all wrong. As psychotherapist and former on-site therapist at Google Katherine Morgan Schafler argues in The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control, you don’t have to stop being a perfectionist to be healthy. For women who are sick of being given the generic advice to “find balance,” a new approach has arrived.
Which of the five types of perfectionist are you? Classic, intense, Parisian, messy, or procrastinator? As you identify your unique perfectionist profile, you’ll learn how to manage each form of perfectionism to work for you, not against you. Beyond managing it, you’ll learn how to embrace and even enjoy your perfectionism. Yes, enjoy!
Full of stories and brimming with humor, empathy, and depth, this book is a love letter to the ambitious, high achieving, full-of-life clients who filled the author’s private practice, and who changed her life. It’s a clarion call for all women to dare to want more without feeling greedy or ungrateful. Ultimately, this book will show you how to make the single greatest trade you’ll ever make in your life, which is to exchange superficial control for real power.
“Are you – gasp – an ambitious perfectionist? Have you tried and failed to find that elusive sense of “balance” we’re all meant to seek? If you answered yes to these questions, this is the book you must read. Morgan Schafler has written the definitive guide for anyone who’s ready to walk a crucial pathway: from the appearance of control, to the possession of a quiet power.” –Susan Cain, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and Quiet
“From an emerging thought leader, an irresistible invitation to reclaim your natural state of wholeness, your joy and your life.” –Deepak Chopra, New York Times bestselling author of Abundance
“A valuable, much-needed perspective that gives you permission to be more in a world that’s telling you to be less.” –Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
“Morgan Schafler lays bare provocative new insights into how “perfectionism” is often just code for “women excelling too much,” and identifies the strategies and mindset every high-achieving woman needs to quell her inner critic and embrace her true talents.” –Holly Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of Quit Like a Woman
“An accessible, actionable guide for how to aim high without overthinking or punishing yourself along the way. This book is a must-read for anxious achievers who want to remain ambitious but could operate with a bit more self-compassion.” –Liz Fosslien, coauthor and illustrator of the bestselling books Big Feelings and No Hard Feelings
“A thoroughly original approach to this important topic. Grounded in research, the book uses stories from the author’s years as a therapist to illustrate vividly that perfectionism is a phenomenon, not a disorder, and that it can be managed to increase one’s power and joy. How I wish this book had been available years ago—it could have changed my life! Let it change yours.” –Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., author, cultural theorist, feminist activist
“I love a book that starts by normalizing the reader’s current experience. We don’t need to be fixed, we just need a gentle guide to show us how to work with our unique personalities. This book would be my first recommendation to anyone struggling with perfectionism.” –KC Davis, author of How to Keep House While Drowning
“Combining vivid storytelling, rigorous research, and deep analysis, Morgan Schafler provides a practical guide that can help you learn, thrive, and flourish.” –Tal Ben-Shahar, New York Times bestselling author of Happier
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Expect to Be Graded on This
The Five Types of Perfectionists
When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.
C. G. Jung
A procrastinator perfectionist would experience immense difficulty writing this sentence because it comes at the beginning of a book about perfectionism and, accordingly, needs to be perfect (and there’s no better first sentence than the one a procrastinator perfectionist imagines in her head but never actually writes down).
A classic perfectionist writes the first sentence, hates it, tries her best to forget it ever existed, but is inevitably haunted by it for a minimum of eight years.
An intense perfectionist writes it, hates it, and then channels her frustration into aggression about something entirely unrelated.
A Parisian perfectionist pretends not to notice she wrote a first sentence, affecting an air of, “Oh yeah, I guess I did. Huh.” Then she secretly, desperately hopes everyone loves it and, as a result, loves her. Who wrote that first sentence? I must be friends with her immediately!
A messy perfectionist writes the first sentence, loves it, and then writes seventeen other, very different versions of the first sentence and loves each one of those and couldn’t possibly pick just one because you can’t have a favorite child, and those are all her sentence babies.
One thing they all have in common: they might not even know they’re perfectionists, nor appreciate all the ways perfectionism can hold them back or allow them to soar, depending on how it’s managed.
In the most basic sense, managing your perfectionism looks like becoming aware of the core impulse all perfectionists reflexively experience: noticing room for improvement-Hmm, this could be better-and then consciously responding to that reflex instead of unconsciously reacting to it. Perfectionists are people who consistently notice the difference between an ideal and a reality, and who strive to maintain a high degree of personal accountability. This results in the perfectionist experiencing, more often than not, a compulsion to bridge the gulf between reality and an ideal themselves.
When left unchallenged, the perfectionist mindset hooks itself on the motive to perfect (as opposed to improve upon or accept) that which could be made better. This impulse to enhance evolves into a belief that urgently wallpapers itself on all sides of the perfectionist’s mind, including the ceiling and floor: “I need something to be different about this moment before I can be satisfied.”
Perfectionism is the invisible language your mind thinks in, the type of perfectionism that shows up in your everyday life based on your personality is just the accent.
I built my private practice around perfectionism because I so enjoy the energy of the perfectionist. Always pushing limits, forever poking the bear, unafraid to travel to the depth of their anger or desire, eternally seeking a connection to something bigger, to more.
Acknowledging that you want more is an act of boldness, and every perfectionist (when they’re being honest, which people generally are in therapy) flaunts a bold streak I’m magnetically drawn towards.
I work mostly with women who can present well, who can seem completely put together when they want to seem that way, and whose problems aren’t immediately apparent to others. This is exceedingly nuanced work because, as I suspect you know all too well, no one can hide their suffering better than the highly functioning person. I thrive on the constant challenge because, as I realized during one of the most disorienting moments of my life, I’m a perfectionist myself.
The cliché of it all bothers me still-I never realized how attached I was to control until I started to lose so much of it. In the exact moment that my personal and professional life began skyrocketing, I was diagnosed with cancer. I lost a pregnancy and had no opportunity to freeze my eggs before chemotherapy. I lost an extraordinary amount of time to the busyness of being sick. I lost my pretty brown hair. I lost confidence in my brand-new marriage. I lost professional opportunities I had spent years working towards. I lost control over the life I had painstakingly, perfectly constructed.
One moment I was riding the rapids, then the next it was as if something yanked me by the stomach into the still, quiet, and unseen place behind the waterfall. I was looking at what I’d always been looking at (perfectionism) but from a different vantage point. Why was I in a different position? Because in a misguided effort to be more balanced and healthy, I was resisting my own perfectionism.
I was sick, so of course I should’ve been relaxing, doing the bare minimum. It all made sense on paper. So I tried, I really did. And it was terrible, it really was. I was plopping pink bath bombs into my tub and sitting there watching them fizz away, bored out of my fucking mind, when I would’ve much rather been working, pushing, doing. Not pushing from a compensatory or avoidant place, not pushing to the extent that it disrupted my healing, but pushing because I enjoy being intensely engaged in my work and in my life.
The energy my perfectionist clients brought into the room presented in stark contrast to what I had started to feel in my private life. Their energy was charged, magnetic, brimming with infinite potentialities, destructive and constructive all at once. In noticing the burgeoning differences between myself and my clients, I simultaneously recognized the similarities that had been there the whole time.
I saw perfectionism for the power that it is, a strength I wanted to reclaim. It was a dynamic energy I had been helping my clients harness and exploit to their advantage for years, without having the language I have now for what I was doing. It wasn’t until I tried to suppress the drive of my own perfectionism that I realized what I had in it.
I also realized that if I could be a perfectionist, me, the woman who could never find her phone and who extolled the work of social scientist extraordinaire Dr. Brené Brown to people behind her in line at the grocery store, then anybody could be a perfectionist and not even know it. What exactly was happening here?
I started to reverse engineer perfectionism, turn it inside out. In examining my own perfectionism and diving into the years I spent working with perfectionists, clear patterns emerged-five distinct presentations of one core concept, the five types of perfectionists.
Because perfectionism operates on a continuum, all perfectionists can embody aspects of each type within them. Though one type is usually dominant, it’s also possible to experience contextually specific manifestations of perfectionism. For example, you can be a messy perfectionist when it comes to dating but a classic perfectionist during the holidays. Since I’m not a procrastinator perfectionist and can easily pick an entry point, let’s start our discussion of the five types at the beginning: classic perfectionists.
The Five Types of Perfectionism
Tuesday, 10:58 a.m.
I opened the door for my 11:00 a.m. session. Claire was standing in the waiting room, hovering around four empty chairs, finishing an email on her phone. “And, done,” she said as she efficiently gathered her small army of belongings to bring into my office: a jacket, two phones, a laptop bag, an indiscriminately labeled commuter bag for her heels, a not indiscriminately labeled Prada bag, and two grande, unsweetened, iced passion teas from Starbucks.
“We talked about this,” I said after noticing the extra drink. “Can I help you with any of that?”
“I got it,” she replied, modern-day juggling act in motion.
Claire entered my office seamlessly, swaying through the door like a red velvet curtain at showtime on opening night; gloriously on cue. As is the case with classic perfectionists, there was something ceremonious about Claire, who at twenty-two had legally changed her name because the original spelling didn’t include the e at the end, a detail that irked her intolerably. As she described to me, “From second grade on, every single time I wrote my name, I died a little on the inside. Cumulatively, I’m sure it’s taken two years off my life, but it’s fixed now.”
She pulled some kind of highly absorbent towelette out of her bag and wiped the water beads off the sides and bottom of her clear plastic Starbucks cup before setting it on the coaster. “I love these coasters; I don’t want them getting wet,” she explained (in fairness, they were really pretty coasters).
Claire repeated the water-bead sweep with the cup she had brought me before setting it down on my desk and saying, “I know we talked about it.” Switching her tone to a perky whisper and with a half wink, she added, “But I also know you’ll drink it after I leave.” Then she sat in the exact same place on the couch that she sat in every week, but that’s not a classic perfectionist thing; everyone does that.
The difference between putting your phone down next to you and setting your phone down next to you, that is a classic perfectionist thing. Classic perfectionists tend to be extremely deliberate about the way they handle physical objects; for example, they might set their phones down-meaning they take both hands, lay the phone down, and then take half a second to just kind of tilt it a bit, officially designating its otherwise arbitrary placement on the couch. This micro ritual that so many classic perfectionists perform always looked to me like tucking the phone into an invisible little bed with no covers. In a way that never got old, noticing the idiosyncrasy gave me a sweet dot of private joy.
Claire set her two phones next to her on the couch, only to flip them over midsentence thirty seconds later when they started lighting up. I closed the door after Claire (“with an e,” as she loved to say) left. My iced passion tea was watered down by the past forty-five minutes but still as refreshing as ever.
Classic perfectionists, not surprisingly, present in a classic way, and Claire with an e was no exception. Everything about her was so clean and crisp, as if she’d purchased all her belongings earlier that morning and started a brand-new pop-up life. I think she made my couch cleaner just by sitting on it.
I had seen on Pinterest that if you run a lint roller along the bottom of your purse, you can easily pick up all the crumbs and bits accrued at the bottom. I hadn’t checked, but I imagined that Claire didn’t have any crumbs and bits, not at the bottom of her purse at least. But she was honest in our conversations together; she opened up to me about the invisible crumbs and bits in her life, the kinds of problems Pinterest hacks unfortunately can’t solve for.
Only because Claire chose to let me in did I have any inkling that there was turmoil under the surface. Highly self-disciplined, classic perfectionists are adept at presenting in a uniform way, making it difficult to take their emotional temperature. Are they thrilled? Enraged? Having the best orgasm of their life? Who knows. They’re either stoic or smiling as if they’re about to have their picture taken. While it’s easy to interpret this engagement style as inauthentic or closed off, it’s anything but.
Classic perfectionists can be experienced by others as unapproachable or haughty, but the order this type builds around themselves is about reverence, not creating a wall. Classic perfectionists aren’t trying to be impressive or distance themselves as much as they’re trying to offer to others what they most value themselves: structure, consistency, predictability, an understanding of all the options so as to make an informed choice, high standards, objectivity, clarity through organization.
The opposite of inauthentic, classic perfectionists operate with incredible transparency about their particular set of preferences. Classic perfectionists also constantly broadcast their perfectionistic tendencies (here’s my impeccable spreadsheet about restaurant options for vacation; here’s my haircut that somehow perpetually looks like I just got a trim).
Reliable and predictable, classic perfectionists make it clear that they don’t like disorder. For example, a classic perfectionist might say, “I don’t like drinking because I don’t like feeling out of control.” Classic perfectionists take pride in their perfectionism. It’s an ego-syntonic aspect of self (a feature they like) as opposed to an identity feature that’s ego-dystonic (a feature they don’t like).
Boasting a solid work ethic and patience to match, classic perfectionists can’t help but be the teensiest bit smug about their style of control, which you can’t really fault them for. (If I had zero crumbs and bits at the bottom of my bag, I would be beyond smug about it.)
In the cons corner, classic perfectionists have difficulty adjusting to schedule changes, big or small, and they tend to experience spontaneity as stressful. An itinerary-centered existence doesn’t lend itself to discovering new and unexpected pleasures, and creating formulaic systems for dealing with family, work, friends, and more-with little room for organic expansion or any margin for error-can rob these perfectionists of the opportunity to grow in a way that isn’t planned or goal-oriented.
Interpersonally, this type can be hard for others to connect with because of classic perfectionists’ perceived lack of vulnerability. We tend to conflate external reliability with inner strength; that’s a mistake. Classic perfectionists are as reliable in their darkest hour as they are in their brightest; just because they can always show up, that doesn’t mean they’re invincible or that they feel strong on the inside.
Also, the systematic way of operating that classic perfectionists default to doesn’t encourage a spirit of collaboration, flexibility, or openness to external influence-qualities that help us build connections. The risk of this interpersonal style is that it can unintentionally generate relationships that veer towards the superficial and transactional. In turn, classic perfectionists can be left feeling excluded, misunderstood, and underappreciated for all that they do.
Lauren texted me ten minutes before our session was set to begin: “running 10 late. sorry, worst day.” Tall and beautiful (and caught in the rain), she came in soaked, looking like a Barbie doll that had been unceremoniously left in the backyard during a storm. I took her coat, and in between the time I took it and turned around to hang it, she started crying while apologizing for crying.
We discussed a meeting she’d had earlier that morning, which she perceived to have gone disastrously. When pressed, she acknowledged that the idea she presented dominated the conversation, and the team chose to spotlight her work at an upcoming conference.
I waited for her to finish before I said, “Help me understand the problem.”
Lauren blurted her response out in exasperation: “Because I can tell she doesn’t like me, and I hate it!”