Depression, binge eating, no sex drive … Here’s how to escape the surprising pitfalls of being a perfectionist.
Your sex life is suffering
Having a perfectionist attitude can torpedo your love life, according to a new study from the University of Kent. “Striving for flawlessness” and being overly critical of yourself and others significantly reduces sexual satisfaction—even if you’re not focusing on sex in particular, the researchers said. Not only are you less likely to be satisfied (literally and metaphorically) in the bedroom but your partner suffers too. The researchers noted a marked drop in self-esteem and a rise in sexual dysfunction in people whose partners were perfectionists. Sound like you? Make a conscious effort to check your perfectionism at the bedroom door and focus on expressing all the things you love and enjoy about your partner—you’ll both be hotter and happier in no time. You can also try these 11 simple habits to stop overthinking.
Meditation doesn’t work for you
It makes sense that perfectionists would be more stressed out than more easy-going people—we live in an uncontrollably imperfect world, after all. But it turns out that not only are perfectionists more likely to be stressed, they’re also less likely (or less able) to take advantage of proven stress-reduction techniques like meditation and yoga, according to a study just published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. One of the reasons, the researchers speculated, may be due to a fear of not being able to do the techniques just right. But we have good news for you: There is no right or wrong way to relax! So instead of focusing on the results (“Why isn’t my stress gone yet?!”), focus on the process and let yourself go with the flow.
You always stay later than your coworkers
Being able to laser focus on the task at hand and having a critical eye for detail are both positive traits of perfectionism—up to a point. Perfectionists at work often find themselves working harder and longer than their coworkers, unable to leave a project until everything is done just right. In addition, being a control freak may mean they take on more work than others or even do their coworkers’ jobs for them. And this has a serious negative impact on relationships both at work and at home, according to research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. So while it might be tempting to give your inner perfectionist free reign at the office, it’s better for your relationships and your mental sanity to limit your skills to projects directly under your control. And when it’s time to clock out? Leave work at work.
You binge on junk food
Not even the most perfect perfectionist can maintain tight control over every aspect of their lives at all times. Eventually they crack under the pressure. One of the more common ways they cope is through binge eating, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Eating compulsively allows the person both the temporary high of the sugar and fat as well as the mental escape from their chronic feelings of failure, explains Simon Sherry, PhD, lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Think about it—when was the last time that you were rapidly eating a pizza and pondering a major life decision at exactly the same time?” he says. But binge eating can have serious health consequences so if you find yourself consistently turning to food as a way to deal, seek out professional help.
People avoid you
Perfectionists can have a serious dark side, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment. Their high standards and critical nature can make them prone to being narcissistic, antisocial, and having an aggressive sense of humor, the researchers say. These personality traits combined with their dismissal of social norms can make them terrifying to other people. It can be hard to change your personality but if you feel like people are constantly avoiding you or often complain about your “jokes” you may want to reevaluate how you interact with others.
You get sick a lot
Perfectionists put an unreal amount of stress on themselves in an effort to live up to their exacting standards and that constant stress makes them sick, say researchers from York University. Stress is linked in many studies to heart disease, a lower immune system, a higher risk of cancer and diabetes, weight gain, and a shorter lifespan overall. This, combined with the fact that perfectionists are less likely to seek stress relief, can create the perfect health storm. So if you find yourself coming down with every little thing going around, seek advice from a doctor and therapist about how to let go of some of your expectations and better take care of yourself.
You’re super self conscious about your appearance
Being constantly worried what others think of you is a hallmark of perfectionism but this fear can lead to an unhealthy level of obsession with your appearance, according to a study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders. Perfectionists often spend more time than others choosing outfits, shopping, getting dressed, putting on makeup and looking in the mirror. But it’s not just your time that suffers—this focus on looks can make perfectionists more vulnerable to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia in an attempt to control every aspect of their bodies. So instead of worrying so much about how you appear to other people, the researchers recommend working on loving and forgiving yourself first.
You’re depressed (or worse)
Many factors contribute to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. But perfectionism is one of the primary traits linked to chronically feeling sad and anxious, according to research published in the Review of General Psychology. Even more alarming, the scientists found that having perfectionistic tendencies significantly raised a person’s risk of suicide. Mental illness, especially if you have suicidal thoughts, is no small matter so if you have signs of depression, seek help immediately.
Two words: burn out
Perhaps one of the biggest ways that perfectionism can ruin your life is by taking something you love—a job, hobby, or relationship—and sucking all the joy right out of it. Putting so much thought, effort, and worry into anything is a surefire way to burn yourself out, according to a large meta-analysis published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. “Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” says lead researcher Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England. The fix? “People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” he adds.