Perfectionism can be a virtue in the pursuit of excellence and mastery, but it may also have a dark side, with unhealthy obsessions or chronic dissatisfaction getting in the way of creative imagination, healthy relationships and life satisfaction.
Filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer has been called "a relentless perfectionist who never allows a single detail to go by without notice."
Martha Stewart calls herself "a maniacal perfectionist," and says "If I weren't, I wouldn't have this company. It's the best rap!"
Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D. declares that "Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great."
But perfectionism is not always a virtue, and can affect how controlling we get about our lives and other people.
Actor Michelle Pfeiffer says, "I am 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. I really want it to be right, and I don't quit until I have to."
But another artist renowned (and often condemned) for her perfectionism, Barbra Streisand has said, "We have to accept imperfections in ourselves, in others, in life. And it's part of the beauty of the experience in life. Nothing can be perfect. Also, perfection is cold. Imperfection has humanity in it."
Actor Ashley Judd entered a treatment program in 2006 to overcome lifelong emotional problems, and learned she was using sleep to deal with uncomfortable feelings and that her habit of wiping down plastic surfaces on planes and hotels was all about control. "Now I try to remind myself that if I engage in perfectionism, I am abusing myself."
In her book "Never Good Enough," Monica Ramirez Basco, Ph.D. writes that when you think you keep falling short, feel criticized by others, or cannot get others to cooperate in doing something the way you think it "should" be done, you can end up inflicting negative attitudes and emotions on both yourself and others.
She describes cognitive-behavioral methods for controlling the distress associated with perfection, to identify, evaluate, and change the underlying beliefs that affect how we may respond to events and interact with others.
This can be a powerful approach to dealing with perfectionism. Part of it is becoming aware of the beliefs you have about striving to "do things right" in a compulsive way, and not allowing for "imperfect" to be okay.
Dr. Basco lists some potential beliefs to examine, such as: "If I make a mistake, it will be horrible"; "I must be perfect or others will disapprove of me" and "If I do it perfectly, then everyone will notice."
These kinds of thoughts or ideas can have a lot of validity to them, at least in some situations. When you create something excellent, people are likely to notice and acclaim it. But depending on being "perfect" for approval is a self-defeating belief.
In his book Perfecting Ourselves To Death, Richard Winter quotes psychologist Don Hamachek: "Normal perfectionists derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labors of a painstaking effort and feel free to be less precise as the situation permits. They tend to enhance their self-esteem, rejoice in their skills, and appreciate a job well-done."
So another part of dealing with perfectionism is to pay attention to how you feel when striving to be perfect, and when you "fail" to get there at times.
It may not be easy to let go of stress around perfectionism, but it can benefit your life in many ways.
Actor Faye Dunaway has said, "Being controlling is the hardest thing to change. Not in terms of manipulating other people, just in terms of wanting everything to be as good as it can be. Now if something's not going in the direction I think it should, I try to sit back and enjoy the ride."
Director James Cameron has a healthy perspective on being labeled as a perfectionist: "No, I'm a greatist. I only want to do it until it's great."
That is something we can all do: take pleasure in making it great.
Douglas Eby writes about psychological and social aspects of creative expression and personal development. His site has a wide range of articles, interviews, book excerpts, quotes and other material, in sections including High Ability; Highly Sensitive; The Inner Entrepreneur; The Inner Actor; Women and Talent; Anxiety Relief and more. See the main site: Talent Development Resources http://talentdevelop.com