In a perfectionist state of mind, you put yourself on a seesaw. You are up when you do well. You are down when you don’t. So, let’s look at how to clear this perfectionist tarnish from your window on life. Perfectionist thinking is vulnerable to incongruity interventions. Here’s a look at four perfectionist contingencies for security (happiness) from an incongruity perspective.

Contingency 1: “I have to be winner.”
But is it true that you’re a loser if you’re not winning all the time? It is helpful to think that you are the same person whether or not you find yourself successful in all the big and small things that you undertake. On the one hand, winning can yield advantages. But losing doesn’t make you a loser, no more than misspelling a word makes you incompetent. If you come in second in a race, you are not the first loser in the world. One other person was faster. So, how can you be only one way, a winner or a loser, if the criterion is your place in a race? Does coming in last in a race make you a colossal loser or a person who came in last in a particular race at a particular time?

Contingency 2: “I have to be in control or else I feel helpless.”
Have you thought that to feel secure, you must have control over your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors? With this contingency in place, you can make yourself feel extra anxious over the idea that without perfect self-control, you are powerless. But if being in perfect control is the only solution for overcoming a feeling of powerlessness, and you believe that you are powerless to change, then how can a helpless-thinking person ever be in control? There has to be a better thinking solution than one where you box yourself in like this. One way out of the box is to conclude that perfect control is a myth, that partial control is better than no control, and acceptance of an inability to control a situation is a form of control: you’ve chosen acceptance over despair. This type of incongruity exploration exposes the flaws in this control-bound thinking.

Contingency 3: “I must be comfortable to feel secure.”
If you think that to feel secure, you have to be comfortable, what happens when you start to feel uncomfortable? Will telling yourself that you must be comfortable help? Facing conditions of uncertainty can include experiencing feelings of discomfort. Conflicts are inevitable. They can feel uncomfortable. So if your security depends upon consistently feeling comfortable, and some discomfort is part of living, then you can’t win.

Contingency 4: “I must have universal approval to feel worthwhile.”
As social animals, it is usually a good idea to try to get along with others. Approval is beneficial. But what if you can’t get it from everyone? Partnerships end because of disagreements. Marriages break up because of incompatibilities. People with a special political view normally prefer to hang out with people who agree with them. If you make your security, happiness, comfort, or worth depend on being a universally pleasing person, this is a formula for anxiety. What if someone is not pleased with you? What if you do everything perfectly well, and the person you communicate with dislikes you because you look like someone they disliked in the past? If you think you need to be loved by all, then what happens when another person applies for the job that you want?

Perfectionism thinking teems with other incongruities. If you agree that it is important to maintain a sense of human dignity, but you cling to a perfectionist view, then how do you justify imposing tough standards that can interfere with your sense of dignity? If you believe that you have to express yourself flawlessly and always have witty and brilliant things to say, and at the same time, you view yourself as an average person, how can you be both average and flawless?

If you fall into a perfectionist-thinking trap and label yourself as worthless if you are imperfect, broaden your self-definition. By describing yourself as an imperfect person with a generally gentle temperament, you add a refreshing new dimension to a dichotomous-thinking outlook. Now add a few more dimensions. Tell yourself that you’re an imperfect person with a gentle temperament who strives to do the right thing. Adding clarifying conditions to black-and-white definitions takes thought, time, and effort. But this shows that there is much to think about that lies between the extremes.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is a license psychologist with more than forty years of clinical experience in working with people suffering from anxiety and depression. He is the author of many books, including The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression and The Procrastination Workbook. Excerpt from The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.