More PsychNotes: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The Value of Each and Every Life and How Perfectionism Destroys that Value
by Monica A. Frank, PhD
Although I've written a great deal about the perils of perfectionism, the book “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World” by Iddo Landau highlights an interesting aspect of perfectionism I hadn't thought of before. That is, perfectionistic beliefs can lead to despair due to the supposition that life is meaningless if one hasn't accomplished great things.
Such a belief not only harms the individual who places such demands on him/herself but it can also damage those around him/her. For instance, perfectionistic parents often have high expectations for their children and may criticize or express subtle disapproval when those children don't achieve the parent's aspirations. Or, the perfectionist may regard others with disdain or contempt when those others don't live the life the perfectionist has deemed as valuable.
Obviously, this may not be true of all perfectionists as many of those whom I refer to as “social perfectionists” would be appalled at the idea of harming others. However, they may not be aware that their perfectionistic behaviors and self-demands can provide subtle messages to others who feel they can't measure up to the perfectionist's standards. So even though the perfectionist's focus is on him or herself, others may take cues from his/her behavior.
Professor Landau counters the idea of the meaninglessness of an imperfect life by reflecting on changing the concept of what is meaningful. Instead of a “perfect” life being the only one of purpose and meaning, he focuses on the value of an ordinary life well-lived.
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