Toxic perfectionism doesn’t mean you’re always perfect. It doesn’t mean you only got As in school. Toxic perfectionism means that you’ve got a little voice in your head that says nothing less than perfect is acceptable. You judge yourself harshly when you fall short of your (very high) standards. You’ve lost the ability to have empathy for yourself or go with the flow, you’re focused solely on whatever scoreboard you’ve built in your brain. If you think you’ve crossed the line from healthy ambition to toxic perfectionism, here’s how it might be showing up for you:
1. Being a straight-up high school bully to yourself.
You constantly deal with a voice in your head that tells you you aren’t good enough. When you tell yourself that you tried your hardest, toxic perfectionism is the echo that says “that’s no excuse.” Our inner narratives can be downright cruel, and so constant that we rarely take the time to even notice how mean and judgemental we can be. If you’ve got a little nagging voice in your head that lets the air out of your accomplishments and pours salt in the wound when you’ve struggled you are dealing with toxic perfectionism.
2. Setting insane goals.
If you’ve ever told yourself that even though it’s scientifically unlikely, you are going to be the exception to the rule and lose 10 lbs in a week before a big event, you’ve dealt with toxic perfectionism. You think the guidelines that are set for normal people simply do not apply to you because you *should* be better than everyone else. Toxic perfectionism tells you that you should be willing to work harder, to suffer more for your success, average isn’t good enough.
3. Bragging about not getting enough sleep.
To prioritize rest is anathema to someone who struggles with toxic perfectionism. Toxic perfectionism tells you you are what you achieve or what you have or what you look like on social media. Any moment you are not working towards a goal is a moment that makes you feel guilty. Sleep, and other needs every human has, are viewed as a weakness that you somehow don’t deserve.
4. Being obsessed with buying new planners or organization decor.
You get a high off of scheduling and organizing and setting goals. It’s your favorite part of any project. You’re envisioning what you’re going to accomplish and day-dreaming about how highly you’re going to function every day now that you’ve planned it all out. This is a fantasy of toxic perfectionism. No human has this kind of robotic control over their life. You’re going to show up late (there’s traffic, you lost your keys, the power went out) and you’re going to need a day off. Some days will be more productive than others because human creativity and productiveness ebbs and flows and exists on a range. We can’t program ourselves to do something so unnatural as scheduling out every moment of our lives or not needing down time, but toxic perfectionism is the voice insisting we need to.
5. Punishing yourself for being average.
When you see statistics about things average people do, you automatically identify with the very top performers, or perhaps extrapolate that you could or should be doing even better than the best data set. You’ll also actively avoid doing something new because subconsciously you feel resistance to a situation in which it’s totally possible you might not do something perfectly the very first time you do it. You feel guilty doing anything just ok.
6. Having a fitness or food obsession.
Both exercise and watching what you eat in order to maintain some kind of balance are completely healthy things to do. Both also lend themselves to easily being hijacked by toxic perfectionism. Toxic perfectionism tells you that slow progress isn’t good enough. If you push yourself to do more than what’s recommended, healthy, or realistic — or if thinking about numbers or working out or food takes up most of your brain space, it’s time to tap the breaks and figure out some healthy boundaries in these areas. If you feel immense amounts of guilt if you skip a workout or eat a meal you view as “not healthy enough,” this isn’t healthy — it’s toxic perfectionism.
7. Constantly looking at your own social media feeds.
You look at your own social media profiles obsessively, trying to see how people view you from the outside. It no longer feels fun or light-hearted to log on. It’s normal to want people to like you, but when it turns into an obsession you judge yourself harshly for it’s toxic perfectionism rearing its ugly head.
8. Feeling distracted in the moment during social events because of social media.
If you can’t sit still during a fancy meal or beautiful vacation because you want to make sure you’re getting the perfect posts out of the trip, you have been bullied into submission by the voice of toxic perfectionism. This voice says you have to have the most perfect version of your trip possible which includes making the most perfect memories possible. It’s the voice that says you are what people think about you.
9. Spending too much money on the wrong things.
If you have a big event coming up, you need a new expensive outfit in order to feel your best. You never say no to a vacation or picking up a round of drinks with your friends. Either you have a gigantic budget *or* toxic perfectionism is coming for your bank account. People often use money to soothe the voice of toxic perfectionism by surrounding themselves with material things that reflect the life they think they are supposed to be living. If you’re able to accept your current life with all its flaws and imperfections, you won’t feel that insatiable urge to go over budget on some item or event that you think will finally make you feel like you’ve made it.
Toxic perfectionism doesn’t mean you’re perfect, it means you feel you *should* be perfect and can’t tolerate situations in which you come up short, even if being imperfect is completely expected and appropriate in the given situation. People who are affected by toxic perfectionism procrastinate working on a project they deeply care about because they are so overwhelmed with worry that once the project gets underway, their efforts won’t be good enough. They’ll try to think their way out of this by demanding that conditions be “perfect” before they begin, ensuring that they can hide from their fear of being imperfect for a little bit longer.
11. Inability to tolerate being disliked or misunderstood.
Toxic perfectionism makes us hyper aware of how we are perceived by others.For someone who suffers from toxic perfectionism, being misunderstood is intolerable. Someone of our worst actions (and biggest regrets) occur when we feel overwhelmed with emotion because we’ve been misunderstood.