It is clear that there is a direct connection between being a perfectionist and being depressed. I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. When I was in High School I put so much pressure on myself, that I ended up having several mental breakdowns during those three years.
Somehow, I still managed to push through and finish High School on time. I have had an ongoing battle with perfectionism most of my life, and I have also battled depression for several years.
My story with perfectionism
It has taken me years to learn that I cannot keep putting that much pressure on myself. I don’t believe that one will ever completely get rid of the perfectionist inside of you, but I do believe that it will get easier to control overtime.
Being depressed is also something that will be a part of my life in the long run. I believe that I will be able to have longer, happy periods, but I will always have to be aware of any triggers that can cause my depression to return.
Like depression, I will have to live with being a perfectionist, but it does get easier with time if you put your mind to it and work on yourself. During the last couple of years, I have managed to tone down my perfectionism and let me be the first to tell you, that it has been one hell of a ride. Accepting that not everything in your life is perfect is one hard lesson to learn.
Do you recognize this cycle? Even if you do, I will take the time to explain this to other readers as well.
Phase 1 is called “Try again”. Since it is a cycle, we can actually start from any condition in the cycle, but let’s just start with this one. The cycle typically starts with a feeling of motivation and excitement for a project that needs to be done or a goal you want to reach. For a perfectionist, being in this phase is an achievement in itself.
The all or nothing phase. The feelings of motivation, excitement, and pleasure you felt in phase 1 will very quickly turn into an all or nothing phase. If you are a perfectionist, this is the step where a project, goal or task will be completed to perfection or it will not be completed at all.
If the project is not completed to perfection, it can be a vulnerability factor for depression as well as anxiety. Perfectionists tend to act in the all or nothing mindset, which is a hard mindset to break.
The insatiable drive phase, where you will keep pushing through until you get what you want. If you can’t reach the perfectionist level, negative thoughts are a big factor in the process. We keep focusing on flaws, mistakes, errors or anything else that is the cause of why we couldn’t reach that perfectionist level.
Also known as the burnout phase. Please keep in mind that burnout and stress are two completely different things. In a burnout phase at work fx, you lose the meaning of your work. When you lose the meaning of a project or a goal, it is often coupled with mental, emotional or physical exhaustion, as this is the result of long-term unresolved stress.
Perfectionists will push themselves harder, even if they reach this phase, because, for them, it seems like the only way to finish. It can turn into very serious side effects though.
The last phase in the cycle is phase 5, depression. Have you ever heard the expression: “the cup is half full?”. This is where the cup will overflow for perfectionists.
The feeling of being overwhelmed is strong because we don’t believe that we have completed the task to perfection. Personally, my mood usually changes in this phase as well. I feel at my absolute lowest, as being perfect is a struggle that will never truly be finished.
After phase 5 the cycle will bring us back to the first phase if we don’t get help in time. And like any cycle, it will start all over again.
How can you break the cycle?
The only way you can truly break the cycle is by laying off the guilt! This is easier said than done, I know! I have been at this point myself, and I am still struggling sometimes. Perfectionists have an insatiable drive to do better and be better. We tend to push ourselves past healthy limits and set nearly impossible goals.
If you truly want to break the cycle, you need to retrain your mind and see the good you do in every process. However, this is something that can only be done, if you truly want to quit being a perfectionist. If you don’t have your heart in it, there is no point in trying.
One thing you can do is make a list of all the little things you have done in a day. Even silly things, like helping patch up family drama or helping a coworker with a personal problem is something you can write on your list and see as a success.
Writing things down on a list like this is a way for you to see all the things you’re doing that does matter and this is very important too.
You need to learn to embrace the process and to pursue better rather than best or absolute. I am not saying that you shouldn’t always do your best, but it needs to be within healthy limits and without burning yourself out.
What are your thoughts on the cycle between perfectionism and depression? Let me know in the comments below…