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Perfectionism – II : Finding words


As I sit on the train, I see a perfectionist. Nowadays I can make a good guess.

As the passengers share personal space, there is a “situation” where the perfectionist needs to say something to the fellow passenger. But he won’t. I can see the struggle on his face. The conflict, the torment. Attempts to make eye contact, nervous smile. Then attempts to distract himself, hoping that the other passenger realizes the “situation” and it goes away.

Perfectionists struggle with communication. I know I do. They struggle with saying what they want to say. And when they can’t say it, which is far more often than not, they additionally struggle with the frustration that comes with it.

Why? Why put yourself through self-torment then?

One reason is risk. Every communication involves releasing control. Once you say something, it’s done. You can’t take it back. You have no control over the words that are said. You have no control over the consequences. By nature many perfectionists are control freaks and letting the control over something go just scares the hell out of them. There is be a range of possible consequences after communication and  predicting all of them and preparing for all of them seems like a daunting task.

Also there is implicit belief that you are in control of the words you haven’s said yet. Are you really? Because when you don’t say things out, they eat you inside. Because you are a perfectionist and the perfect thing to do is to say something.

Here is why saying something is likely to be a winning strategy for reducing your self torment. Because if you don’t say something, you will 100% struggle with the thought that you need to say something. But if you say something, there is 50% chance that the change that the communication brings will be a positive one and you won’t have to struggle.

Second reason people go the self-torment way is the uncertainty associated with thoughts and feelings. Most of the times when you say something your thoughts and feelings change. If you are angry at someone, and when you say something, often times it dulls the sharp edges of your anger. You may even be hit with the remorse after a major decision, just like buyer’s remorse. This frustrates the perfectionist. Because they intend to do perfect communication and realizing that what they are feeling or thinking is different from what they just said is a hard place to be for a perfectionist. Because perfectionists tend to think that entire credibility of their life is at stake every time they are saying something.

The more abstract the thoughts and feelings are, the harder this second issue gets. It’s easy to say “The temperature is 25 degree Celsius.” when the temperature is indeed 25 deg. cel. Because it’s very clear what the temperature is and it’s very easy to be objective and perfect about it. But it’s much harder to say “I am feeling sad and angry at your for doing this and I wish you hadn’t done it.”

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