Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a character trait known to many addicts. It can be found in all areas of an addict’s life. Examples are thinking and feeling that you must not make any mistakes, that everything you do must be in order, and that you must not be caught doing acts or showing feelings that make you look bad.

The biggest problem with perfectionism is that it sets impossible goals. People are human, and not perfect (God). You can never be perfectly loving, honest, noble, unselfish, or anything else. To consciously or unconsciously think you can be perfect is an illusion that is bound to give you trouble.

Any job you do could be done better. Any meal you fix could be tastier and more nutritious. Any interaction with other people could have been smoother or more productive. The real problem is the all-or-nothing attitude that if it is not perfect, it is no good.

Perfectionism is usually an attempt to cover up or make up for perceived inadequacies, poor self-esteem, fear, or lack of trust in yourself or others. It is a close companion to all the attempts, including addictive behavior, to try to make yourself feel OK.

Many recovering addicts once took pride in their perfectionism. They would say, “You know what a perfectionist I am.” They did not see how this isolated them from others, or that they were playing God, or at least a “perfect” role. Recovery allows them to laugh at themselves. In working the Steps, addicts can identify with others, relax and accept their humanity, and even be comfortable with imperfection.

Step One

The First Step, admitting powerlessness, is an acknowledgment of imperfection and limitations. It is a vital link with the millions of other imperfect addicts in their spiritual journey. The essence of the Twelve-Step community is the spiritual bond of people who need each other because of their imperfections and weakness. In that bond lies their strength.

Step Four

As you do your Fourth Step inventory, look for perfectionism. A simple test is to ask yourself whether you are trying to do a perfect Fourth Step.

Lighten Up

If you find that perfectionism is one of your problems, you can learn to be more comfortable with imperfection. Try to say, “I made a mistake,” rather than making an excuse. Volunteer to do something you know you can’t do really well. Share your feelings of inadequacy in meetings or with friends, and try to accept their feedback without overreacting. Don’t take yourself so damned seriously. Laugh at the everyday examples that simply show that human beings are … well … human.


Perfectionism, see also: Affirmations, Assertiveness, Character defects, Defenses, Dichotomous thinking, Humility, Inventory, Mental aspects, Psychological problems, Step Three, Step Four, Step Six, Step Eight, Step Ten, Survival roles.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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