Can Perfectionism Lead to Loneliness? A Therapist Explains
Do you feel like no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to shake the feeling of loneliness? You are not alone. Loneliness is a common issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. But what if I told you that there might be a deeper reason behind your loneliness? As a therapist, I have seen firsthand how perfectionism and loneliness can be a toxic combination, creating a vicious cycle that is tough to break. In this article, we will explore how perfectionism and loneliness are linked, and more importantly, what you can do to cope with it.
The Link Between Loneliness and Perfectionism
Loneliness is a silent epidemic that has infiltrated every generation and walk of life. Most of us have experienced it at one time or another, but it is often brushed off as something that only affects the elderly or socially awkward. However, what if I told you that the most successful and accomplished people may also struggle with loneliness?
In my experience facilitating workshops and presentations on loneliness, I noticed that many attendees struggling with loneliness were actually perfectionists. They had an insatiable desire to achieve perfection in every aspect of their lives, and this was causing them to feel increasingly isolated and disconnected from others.
As a perfectionist myself, I could relate to their struggles. Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be a powerful motivator, driving us to achieve great things and reach our goals. On the other hand, it can be incredibly destructive, causing us to set unrealistic standards for ourselves and others, creating barriers between us and the people around us.
Why Do Perfectionists Struggle with Loneliness?
As a therapist, I have seen firsthand how perfectionism and loneliness can be a toxic combination, creating a vicious cycle that is tough to break. But how are these two related to each other? Let's delve into why are perfectionism and loneliness linked.
1. Because perfectionists are trying to keep a 'facade'
The first reason why perfectionism and loneliness are linked is that perfectionists feel a great deal of pressure to present themselves as having everything under control. They often believe that showing any signs of weakness or vulnerability will make them appear flawed or inadequate in the eyes of others. As a result, they are reluctant to open up about their struggles, even with those closest to them. Instead, they put on a mask of competence and confidence, hoping to convince others (and perhaps themselves) that they have everything together.
This facade of perfection can be exhausting to maintain, and it can leave perfectionists feeling isolated and alone. They may feel that no one truly knows them or understands what they are going through. In addition, by refusing to show any vulnerability, they may be inadvertently pushing others away, making it difficult to form deep and meaningful connections. All of this can contribute to a deep sense of loneliness, even in the midst of a busy and socially active life.
2. Because they want to meet everybody's expectations
Another reason why perfectionism and loneliness might be linked is because of the social-oriented perfectionist's focus on meeting the expectations of others, aka they are often people-pleasers. Socially-oriented perfectionists believe that others have high standards for them, which they feel compelled to meet. These high expectations become a burden on them and leave them feeling constantly anxious and under pressure to perform at their best.
Often, socially-oriented perfectionists focus on those people who they believe are demanding, those they want to satisfy, and those they perceive as having high standards for them. Unfortunately, in many cases, these people do not even know about the high standards and expectations that the perfectionist has set for themselves. Alternatively, they will never be satisfied, even if the perfectionist meets all of their demands. For instance, individuals who were raised by perfectionistic parents may be all too familiar with this. Despite getting a good grade or a job, parents may have asked, "why not an A+?" or "when will you get a promotion?" The perfectionist's focus on meeting other's expectations may make them feel lonely and disconnected from those who accept and love them unconditionally.
The irony of perfectionism is that while they focus on those who demand the most, they tend to overlook those who do not have such demands. They miss out on people who accept them for who they are and appreciate them, even if they are not perfect. These people may value different things, such as kindness, care, and support. Unfortunately, perfectionists often fail to resonate with these values and fail to appreciate the people who embody them. This lack of appreciation can leave the perfectionist feeling isolated and disconnected, despite the many relationships they may have.
3. Because they do not accept themselves
Another reason why perfectionism and loneliness are linked is that perfectionists often struggle with self-acceptance. In their pursuit of perfection, they overcompensate by seeking approval from others. However, this creates a trap because even if they receive praise and approval from their environment, it does not stick with them, and they are not truly happy. They may hear praise today and be happy for a few minutes or hours, but tomorrow they will be back to square one, believing that they need to continue striving because the praise they received yesterday may change at any moment.
This lack of self-acceptance can also make it difficult for perfectionists to understand how others can accept them unconditionally. When they meet someone who genuinely likes them, a perfectionist may be mistrustful and wonder what strings are attached. This can create stress and hinder their ability to form authentic and meaningful connections. Instead, their relationships become more like an exchange, where they constantly seek approval and validation from others rather than enjoying a genuine connection.
4. Because they struggle with work-life balance
Perfectionism and loneliness sometimes have a close relationship because perfectionists are often so focused on work and tangible results that they overlook the importance of relationships. They become so consumed by the need to achieve, succeed, and grow that everything else in life, including love, happiness, and relationships, takes a back seat.
Picture this: you have a friend who is a severe perfectionist. They are always on top of their work, finishing tasks ahead of schedule, and never taking a break. Even when they are spending time with loved ones, their mind is preoccupied with the next task on their to-do list. They think to themselves, "I have to work, I have to continue, I have to finish my report." Their motto is simple: work is important. But in the process of chasing perfection in their career, they overlook the importance of relationships.
I once spoke to a woman who was a perfectionist not only at work but also in her role as a mother. She would fill her day with checklists and tasks, but when it was time for her to sit down and play with her children, she would feel completely disconnected. Her mind would be racing with thoughts like, "I haven't finished my checklist, I have to do this, I have to do that." She would be terrified at the thought that she couldn't enjoy the moment with her children. This is a clear example of how perfectionism fills our day with tasks and expectations, depleting our energy and throwing joy and connection out of the window.
How to Cope with Loneliness and Perfectionism
If you are nodding your head as you read this, realizing that your perfectionism might be fueling your loneliness, don't worry. There are steps you can take to break this toxic cycle and start feeling more connected to others. And if you are curious about which perfectionistic traits you might be struggling with, check out this handy guide.
1. Recognize the Illusion of Perfection
If you struggle with perfectionism and loneliness, it is important to recognize that being a perfectionist might feel safe, but it is, ultimately, not a healthy coping mechanism. While it might offer temporary relief, it does not provide a true sense of safety or acceptance.
So, the first step in coping with perfectionism is to recognize this illusion of perfection. While it may feel safe and familiar, striving for perfection is ultimately unsustainable and unattainable. No matter how hard we try, we will always fall short of our own unrealistic expectations
2. Embrace Self-Acceptance & Self-Compassion
Instead of striving for perfection, we need to embrace self-acceptance and self-compassion. This means being kind and understanding to ourselves, recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, and accepting ourselves as we are. It is important to remember that we are all imperfect, and that's okay
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in coping with perfectionism and loneliness. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to be more present in the moment, let go of negative thoughts and emotions, and cultivate a sense of calm and inner peace. Mindfulness can also help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and develop a more compassionate and non-judgmental attitude towards ourselves and others.
4. Cultivate Meaningful Relationships
Loneliness is a common side effect of perfectionism, as the constant striving for excellence can leave us feeling disconnected from others. Cultivating meaningful relationships can be an effective way to combat loneliness and build a sense of connection and belonging. This can involve reaching out to friends and family, joining social groups or clubs, or volunteering in the community.
As we come to the end of this article, I hope that you have gained some insights into the link between perfectionism and loneliness. It is important to remember that being a perfectionist is not a character flaw or a personal failure, but rather a learned behavior that can be unlearned with patience and self-compassion. Remember our goal is not to completely eradicate perfectionism from our lives. Rather, our goal is to go from the toxic to the healthy perfectionism. This means still wanting to grow, to be authentic, and to progress in life, but without missing the happiness, connection, and authenticity in life.
If you find yourself struggling with loneliness or perfectionism, know that you are not alone, and that there is always hope for healing and growth. Take the first step towards a more fulfilling life by seeking professional help, talking to a trusted friend, or joining a supportive community. You deserve to live a life that is full of joy, meaning, and authentic connections. Take care.
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