Perfectionists aren’t balanced people, and that’s okay.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many self-described perfectionists, all of them bright, ambitious, hardworking people who inexplicably felt that something was wrong with them.
But as I delved into their stories, as well as the research on perfectionism, I came to a startling realization: Perfectionism is not a pathology, and treating it like one is causing countless people — mostly women — to suffer needlessly.
Based on my clinical work, I’ve identified five types of perfectionists. As you read through the profiles, keep in mind that perfectionism is a fluid and context-dependent construct.
For example, you could be a messy perfectionist when it comes to dating and an intense perfectionist at work. Understanding your profile will help you appreciate and manage your unique tendencies.
1. Intense perfectionists
Intense perfectionists are effortlessly direct and maintain razor sharp focus when it comes to achieving their goals. Left unchecked, their standards can go from high to impossible, and they can be punitive with others and themselves for not meeting their standards.
2. Classic perfectionists
Classic perfectionists are highly reliable, consistent and detail-oriented, and they add stability to their environment. Left unchecked, they struggle to adapt to spontaneity or a change in routine, and can have a hard time developing meaningful relationships.
3. Parisian perfectionists
Parisian perfectionists possess a live-wire understanding of the power of interpersonal connection and hold a strong capacity for empathy. Left unchecked, their desire to connect to others can metastasize into toxic people-pleasing.
4. Procrastinator perfectionists
Procrastinator perfectionists excel at preparing, can see opportunities from a 360-degree perspective, and have good impulse control. Left unchecked, their preparative measures hit a point of diminishing returns, resulting in indecisiveness and inaction.
5. Messy perfectionists
Messy perfectionists effortlessly push through the anxiety of new beginnings, are superstar idea generators, adapt to spontaneity well, and are naturally enthusiastic. Left unchecked, they struggle to stay focused on their goals, ultimately spreading their energy too thin to follow through on their commitments.
If you’re not sure which profile best fits you, take the quiz here.
It’s important to understand that when people say, “I’m a perfectionist,” they’re not saying that they expect themselves, others, the weather, or even all events that unfold in life to be perfect.
Perfectionists are powerful, intelligent people who recognize that everything can’t work out perfectly all the time. What they sometimes have trouble with is understanding why they feel so compelled to endlessly strive, or why they can’t just enjoy relaxing “like a normal person.”
Perfectionism is a power, and like any power, it can be harnessed constructively. If you recognize yourself in the perfectionist profiles above, consider exploring your perfectionism. It may surprise you how much power you have.
In the midst of that exploration, also consider this idea: There’s nothing wrong with you.
Katherine Morgan Schafler is a psychotherapist, writer and speaker. Formerly, she was an on-site therapist at Google. She earned degrees and trained at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, with postgraduate certification from the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy in New York City. Her first book, “The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control” is out now.