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  • Torre Boyd LPC

Perfectionism as a Coping Mechanism

Manifestation of US capitalist culture feeds into the need to be a perfectionist. It's almost as if the odds were stacked against you before you even began. So even outside of whatever crappy childhood you were gifted, society was working simultaneously to smite you. And like all humans, you’ve adapted. You’ve found a way to cope. Healthy? Probably not but alas, a means of coping.

What is coping anyway? We hear this word thrown around, but what does it actually mean? Allow me to break it down for you.

Coping is a means of solving personal and interpersonal problems in an attempt to master (there’s that word again), reduce, and live with stress. Even further it can help manage difficult emotions and dissolve conflict. Simply put, coping is a means in which someone devotes a conscious effort to minimize stress.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad. But like all things, coping can be both good and bad. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

All and all perfectionism isn’t terrible. You’re not a horrible person if you find yourself somewhere along the spectrum. After all, perfectionism definitely serves a purpose. It has served a need that you’ve had in the past and maybe even present. It has allowed you to feel in control. It has given you the mindset to earn those promotions, and elevate to where you are today. Contrarily, it could also cause a sense of incompleteness in the submersion of all your achievements and glory. But you aren’t to blame.

I mentioned earlier that the US society favors perfectionism. So how in the heck is this plausible? Well, it has three main ingredients:

  1. Economic Incentives - so promotions, materialistic things, and all the like that make you “work hard” to achieve more nice things. (pssst Perfectionists (P’s) love nice things. I’ll do you one better and say P’s love perfect things.)

  2. Fiscal Responsibility -so foresight and control, the P Special.

  3. A moral - cultural system that encourages pluralism- aka having more than you need, creating a normalcy to almost always want more, distorting success after each win (pssst that's what P’s do).

So, what do you do when you live in a society that perpetuates your need to be perfect? COPE. But at what point does coping become subconscious rather than conscious? When does perfectionism overthrow healthy coping and become debilitating?

I’d say you’ve tilted the scale when you’re no longer excelling and find yourself stagnant (note that this is applicable to one’s mental and physical). Stagnation most often occurs once you’ve begun applying market mentality to people, places, and things OUTSIDE of the business scope. I call this coping irresponsibly. This is when it hurts. So I’ll leave you with my concluding testament: Perfectionism is good until it isn't.


-Torre Boyd LPC

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