Julio is a very successful man at work. He says that from a young age he liked to do things well and that he would spend hours and hours making sure his chores and homework were “passable.” He defines himself as an organized, neat, and perfectionist type of person.
In his own words: either things are done perfectly or it is not done well at all and you have to go back and do it again. He likes details and for things to being in harmony, a routine, and consistency. He thinks that his way of doing things is what has raised him to the level of success he experiences in his work life now, although he still thinks this is not enough.
What’s wrong with Julio?
From this point of view, one might think that Julio — a successful man, viewed very positively at work, hard worker, organized — does not have any problems. But the reality is that Julio’s personality is creating fractures in other areas of his life. Julio suffers from what is known as anankastic personality disorder.
A person with this type of personality is defined by their elevated perfectionism and their need to control situations. Being a perfectionist does not mean wanting and making an effort to make things go as well as possible. This would be normal and desirable. Rather, a perfectionist is a person who demands that what they carry out has to be perfect. The problem is, perfection does not exist, so the person may spend hours and even days doing something that another person would do in much less time or tend to quit or postpone action for fear of not doing it perfectly.
Their craving for perfection causes them to never be happy with their results because they always think they can do better and, as a consequence, this produces a high anxiety level in them which causes them to suffer and to not enjoy their achievements.
The thinking of these people is called polarized thinking. Which is to say, things are black or white, good or bad. Either you are perfect or you are a failure and as they never find perfection, in spite of their successes, they end up considering themselves failures.
People with this personality are often dedicated exclusively to their work. They never take vacations, although their boss makes them do so. Work is their priority, and they often bring it home every day without disconnecting or doing other activities. Obviously and due to this behavior, their social relationships and romantic relationships deteriorate since leisure time activities are no longer in their plans and if they do participate in them, they feel uncomfortable and like they are wasting time.
Relationships with co-workers are also difficult as they are not capable of delegating work to others or of accepting any external help, because they don’t think that others are sufficiently capable.
As can be inferred by all of these characteristics, the central belief of these people is the need to do things perfectly and the intense fear and anxiety of failing or making mistakes.
What can Julio do?
It is true that personality disorders are difficult to modify but psychotherapy combined with medication could be helpful to these patients.
First, it would be necessary to work on the erroneous beliefs about perfectionism and control. The objective is for these people to learn and internalize that perfection is an unreal concept, it does not exist, and committing yourself to achieve something that does not exist will only bring anxiety and frustration, which causes us to suffer, be aggressive and hostile, or distance ourselves from our environment and isolate ourselves emotionally.
The person has to let themselves make mistakes. To err is human and, as we are human, we can and should make mistakes. Making mistakes allows us to learn and grow in any aspect of our lives. It does not mean any more than that. To see a mistake as an absolute failure is also unreal and so we should help the person to undo that unreality and be more rational.
Learning to enjoy social relationships and leisure time is also essential. These people feel that enjoying free time and participating in activities that are not related to work is unnecessary, but the truth is that the whole world needs to rest, disconnect, and recover energy to subsequently perform better.
Being the people they are, they also feel physically and mentally exhausted, and so we should work on these ideas with them so they understand that there is time for everything and that rest and enjoyment are necessary for physical and psychological well being.
People with this personality type should ask themselves, “What is the worst that could happen to me if in the end I failed this assignment?” Thinking about it can help us realize that many times we form thoughts and images in our minds of catastrophes and dramas that, in the end, don’t exist.
The anxious mind always thinks that something worse is going to happen than what actually happens, which causes unnecessary suffering which makes resolving problems more difficult.
Photo source: http://amaltiempobuenapsique.com/2012/10/01/combate-el-perfeccionismo/