The Perfect Trap
Perfectionism can lead to physical and emotional stress. A guide to giving up the unattainable.
Monica Ramirez Basco
If you're always worried that no matter how hard you try it is never good enough, or you're constantly
disappointed in the people you live or work with, you may be caught in a sneaky snare. Here's how to
Susan, an interior designer, had been working frantically for the last month trying to get her end-of-the-
year books in order, keep the business running, and plan a New Year's Eve party for her friends and her
clients. Susan's home is an advertisement of her talent as a designer, so she wanted to make some
changes to the formal dining room before the party that would be particularly impressive. It all came
together in time for the party and the evening seemed to be going well, until her assistant, Charles, asked
her if Mrs. Beale, who owned a small antique shop and had referred Susan a lot of business, and Mr.
Sandoval, a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and a supporter of Susan's, had arrived.
Susan felt like her head was about to explode when she realized that she had forgotten to invite them to
the party. "Oh, no," she moaned. "How could I be so stupid? What am I going to do? They'll no doubt hear
about it from someone and assume I omitted them on purpose. I may as well kiss the business good-
bye." Though Charles suggested she might be overreacting a little, Susan spent the rest of the night
agonizing over her mistake.
Susan is an inwardly focused perfectionist. Although it can help her in her work, it also hurts her when she
is hard on herself and finds error completely unacceptable. Like many people, she worries about what
others will think of her and her business. However, in Susan's case her errors lead to humiliation,
distress, sleepless nights and withdrawal from others. She has trouble letting go and forgiving herself
because, in her mind, it is OK for others to make mistakes, but it is not OK for her to make mistakes.
Tom, on the other hand, is an outwardly focused perfectionist. He feels OK about himself, but he is often
disappointed in and frustrated with others who seem to always let him down. Quality control is his line of
work, but he cannot always turn it off when he leaves the office.
Tom drove into his garage to find that there was still a mess on the workbench and floor that his son
Tommy had left two days ago. Tom walked through door and said to his wife in an annoyed tone of voice,
"I told Tommy to clean up his mess in the garage before I got home." His wife defended their son, saying,
"He just got home himself a few minutes ago." "Where is he now?" Tom demanded. "He better not be on
the phone." Sure enough, though, Tommy was on the phone and Tom felt himself tensing up and
ordering, "Get off the phone and go clean up that mess in the garage like I told you." "Yes, sir," said
Tommy, knowing that a lecture was coming.
For Tom, it seems like every day there is something new to complain about. Tommy doesn't listen, his