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The Link Between Addiction and Perfectionism

Contrary to what one may think, when an individual is struggling with addiction, they are often struggling with perfectionism as well. Beneath their addiction, this person may have unrealistic expectations which have caused them to abandon their goals and escape through drug and/or alcohol use. Of course, not all addicts are perfectionists, but it is often this black-or-white thinking that drives the unhealthy thoughts and behavioral patterns behind a number of addictions and mental health disorders. 

What exactly is Perfectionism?

The dictionary defines perfectionism as “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less”. In psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait marked by striving for flawlessness and setting impossibly high performance standards, accompanied by critical evaluations and concerns regarding others’ opinions. According to psychologists’, perfectionism is often the result of a person feeling unloved and/or felt like they’ve made too many mistakes in life, and need to stay ‘perfect’ in order to achieve their future goals. 

People who contain these personality traits often don’t realize the affect this thinking has on their mental health and likely don’t realize they have a problem until experiencing intervention. Furthermore, they have a tendency to push those close to them away, many times believing they can handle it on their own. They may feel as though they can’t live up to what they perceive as their loved ones’ expectations of them.

Moreover, perfection itself can be addictive. Wanting to attain perfection often leads to persistent feelings of frustration, despair, shame, or guilt, which, as we know, could easily lead someone into a life controlled by addiction.

Even though most perfectionists logically understand that they cannot achieve perfection, they continue to expect it. This type of magical thinking is a common feature of addiction: “Other people may need help, but I can do it on my own”.

The perfectionist also misinterprets the message of abstinence. Undeniably, abstinence is a black-or-white concept. What the perfectionist doesn’t realize is that abstinence is the long-term objective, and that relapse is a learning opportunity, not a failure. Because they expect perfection right from the start, the addict has a difficult time rebounding from a relapse.

Often times in recovery, the perfectionist will compare themselves to their peers during treatment. They will see what other people can do, and expect themselves to do more. This type of grandiosity also feeds addiction. It is not uncommon for addicts to feel unlike others or feel that they play by a different set of rules. Perfectionism can destroy the addict’s confidence and ambition to heal. Instead, they resort to the mindset of, “Recovery is too hard. If I can’t do it perfectly, I’d rather not try.” This fear of not being ‘good enough’ deters some people from getting help at all.

Overcoming perfectionism – and addiction

Desire to be perfect can destroy an addict’s confidence and motivation to heal if recovery does not go as planned. However, psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects to being a ‘perfectionist’.  The flip side of perfectionism can motivate people to reach their goals, and to feel accomplished in doing so. Just like everything else in life, it’s a delicate balance. 

Don’t feel afraid to lean on others to help you achieve goals. Contact Harmony Place to discuss your goals and our treatment options. 1-855-652-9048