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PERFECT Misery #2: Perfectionism and Procrastination

October 6th, 2013 · No Comments · perfectionism, perfectionism and procrastination, procrastination

To continue the themes from my initial satirical post on finding perfect misery through perfectionism, here’s an option that the true misery connoisseur should not pass up:   the “perfectionism and procrastination” combo.

perfectionism and procrastination

This little number has it all: the perfect combination of eternally deferred gratification and endlessly shooting oneself in the foot.

The Subtle Dance of Perfectionism and Procrastination

As Dr. Tim Pychyl of Carleton University stresses, perfectionism and procrastination can be fundamentally related if the perfectionism that  the individual suffers from is very other-directed, and related to anxious concern to meet the expectations of others.  If we were to put this in Jungian terms, we would see this as the type of  perfectionism that is wedded to meeting highly collective expectations, to a persona, or outward presentation that is very sensitive to gaining the approval of others, and to a sense of self that is highly dependent on gaining others’ positive regard.

Dr, Pychyl also cites other research that would indicate that such “socially-prescribed perfectionism” is related to procrastination, depression, reduced self-esteem, anxiety, and dealing with shame.

In depth psychological terms, what is going on here?

Unrelated to Instinct, Body

perfectionism and procrastination

Jungian analyst Marion Woodman sheds considerable light:

The technological age is propelling us into a space quite unrelated to our instincts.  We have forgotten how to listen to our bodies: we pop pills for everything that goes wrong with us….  We can turn ourselves over to medicine without ever questioning what the body is trying to tell us.  To our peril, we assume that it has no wisdom of its own….  

As a culture, we are not in touch with our instinctual roots, and parents tend to treat their children as if they too were machines instead of human beings with feelings and fears.  If the child is treated that way, consciously or unconsciously, it in turn treats itself that way…

Woodman illustrates the effect of this on the individual with a quotation from a 20 year old client:

“When can I get out of this box?  I drag my body around as if it’s some gross foreign object.  I’m so scared of cancer and war and school and what other people think [italics mine]….  What am I doing?  I keep setting these standards for myself and I just can’t do it.  I can’t do anything.  NOTHING!  NOTHING! Ugly, filthy, fat slob!”

~Addiction to Perfection, © 1982 Marion Woodman

The viciousness of such lack of self-acceptance is staggering.  Yet here we see clearly how totally we can lose ourselves in slavish devotion to machine-like perfection.

Perfectionism, Procrastination, Inflation

Woodman makes the point that this perfectionism is grounded in a god-like inflation, which is fundamentally rejecting of our individual, vulnerable, fleshly humanity.  In the name of meeting the ruthless onslaught of the expectations of our society and of others, we seek to turn ourselves into god or goddess, standing aloof above the human condition.  She sees this portrayed mythologically in the contrast between the goddess of Athena, the paragon of perfection, and her archrival Medusa “whose snaky locks twist and writhe in constant agitation, reaching… wanting more and more…”:

The “terror of knowing what this world is about” is the crushing weight of the meeting the expectations of others and of the world as carried by the perfectionist.

To be freed from this burden, and released into the acceptance of our own mortal, instinctual lives — this is at the heart of the journey of individual psychotherapy.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by alex.shultz ; Brett Jordan
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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