Paralyzing Perfectionism

Paralyzing Perfectionism

The article by Erica Larsen in Salon was brought to our attention by Telluride Inside… and Out’s regular contributor (and expert witness in the story) Dr. Paul Hokemeyer. Turns out that trying to be perfect, a personality trait that is analogous to finding the Holy Grail or Fountain of Youth, can leave us vulnerable to addiction and a laundry list of other mental disorders.


When I say my biggest weakness is perfectionism, I’m not humblebragging. I’m really not. I wouldn’t wish perfectionism on someone any more than I would wish them to be physically handicapped. In fact, recent research indicates that perfectionism has posed a real handicap for women in the workplace. More than that, perfectionism can predispose people to addiction and a slew of other mental illnesses.

The idea that many addicts are actually perfectionists seems counterintuitive. Growing up, we all heard “Stay In School” and “Say No To Drugs” uttered in the same breath. But addiction doesn’t just strike the kids on the academic fringes; it strikes the valedictorians, too. Those overachieving, “curve-breaker” types go through life saddled with unrealistic expectations. Sometimes parents are the problem, but frequently it’s the kids themselves who are generating their own pressure because they’ve never learned how to cope with making mistakes. And perfectionism isn’t something that leaves us as we grow into adults.

“The patients I treat are highly successful in the external aspects of their lives—they are wealthy, powerful, incredibly smart and often household names,” says addiction expert Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, who, rather perfectly, has “striving for perfection and falling woefully short” written in his Twitter bio. “Their demand for perfection has enabled them to excel in traditional notions of success, but turns against them when they need to resource the compassion for and acceptance of their humanness that will enable them to succeed as recovering women and men living in an imperfect world.”

There’s arguably no better place for perfectionism to thrive than in our increasingly competitive schools,…

Continue reading here.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Paul Hokemeyer is a nationally recognized expert on Eastern philosophies, relationships, and emotional healing. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, he holds a PhD in psychology, as well as a doctorate in the law. The part-time Telluride resident is based in the New York City office of the Caron Treatment Center. He is also a contributor to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, “The Dr. Oz Show,”  Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN’s Prime News, Fox News, Oprah Radio and more.

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