Adults whose childhood mental models drove them towards perfectionism are likely to be intelligent, educated and more affluent than most. For some their perfectionism is limited to certain domains and activities that restrict only limited parts of their lives. You might think of this as “restricted perfectionism”. These pockets of perfectionism are likely to be in contexts where parental imperatives were interpreted by the child as greater than they could accomplish in spite of their very best efforts. Where their perfectionism is limited they might still be able to enjoy and take satisfaction in other areas of their lives.

But, in life spaces where perfectionism is active, accomplishments are unlikely to result in happiness. Happiness is more likely result of the application of abundance and love to work and relationships. Perfectionists on the other hand are more likely to be driven to accomplishment out of fear (often subconscious) and to derive little joy in accomplishment.  As leaders they relate to others as they relate to themselves. They drive themselves and others to meet ever increasing demands to “do better” and accomplish more and more. The perfectionistic boss not only drives themselves and everyone else around them but tends to be hyper vigilant and pays close attention to every detail. The intensity of their pressured world and unending striving is actually a measure of their self-depreciation. This is likely to put a strain on interpersonal relationships outside of work as well. The perfectionist person tends to have difficulty in close and intimate contacts with others. For many perfectionists their family lives are strained because they mirror the same over scrupulosity found in other domains of their lives.

Perfectionism should not to be confused with the pursuit of excellence, pride of accomplishment and satisfaction at a job well done.  Not all striving for excellence is perfectionistic and does not lead to the belittling of accomplishment that characterizes the emotional state of the perfectionist. No, the payoff for the perfectionist is ever elusive and those who work under them have an experience similar to what their leader experienced in childhood. Ironically, as leaders they tend to attract people with similar histories who are more likely to experience their leadership style with an “at home” feeling that recapitulates the emotional subtext of their own childhood.

Perfectionists tend to be highly competitive and generally strive for accomplishment in areas of measurable performance. They tend to see tangible success as evidence of their worthiness. But the relief is very short lived. Anything less than what is considered “perfect” stirs childhood patterns of self-depreciation and self-belittlement. Relationships are often seen as encumbering, distracting and interfering with the “optimal stride” they developed in their relentless striving for the prize they so desperately seek. So what is this elusive prize? It is the same one they sought in childhood. It is nothing less than the elusive promise of full acceptance held out by parents long ago but ever recent in his subconscious.