A former Google therapist shares 5 types of perfectionists—and what makes them so successful
Perfectionists are not balanced people and that’s okay.
As a psychotherapist, I have worked with many self-described perfectionists, all of whom were bright, ambitious, hardworking people who inexplicably felt that something was wrong with them.
But as I delved into their stories, as well as research on perfectionism, I came to a startling realization: perfectionism is not a pathology, and treating it as such causes countless people—mostly women—to suffer needlessly.
Based on my clinical work, I have identified five types of perfectionists. As you read the profiles, keep in mind that perfectionism is a fluid, context-dependent construct.
For example, you could be a messy perfectionist when it comes to dating and an intense perfectionist at work. Understanding your profile will help you appreciate and manage your unique preferences.
1. Intense perfectionists
Intense perfectionists are effortlessly direct and maintain a sharp focus when it comes to achieving their goals. Left unchecked, their standards can go from high to impossible, and they can punish others and themselves for not meeting their standards.
2. Classic perfectionists
Classic perfectionists are very reliable, consistent and detail oriented and add stability to their surroundings. Left unsupervised, they struggle to adapt to spontaneity or a change in routine and have difficulty developing meaningful relationships.
3. Parisian perfectionists
Parisian perfectionists possess a keen understanding of the power of interpersonal connection and have a strong capacity for empathy. Left unchecked, their desire to connect with others can metastasize into toxic people-pleasing.
4. Procrastinators, perfectionists
Perfectionists who procrastinate excel at preparation, can see opportunities from a 360-degree perspective, and have good impulse control. Left unattended, their preparations reached the point of diminishing returns, resulting in indecision and inaction.
5. Messy perfectionists
Messy perfectionists navigate the anxiety of new beginnings effortlessly, superstars are idea generators, adapt well to spontaneity and are naturally enthusiastic. Left unchecked, they struggle to stay focused on their goals, eventually spreading their energies too thin to meet their commitments.
If you are not sure which profile suits you best, take the quiz here.
It’s important to understand that when people say, “I’m a perfectionist,” they don’t mean that they expect themselves, others, time, or even all the events that unfold in life to be perfect.
Perfectionists are powerful, intelligent people who understand that not everything can always work perfectly. What they sometimes have trouble understanding is why they feel so compelled to work endlessly or why they can’t just enjoy relaxing “like a normal person.”
Perfectionism is power, and like any power, it can be used constructively. If you recognize yourself in the perfectionist profiles above, consider exploring your perfectionism. It might surprise you how much power you have.
In the midst of that research, also consider this idea: Everything is fine with you.
Katherine Morgan Schafler is a psychotherapist, writer and speaker. She was previously an on-site therapist at Google. She received degrees and training from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, with post-graduate certification from the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy in New York. Her first book, “The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control” it’s out now.