The Perfect Life

Reflections after April’s Psychoanalysis on the Street Meetup on Perfectionism in Berlin.

Truthfully, I was afraid that discussing perfectionism would be boring. It’s one of those concepts that might just be just a bit too common and historically a little too bland to get all worked up about. But rather the discussion that took place Wednesday evening at Stillpoint Spaces’ The Lab turned out to be both diverse, inspiring and with just the right amount of tension.

The common thread of most of those storied shared was that of strain and blockage; how perfectionism – seen as the strive towards the ideal of perfection – can cause procrastination, inertia, anxiety, and some level of depression. If you’re fretting about how to construct the perfect sentence, you’ll either never get going or the process will be a long and uneasy one, was the doctrine that was most supported by research and personal experiences.

It was also interesting to hear how people related perfectionism to concepts such as vulnerability and failure. The so-called “maladaptive perfectionism” was described by some as a compulsive defense mechanism working to shield the person from vulnerability and potential failure.

The question was posed whether it makes sense to talk about a positive and adaptive perfectionism, or whether we instead should conceptualize perfectionism as negative and neurotic per se. If perfectionism is placed in a temporal framework, where the perfectionist person is moving towards the constantly moving target of perfection, then perfectionism becomes a Sisyphean endeavor. However, the general consensus, was that while even the most maladaptive perfectionism might pose a huge emotional strain on the person and sometimes even the people around the perfectionist, this is not to say that the product to come out of the perfectionism won’t be brilliant (think Steve Jobs and Howard Hughes, for instance).

This type of question can quickly open up a rather intense etymological and epistemological discussion about what each of us mean when we say perfectionism and whether how we define it can be justified as a theoretically sound belief. Fortunately, the opinions voiced during the meetup were just as manifold as the body of research on the subject matter; the focus spanning from perfectionism being a dangerous societal killer to perfectionism being a necessary and useful drive. In fact, it was even stated that perfectionism could be seen as nature: always competing with itself to be better.

I’m grateful for all the people who came and helped make the evening an enlightening one and I encourage those who are still pondering the phenomenon of perfectionism and its role in our lives and in our culture to continue the conversation, either by simply commenting here or by writing Johanne@stillpointspaces.com.

Here’s some of the references that were brought up during the discussion:

We at the Stillpoint Spaces Lab hope to see you next time for an evening of symposium-like thinking and debate. These meetups are held once a month at our Berlin Laboratory, where we invite individuals from all walks of life to discuss topics of contemporary interest. For more info visit: stillpoint-lab.com

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