Confessions of a Covert Perfectionist

It doesn't have to be perfect

It doesn’t have to be perfect (Photo credit: Thorsten Becker)

Unique. One of a kind. Original. Distinctive. I have always thought of myself as someone who is just that little bit different, special (my humble self is upset with me for using this word), inimitable—or at least hard to imitate.

Imagine my horror at discovering myself in the book “Overcoming Perfectionism” by Ann W. Smith. It was as if she were spying on my psyche, then exposing me to the world. Smith defines perfectionists as overt and covert. I am of the covert school of perfectionism. Without exception I have every one of her indicators—now some are more pronounced than others—but they pretty well sum me up. I have put the ones that fit me to a T in bold letters:

~ May have exceptional gifts and abilities that they are reluctant to pursue

~ Compare themselves to overt perfectionists and fall short

~ Have low expectations of those around them

~ Have high expectations of themselves, which they keep secret

~ May exhibit overt perfectionism when they excel at or enjoy a task or activity

~ Prefer being average and under the radar but secretly want to succeed

~ Are prone to procrastination, thinking they must do things right, so they have to wait and do it tomorrow (but not all procrastinators are perfectionists)

~ Worry about what others think of them

~ Act as chameleons, trying to find the right opinion or the right thing to say to avoid making a mistake

~ Underachieve to avoid pressure to succeed or competition with those who are better

~ Are inconsistent in achievements and keeping order—despite liking order and success, may reach a point where they have it, then sabotage themselves and fall back into disorder

~ Fear both failure and success and will sometimes resign themselves to being average rather than trying and failing.

Of course I am uncomfortable admitting to the fact that I have exceptional gifts and abilities, but I counter that with the true belief that everyone has exceptional gifts and abilities. Other than that I am thinking of suing Ms. Smith for invading my privacy (lol).

She says that not everyone is a perfectionist, but I think many of us have these attributes—I am just blown away with the fact that almost everyone hits the nail on the head for me (she did not include over usage of clichés though—guess that is my own addition—thinking a cliché is better than my own words at times.)

Perhaps you are an overt perfectionist—from what Smith says one of the main differences between the overt and covert is a matter of control.  Here are a few of her indicators for overt perfectionists:

~ May be born with a preference for order, but other factors contribute to a lifetime pattern of perfectionism

~ Have increased anxiety when they don’t have order around them, which may appear as frustration, anger or even rage

~ Are hard on themselves and may be even harder on others

~ May appear arrogant or judgmental, thinking that they know what is best and that everyone should do it their way

~ Fear failure and try to prevent it by being in control

Now that I know the symptoms, I will have to read the rest of the book, if not to cure myself of my overt perfectionism, at least to find balance in imperfection, which just so happens to be the subject of her last chapter.

Did you find yourself in any of the Indicators? Do you think you are overt or covert, or have you found a good balance?

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45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh, there are things I recognise here! 🙂

  2. Uh oh…think I need to read this book! Sounds uncomfortably familiar. I would say I am in the covert class also…I try to keep my perfectionist expectations and OCD behavior under control and not impacting those around me so I don’t have to feel defensive. But it’s there… ~ Sheila

    • it is the overts who have trouble not impacting those around them — I could have some shades of overt but I am most covert

  3. Your innards seem to be in quite a turmoil. A push-me, pull-me animal. Been there myself.

  4. overt. always. 😉

  5. Definitely more covert than overt, although the overt side does occasionally come out a little. I’m trying to be better about this perfectionist thing and not give myself (and others) so much stress but it’s definitely a work in progress.

  6. What’s the problem with being a perfectionist? *says she who definitely fits into the overt category* 🙂

    • overt–I would not have thought that as you are so fun loving–maybe your are a perfectionistic fun lover

      • Well, I definitely don’t have the arrogant or judgmental aspect and I am fun loving :), but I do have increased anxiety when I don’t have order around me – big time – and I do really fear failure, so having a situation ordered and controlled makes me less anxious. Does that make sense?

      • makes total sense– and I knew you did not have the arrogant and judgmental aspect
        right now I am living in chaos and it is driving me crazy

      • I totally understand! So, what’s your chaos? Are you redecorating or something? Because that’s one of the worst for having to endure chaos. Or, is your family causing chaos? Because families sometimes tend to do that. Whatever the case, I think you should just take the day off, find a place of peace and quiet, lose yourself in a great book, and eat some chocolate :).

      • I so want to take your advice but cannot–when I have a little more time I will explain more–but it has to do with litigation that has been going on since 2005

      • Oh, still that nasty litigation eh? Working in a law office, I definitely know how long those things can take. I hope you get it sorted out soon and can return to a peaceful life! :). Hugs to you!!

      • return to a peaceful life – is that even possible?

      • Yes!!! Positive Cindy says, yes it is :). But in the meantime, just eat chocolate.

      • that is a good in between thing to do!

  7. Definitely was/is a covert for the most part… I tried to distance myself from perfectionism though because in so many respects it is too much pressure….Never can distance totally though … Diane

    • good that you are taking steps to distance yourself because you are so right–there is way too much pressure in perfectionism

  8. I saw myself at a younger age in the covert descriptions. But along the way I embraced my gifts and interests and decided to live beyond the fear of being found out. Creepy feeling to think someone peeked into your psyche 🙂

    • ha ha — yes it is — you, my dear have achieved a form of balance I am still trying to achieve

  9. First, thanks for commenting at my blog!

    I am definitely a perfectionist, but I’m also a procrastinator. This results in having many unfinished projects all over the house, because I won’t call them “done.”

    Used to not be able to finish a song – as though the tune and lyrics were written in oils, which you can mess with endlessly!

    I’ve a covert convert to conviviality. (wink) Amy

    • love your last line Amy–I aim to do the same!
      With perfectionism, nothing is finished because nothing is ever good enough–thank goodness I have deadlines at the paper I work for

  10. My ego is too big to allow me to be a covert anything.

  11. Fascinating! I wouldn’t have described myself as a perfectionist but I recognise pretty much all of the above characteristics in me!

  12. ouch! that sure does sound like me to a “T” – guess I should read that book too! A friend of mine says my perfectionism comes out in my quilting because I am always tearing out and want each stitch and triangle to be perfect. Reading this book will sure bring some understanding to how I tick. 😉

    • quilting is already a fastidious process that only perfectionists would take on in the first place!

      • 😉

  13. Is there a such thing as an overt “imperfectionist?”

  14. I fear I resemble many of these statements myself. 🙂

  15. Oh dear, I found myself nodding a few too many times

  16. Ack. I do all of this or *ahem* i have done all of this in the past. I’m trying so hard to not do this anymore. I obviously need to check out that book — and, perhaps more importantly, I need to have my husband read it. Maybe he’ll understand what I’m understand what I;m wrestling with.

  17. […] Confessions of an Overt Perfectionist ( […]

  18. […] Confessions of an Overt Perfectionist ( …and I diagnose myself as more overt than covert […]

  19. Reblogged this on sparrow st. claire and commented:
    Re-Blog! I was planning on writing a post about this very thing but this pretty much sums it up. Or maybe this is just my covert perfectionism rearing its insidious little head.

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