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What You Need to Know About Your Perfectionist Friend

I’ve been beating myself up for months over something I hard I needed to do. I called myself weak and let the anger and resentment simmer just under the surface. A few people close to me knew, but most people saw the smiling, have-it-all-together Hilary. This week things came to a head and I had to do the hard thing.

Afterward I replayed the scenario in my mind a couple dozen times. What could I have said better? How could I have handled it more professionally? Why did I wait so long to deal with this? Then I remembered the Enneagram test I took several months ago. I’m a 1, which is officially named The Reformer and lovingly or not so lovingly nicknamed the Perfectionist.

I couldn’t act when I needed to act because I wanted the situation to play out perfectly. I didn’t say that in my head but that’s what it boils down to. I wanted all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted. I wanted to handle the situation with integrity and honesty not emotion and rash decisions. All good intentions, right? Right. Until you’re frozen in indecision and indecisiveness because somethings will never be perfect.

If having everything lined up and worked out just exactly right sounds like a dream, that’s because it is a dream. It’s the dream your Type 1 friends live with everyday. We don’t live in it, we live with it. We have a very vocal critic sitting on our shoulder telling us how things need to be a certain way in order for everything to be okay.

We must be kind to everyone because that’s the right thing to do and people will like us.

We must have everything done just right on a work assignment even if it takes us hours longer than it should. Our boss will like us more if we put more effort into it and get it right the first time.

We must buy airline tickets for this summer’s vacation at the right time to get the lowest price so we put it off because what if it goes lower.

We must plan the perfect vacation but we can’t decide which zip lining tour is the best or what time we’ll want to eat dinner so we can make a reservation. If we get it wrong people will be upset.

Our children must behave a certain way in public or other people will be bothered by them.

How much people like us is tied to doing the right thing, saying the right thing, being on time, working harder. And it’s not that we want to be the most popular, we just don’t want to make people mad. We don’t want people to question our integrity or our goodness.

At the same time we’re trying to do everything right an inner voice is always telling us it will never be exactly right, no matter how hard we try.

That voice bleeds over into our relationships with you, our dear friends. You don’t see our emotions -- whether they are happy, sad, angry, jealous. We keep those scary things bottled up because we know if we let out what we really feel we’ll no longer be in control and sometimes those emotions are just wrong. So you believe we don’t care or that we have few emotions, when in reality we’ve spent every ounce of self-control we have to keep those emotions in check.

When our friends talk about problems we’re quick to suggest the one, right solution. We can be a bit forceful about encouraging you to do the things we think you should do. And you begin to see the judgemental side of us surface. It’s the ugly side of being a Type 1. The judgemental part of us is what drives most of you away.

What you don’t realize is we’re pushing this one, right way because we truly want the best for you. We’re voicing our opinion about how to solve your problem because we want you to get it right and not suffer whatever consequences come from getting it wrong.

I’m just beginning to see how this affects my parenting. I keep drilling my kids to work harder because I’m scared of what happens if they don’t. I’m scared of what happens if they don’t have good grades and don’t get into a good college and don’t get a good job. It’s all about the good and the right. It feels pushy and overbearing to my kids and to you, but I promise it’s out of love. I really, really want the best for the people I love and that voice keeps telling me this is the one right way. It’s also a little selfish, because if my kids end up living in a box under a bridge that voice on my shoulder will keep whispering “you could have done more”.

When I leave a gathering of friends, the awkward statement I made halfway through the night will be repeated over and over in my head until I go to bed. I’ll think about what I should have said and why I didn’t say it right. You don’t even remember me saying it.

When I send work to a client, I’ll go through it a hundred times only to have a client catch a typo. I’ll chastise myself for letting them down when they’ve moved on.

Perfectionism ruins relationships and builds a wall between us and the people we love. Most of the time we don’t even realize that it’s wrong or why it’s wrong. We’re trying our best. This personality does have a good side though, one our friends can appreciate.

We’re honest and hardworking. If we tell you we’ll do something we’ll do it and do it right as much as possible.

We’re going to be on time because we told you we would be.

We will be fair and objective without allowing our feelings to get in the way.

We are trustworthy.

We love you and genuinely want to help you.

As our friend please don’t let our rigid, unfun selves get in the way of friendship. Ask us to go fun places. We need to be forced into relaxation sometimes and we really want to feel included whether we show it or not. Release the tension in a judgemental conversation with some humor. We’ll replay our words less if we know you aren’t really offended by it. Remind us the world does have some gray areas and sometimes when given options neither is wrong, they are just different.

And for the love of our sanity please don’t make us plan the perfect vacation.

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