The Problem With People – They’re Not Perfect

by Stephen Mills on August 1, 2009

Frustrated

When you boil it all down, most “problems” people have are with other people.  Directly or indirectly it is our fellow human beings that are the force behind many of our daily hassles.

You can’t solve the people issues by isolating yourself from everyone else.  In addition to being the source of most of our pain, others are also the source of much of our pleasure.  You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them, or so the saying goes.

This article is the first in a series of articles about people problems.

The Expectation of Perfection

We often expect others to be perfect or nearly perfect.  This is termed other-oriented perfectionism.  You are holding others to standards that are impossible to maintain.  Of course implicit in this expectation is that your definition of “perfect” is the correct one. This expectation seems to rise in direct proportion to the closeness of the relationship.  You set a higher perfection threshold for your family and your friends than for your colleagues and for strangers.  The highest level is usually reserved for your partner and your children.  This is one of the main reasons why there is so much pain and frustration in dealing with those closest to us – they disappoint our expectations the most.

Let’s face it: neither they nor you are perfect.  We are all fallible human beings and we all make mistakes and have characteristics that others do not appreciate nor understand.  Your children are not carbon copies of you.  They are individual human beings who will find their own way regardless of what you do.  They, even as children, have a different idea than you do of who they are going to be.  Your neurotic obsession with molding them into your idea of a perfect human will only succeed in frustrating you and driving them away.

Let It Go

Simply accept that others are not perfect and will be who they will be and do what they will do.  You will lift a huge burden from your shoulders the day you simply accept others for what they are and stop your crusade to try and change them.

Lower your expectations.  Having said that, let me clarify.  You can still demand appropriate and responsible behavior from those you associate with.  But you should refuse to be disappointed by the behavior of others.  You can recognize occasional mistakes for exactly that; mistakes.  If someone in your life habitually behaves in a way you find unacceptable, don’t expect them to change.  It is at that point you have a decision to make.  It may be time for them to be removed from your life.  At a minimum you should considering decreasing your interaction with them.  That is you exercising your freedom to associate with whomever you please.

Lowering your expectations is not a lowering of your personal standards or an approval of others’ behavior.  It is simply the acceptance of reality.  The world is not going to be the way you want it to be.  I do not expect you to allow people into your life who behave in a way that harms you or your family or in any way makes your life less wonderful.  I am simply asking you to accept what is.  There is a judgment of reasonableness required in dealing with other people and part of that is an acceptance that people are never going to be what you expect them or want them to be.  Learn to love them for being those unique and fascinating individuals that they are.  If you can’t love them for that, then at least let them alone.

When I was young, I expected everyone to think the way I did and I was very intolerant of those who didn’t.  In my old age I have done a complete 180 degree turn and now simply accept that other people are not me and do not think like me.  I am very tolerant of those who are different than me and this has allowed me to calm down and enjoy the wonderful diversity that exists in the human family.  Since I don’t expect them to behave according to my standards, and I don’t feel the need to convince them of my way of thinking, a stress-free and easy-going relationship is allowed to develop.  There is an incredible feeling of freedom that comes when you decide to simply allow others to be who they are.

“There’s something toxic about expecting others to be perfect. The other person can’t meet those expectations, so the perfectionist directs a lot of anger and disapproval at them.” Lynn Alden

My advice to you is to let go of your need for changing or perfecting other people.  If someone does not meet your standards for maintaining a particular kind of relationship with you, then you have a very simple solution:  don’t maintain that type of relationship with that person.  It is truly as simple as that.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Daphne @ Joyful Days August 2, 2009 at 4:17 am

Stephen,

This is an excellent piece, and a timely reminder for those of us who deal with children especially. We often have an ideal child in our minds and try to force children into that mould, or else we get angry with the poor child who didn’t do anything wrong except be different from this image in our minds. Stumbled!
.-= Daphne @ Joyful Days´s last blog ..3 Key Steps If You Want To Be Happy =-.

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Diggy - Upgradereality.com August 2, 2009 at 6:57 am

Stephen!!!
Whatsup :)

I agree that it is very hard if not impossible to change people. They can only change themselves and this usually happens in the event of a loss or near death experience.

At some points, you just have to decide whether you want to accept the person for who they are or to cut them out of your life.You can also like you say accept them but choose to put them in a less important position in your life and only see them a few times a year.

Expectations are a difficult thing and can cause many problems when they are not met, so it is always best to expect the worst and anything better is a plus.

Of course, this does not mean you should settle for sloppy or messy work, you still have to do things the best you can and strive for as close to perfect as you can, at least that is how I feel :)

Have an awesome day!
.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Get Rich – How anyone can do it, but not everyone will =-.

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Jay Schryer August 2, 2009 at 7:01 am

i enjoyed this a lot. I’ve been working on this trait in myself for a few months now, and you are right about it: when you let it go, it’s like a huge burden has been lifted. It improves all of your relationships almost instantly, too, simply because it hurts others when we judge them or expect them to be perfect. When we allow them the freedom to be imperfect, they can relax more around us and they enjoy our company more.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..I Totally Screwed My Karma =-.

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Zeenat-Positive Provocations August 2, 2009 at 9:44 am

Stephen, Awesome article….acceptance and lowering your expectations…just perfect advice. I don’t think you could put it anymore simply. I think most of the time..when people aren’t ready to accept..or lower their expectations..its usually their ego not letting them do so. The “I” factor needs to change to WE or US. Letting go of the Ego makes all relationships prosper.
.-= Zeenat-Positive Provocations´s last blog ..I Only Ask Of God… =-.

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The Gooroo @ iBlogPlanet.com August 2, 2009 at 11:19 am

Stephen,

I wish more people would think like you od. It’s a fact — no one is perfect. Thing is though, many people can’t get that through their thick skull, and continue to try. No one will ever be perfect. End of story.
.-= The Gooroo @ iBlogPlanet.com´s last blog ..Improving Your Search Engine Ranking – 10 Tips =-.

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Deb Owen August 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm

A great lesson and a great reminder!
Thanks!
All the best!
deb
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..for all my friends on friendship day =-.

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Positively Present August 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

When we let go of the idea that other people (and ourselves) should be perfect, we are a LOT happier. It’s certainly not easy to do all the time, but it’s so important to remember that NO one is perfect. We all have flaws. We all have bad days. Perfection, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is the enemy of good. If we want to have good relationships with ourselves and others, we have to get rid of the notion of perfection.
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..because i knew you i am changed for good =-.

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Mike King August 2, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I agree about this point to let go and accept people with the habits and mistakes in place. However, there is still value in having hope that someone can change and I think that change is only going to happen when you do accept them for who they are because otherwise you will never see the small progress of change they might make, since you get stuck on an idea image for them. I don’t give up on anyone changing as I’ve seen the power of change and the power of people’s ability to change but I also don’t expect it. Hope for this though is a wonderful thing.
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..100 Ways to Be a Better Leader =-.

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Flash August 2, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Yes, we all have our faults and should not try and exert power over others. Time to put our egos aside and appreciate people just as they are. I prefer to meet individuals and don’t require them to be mirrors to reflect my own beliefs and values.
.-= Flash´s last blog ..Life with a cat explained =-.

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BunnygotBlog August 2, 2009 at 9:11 pm

The world would be a pretty boring place if everyone was perfect. The differences in people is what makes life interesting.
Great post Steve.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills August 2, 2009 at 10:24 pm

The quote by Lynn Alden says it really well. When we have expectations we tend to get caught up in judging others and being disappointed by their performance. This is a very disabling mindset. Following your advice is the healthiest thing we can do – LET IT GO!
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is Your Why Good Enough? =-.

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Giovanna Garcia August 2, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Hi Stephen,
I love this post, so much that I had to stumble it. :-)
I agree with you on let go, and don’t hold people to perfection. Another thing that I do is, think about does it Really Matter!? That ususally set things right again.
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

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Zoltán Cserei August 3, 2009 at 5:07 am

Lowering your expectations is a good habit. That way, whenever something bad happens, you’ll be ready to accept it, and anything little good happens, you’ll feel blessed. :) –> More things will fit over your “I’m happy because….” barrier.

P.S.: I misread Lynn Alden for Lily Allen, it was quite funny :) )
.-= Zoltán Cserei´s last blog ..Are the little things important? =-.

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zencontrol.net August 3, 2009 at 5:15 am

Great advice…. we all know this and this advice is repeated quite often in different wordings, but still when it comes to behavioral implementation, everyone get again caught up in old rut of blaming and changing every other person on the earth… somehow human beings still have to learn to be at peace with each other…
.-= zencontrol.net´s last blog ..7 Tips for Enhancing your Productivity at Workplace =-.

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Stephen Mills August 3, 2009 at 5:36 am

@Daphne, thanks for your comments. Yes, we particularly expect our partners and our children to be who we think they should be rather than who they are.

@Diggy thanks for joining the conversation. Of course you should still strive for your best and even hope for the best from others.

@Jay yes we need to allow others to be imperfect and by doing so we might allow ourselves to see how wonderful they really are.

@Zeenat, thanks for the comments. We need to understand that others were not put on earth to act according to our standards.

@The Gooroo, thanks so much for the support and for joining us here.

@Deb, thank you for all of your support!

@Positively Present, yes perfection is indeed the enemy of the good, as well as the enemy of getting things done. Thanks.

@Mike, of course people can change. I’ve changed. The point is though that WE do not change THEM. THEY have to change themselves. We agree on not expecting it, but I think I disagree on hoping for it. Thanks for the conversation!

@Flash, thanks for joining us. Great wisdom!

@BunnygotBlog, thanks for commenting and I agree totally about the boring and perfect world :-)

@Jonathan, hello and thanks so much for your continued support. I am really working on LETTING IT GO!

@Giovanna, thanks and you are so right. It usually doesn’t really matter. Excellent!

@Zoltán, welcome to the conversation! Outstanding point about more things getting over your happy meter.

@zencontrol thanks for your comments. Yes, talking is fine but doing is where the rubber meets the road.

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Zoltán Cserei August 3, 2009 at 6:08 am

@Stephen: “happy meter” – that’s a simple and good phrase for what I thought.
.-= Zoltán Cserei´s last blog ..Are the little things important? =-.

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zencontrol.net August 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

Stephen, just wrote a post somewhat related to our expectations from people – a somewhat related to this wonderful post of you…. :-)

http://zencontrol.net/2009/08/ungrateful/
.-= zencontrol.net´s last blog ..Ungrateful =-.

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Vin - NaturalBias August 3, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Great article, Stephen! This is such an important issue to be aware of if you want to cultivate meaningful relationships, especially in regard to the people closest to you.

I forget where I read this, but it totally changed my perspective of other people. No matter how imperfect someone may seem, there’s a very good chance that there’s at least one thing that they are much more knowledgeable about than I am, and for that, they deserve my respect.
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Fresh the Movie: Your Part in Our Broken Food System =-.

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Trey - Swollen Thumb Entertainment August 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Hi Stephen, it’s funny how much you remind me of myself. As a child, it used to infuriate me that people didn’t reach the same conclusions as me. And I considered these to be basic conclusions that they should have came to, so I looked down on those whose outlooks were different from mine. As an adult, I’ve been humbled by the belief that you can learn something from everyone, and have tried to come to grips with the fact that sometimes, it might be me who is the target of some of the negative feelings that I also feel.

It is very true that you cannot change people… they have to change themselves. So you are 100% right that sometimes the only thing you can do is to eliminate someone from your life if they are a hindrance to your well being.
.-= Trey – Swollen Thumb Entertainment´s last blog ..Why I Love Game Shows =-.

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Juancav August 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

I agree to tolerate others, but before departing from my life, need other opportunities.
for example: a child who had unmet needs.becoming an adult may be envier.If we knew before-hand.it would be necessary to understand not forgive.

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josh March 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I think that you are right for the most part…but if you are talking about love relationships then i think that there is always room for change. Or should i say improvements. If someone isn’t doing something in a relationship and the other person feels like they deserve a little more. then those two people can talk about there frustrations together and come up with a solution. Its not that are to make changes and accept what is important to the person you are in love with.

have you been burned in the past and you are just sour now to all relationships?

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