You might know someone like this. Nothing is ever right for them. There is no pleasing this person. It could be your partner, or it might be your boss. They pick at you, point out every mistake, and are never satisfied. Get skilled, because you're in a relationship with a perfectionist. Taking care of yourself and knowing how and when to set limits is going to be key to your survival and mental well-being. They are not likely to change, so you need extreme self-care so you don't get angry and bitter, depressed, or overwhelmed.
In Impossible to Please: How to Deal With Perfectionist Coworkers, Controlling Spouses, and Other Incredibly Critical People (New Harbinger Publications, 2012), psychologists and writers Neil Lavender and Alan Cavaiola do a great job of writing a guide for staying sane. Here are some of their tips:
1. Don't expect the controlling person to change.
2. Set your own expectations and benchmarks. (You will never meet theirs.)
3. State your own boundaries, clearly and without attitude or defensiveness.
4. Give yourself a little time to respond to unreasonable requests. You can say that you'll get back to them, and buy yourself a little time to consider how you want to respond.
5. Speak up. If the controlling person is at work, let them know how their behavior impacts your work, and what you would like them to do in the future. If you are in a personal relationship with the controller, let them know how their specific comments or behavior makes you feel, and what you would rather they do next time.
6. Agree to disagree.
7. Don't expect the other person to validate your feelings. Know that your feelings are important even if the controller can't acknowledge them.
8. Stay in your adult role. Just because they may behaving like a critical parent, don't become a child.
9. It can help to create distance for a while.
10. With criticism, assert your right to want something else or be different. Critical controllers tend to operate like there is only one right way to do everything, and its theirs.
11. Don't show your frustration; it won't help.
12. Don't let them undermine your self-esteem and self-confidence.
13. If you're at work, consider speaking up to HR or someone with the authority to change things.
14. If it's in your personal life, get a little counseling to identify some coping strategies or help you make other plans.
Why do people become perfectionists? It can't be fun. While it's good to have high standards, controlling perfectionists push away others with their perfectionism. They may have deep-seated anxiety and their rigidity is how they cope. Often they are not happy, and more likely to be stingy with others and fear-based. Perfectionists are often unhappy and critical with themselves underneath that idealized view of themselves. People who are generally at peace with themselves don't invest in criticizing others with this intensity and mission. In close relationships we have to be vulnerable, and it has to be okay to be imperfect. People don't love you because you're perfect.
Impossible to Please has some useful strategies for getting perspective and getting up above the controlling perfectionist in your life with your self-esteem intact. This is a helpful book in the effort to not take their criticism personally, because the need to belittle you is really about them.