Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a strong need for flawless performance and an unrealistic desire for perfection in oneself and others. It can be a positive motivator, but it often leads to excessive stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. For perfectionists, it can be difficult to achieve satisfaction and contentment, as the pursuit of perfection is never-ending, and mistakes are unacceptable. It is possible to manage perfectionism to reduce its negative effects on mental health and well-being. In this article, we will explore what perfectionism is, its causes, and the steps you can take to reduce its harmful effects and thrive in your personal and professional life.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is the constant pursuit of excellence, often to an unrealistic extent, and is a personality trait found in those who are perfectionists. Individuals who exhibit perfectionism tend to have high standards for themselves and others, and often strive for impossible or idealistic expectations. This type of perfectionism can lead to a fear of failure and may cause procrastination, which can further fuel the fear of not succeeding. Socially-prescribed perfectionism occurs when external pressures — such as cultural or societal expectations — force individuals to hold themselves to an unrealistic standard. In both cases, perfectionism can be harmful and lead to negative effects on mental health if not managed effectively.
Perfectionism can be both good and bad, depending on how it is practiced. Positive perfectionism involves striving for excellence and continuous improvement in one's craft or skill, setting high standards for oneself, and maintaining a strong work ethic. It can lead to great achievements and success in life. Negative perfectionism often results in unhealthy obsession and self-criticism, focusing too much on flaws and mistakes, and feeling stressed and unhappy. Perfectionists may become overly critical of themselves and others, leading to relationship problems and burnout. It is important to recognize when perfectionism starts becoming harmful and to learn to embrace imperfections and mistakes as a part of the learning process.
What are the signs that you’re too much of a perfectionist?
It's important to recognize signs of being a perfectionist because it can lead to increased stress, feelings of inadequacy, and difficulty enjoying life. Here are some of the signs you might be a perfectionist:
- Strongly focus on details
- Desire control
- Have a tendency to procrastinate
- Have All-or-Nothing thinking
- Often seek approval
- Not receptive to feedback
What causes perfectionism?
Being a perfectionist can ultimately be self-destructive and can hinder personal growth and development. Understanding the root cause of perfectionism can help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their overall well-being. Perfectionism can be caused by a variety of factors, but here are some of the common causes:
When individuals don't feel good about themselves, they may set unrealistic goals for themselves to try and compensate for their feelings of inadequacy. They may try to prove their worth to themselves and others through their achievements, seeking external validation and reassurance. This tendency can create a cycle of perfectionism, as the individual never feels like they have done enough or achieved enough to truly be happy with themselves. They may continually raise the bar for themselves, leading to feelings of constant pressure, stress, and ultimately burnout.
Fear of failure or rejection
These individuals often hold themselves to an excessively high standard and strive for flawlessness in all their endeavors, fearing that any misstep will result in disapproval or criticism. The perceived risk of failure or rejection can cause individuals to become overly self-critical, anxious, or even paralyzed by the fear of not meeting their own or others' expectations. They tend to set unrealistic goals, become overly preoccupied with details, and struggle to make decisions. This attitude can lead to burnout, elevated stress, and missed opportunities.
Parents who are critical, shameful, or violent
When children constantly receive negative messages from their parents, they may develop a belief that they are not good enough and that their actions are constantly under scrutiny. This may lead to an intense fear of failure, which can manifest in the form of perfectionism. As a result, these individuals may become excessively critical of their own performance and may experience a great deal of stress and anxiety, leading to burnout and exhaustion. It is essential for parents to provide a supportive and nurturing environment for their children, allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them in a healthy and constructive way.
Many cultures place a high value on achievement, success, and perfection in all areas of life. This can be seen in the pressure to excel academically or professionally, maintain a perfect appearance, or uphold certain social or religious expectations. For example, in some cultures, the pressure to conform to gender roles or family traditions can be overwhelming. Because of these expectations, individuals may feel like they have to be flawless in order to be accepted or valued. The danger of cultural expectations causing perfectionism can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.
How to manage yourself if you’re a perfectionist?
Managing perfectionism is something that many people struggle with. Having perfectionist tendencies can be both a blessing and a curse, as it can lead to impressive achievements and high standards, but also unnecessary stress and self-criticism. Here are some ways to overcome perfectionism:
- Recognize that being a perfectionist and having high standards are two different things
- Work towards accepting imperfection and knowing that mistakes are a part of growth and learning
- Create a list of tasks or goals that can help break down overwhelming tasks into manageable steps
- Challenge perfectionistic thoughts and instead focus on progress and improvement, rather than trying to be perfect
- Strive for a healthy balance of striving for excellence while also recognizing the value of imperfection
How does therapy help perfectionism?
Therapy can help individuals overcome perfectionistic tendencies by guiding the client to recognize, acknowledge, and accept their preferences without judgment. A therapist can work with you to identify the underlying factors that cause perfectionism, such as low self-esteem or anxiety, and learn new skills to combat perfectionist thinking patterns and behaviors.
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