Perfectionism: Meaning, Symptoms, Types, Prevention

Do you feel like whatever you’ve accomplished is never good enough? Do you often delay the submission of assignments and wait to make them right? Do you feel you must give more than your potential in everything you do or else you will be mediocre or a failure?

If the answer to all of the questions above is ‘Yes’, then it means you’re not working towards success but instead focusing more on being ‘Perfect’.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is said to be a personality style that states that the person engages their whole focus on being flawless or striving for perfection, which is accompanied by critical self-evaluations. It refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors which are aimed at reaching highly unrealistic goals.

According to a recent study, perfectionistic attitudes interfere with success a lot more, as the inclination to be perfect can rob an individual of a sense of personal satisfaction which would result in making that individual feel a sense of failure to achieve.

Perfectionism makes a person’s life like an endless report card that is based on accomplishments or looks. When a healthy trait, it can feel self-motivating and make an individual overcome adversity which results in success. But when it is unhealthy, it can make the life of an individual a living hell.

Living with an internalized voice of perfectionism is very difficult. People with perfectionism often have a harsh internal dialogue going on inside their heads ‘inner critic’ which constantly tells them they’re not good enough – no matter what they do or how hard they try.

Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect or even to believe that it is possible to achieve perfection. However, this kind of attitude can set in motion a vicious cycle. It starts with a person setting an unreachable goal which results in failure to meet the goal (as sometimes these goals are impossible, to begin with). The failure of a goal is inevitable, but the constant pressure of perfection never stops. This leads to a decrease in the productivity and effectiveness of that individual. The vicious cycle takes that person through self-critical and self-blaming thoughts which results in low self-esteem (which may also lead to anxiety & depression).

The cycle doesn’t stop there making that individual completely give up on his goal and set a different one with the thought, “This time if only I try harder I will succeed.” And the entire cycle is in motion again. As you can see, Perfectionism is driven primarily by internal pressures, such as the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgment.

Symptoms of Being a Perfectionist

A desire to achieve or be successful is healthy but setting unrealistic goals and wanting to fulfill every one of them can cause huge problems in an individual’s life.

People who are full-time perfectionists may feel the need to perform almost every task perfectly and they might:

· Not be able to perform a task unless they know they can do it perfectly

· Feel like failing at everything they try.

· Not consider a task as finished until it received its desired results.

· Procrastinate regularly – they resist starting a task because they’re afraid they’ll unable to complete it perfectly.

· Take an excessive amount of time to complete a task that doesn’t take that long for others to complete.

· Struggle to relax and share their thoughts and feelings.

· Become very controlling in their personal and professional relationships.

· Become obsessed with rules, lists, and work.

· Become apathetic means showing or feeling no interest enthusiasm or concern towards others.

Some examples of a Perfectionist behavior include a person spending 30 minutes writing and rewriting two sentenced mail, a person believing that missing two points on a test is a failure, skipping class, or avoiding chores only because the person thinks it is pointless to make efforts unless its perfection, etc.

Causes of Perfectionism

The cause of Perfectionism isn’t clear, although it is said to be a learned behavior. People with perfectionism believe they’re valuable only on the basis of their accomplishments or achievements. They’ve learned to value themselves on the basis of others’ approval. As a result, their self-esteem is based primarily on external standards, which can make that person vulnerable and excessively sensitive to others’ opinions and criticism. In order to protect themselves, the people decide that being perfect is the only defense.

There are a number of negative feelings, thoughts, and belief systems that might be associated with perfectionism, which are:-

- Fear of Failure: They often identify mistakes with failure which leads to a lack of personal worth or value.

- Fear of Making Mistakes: They orient their lives around avoiding mistakes, as they think mistake equals failure, which results in missing opportunities to learn and grow.

- Fear of Disapproval: They think if others will see their flaws they won’t accept them, and trying to be perfect is the only way to protect themselves from criticism and disapproval.

- All-or-Nothing Thinking: They strongly believe that they’re worthless if their achievements aren’t perfect, and find it difficult to see a situation in perspective.

- Overemphasis on ‘Should’ Statements: They live their lives structured around a set of rules which include a lot of ‘Shoulds’, which are rigid rules and must be followed.

Apart from the above factors, if a person has mental health issues like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it can contribute to the person becoming a perfectionist. The correlation between OCD and perfectionism has been found to exist, but not all people with OCD are perfectionists.

An insecure early attachment can contribute to developing a perfectionist behavior, as the troubled childhood may experience difficulty self-soothing as adults, and result in difficulty accepting a good outcome as good if it’s not perfect.

Types of Perfectionism

There are a few types of Perfectionism that include similar behavior but the motives and outcomes of that behavior differ. There are three types of Perfectionism:-

1. Personal Standards Perfectionism: In this kind of perfectionism, a person adheres to a set of rules which motivates them. Other people might still think of those standards as high, but they work as a motivator for that person. It is one of kind which is thought to be healthy and doesn’t lead to excessive stress or burnout.

2. Self-critical Perfectionism: This type of Perfectionism can lead a person to become more prone to feel intimidated by the goals they’ve set for themselves. Instead of feeling motivated by the goals, the person often feels hopeless and the goals are likely to never become reality. Research suggests that this type can lead to various negative emotions like distress, avoidance, anxiety, and self-condemnation.

3. Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: In a research study by York University in 2014, this type of Perfectionism was outlined. It talks about the demands of excellence that are often placed on the people with the jobs that require extreme precision, like lawyers, medical professionals, and architects. Individuals in these particular professions feel more hopeless thoughts and are at a higher risk of self-harm and suicide.

People with Socially prescribed perfectionism tend to have high cultural and societal standards and strive to meet these unrealistic goals.

Domains of Perfectionism

The people who set unrealistic goals in their lives and desire to achieve them or else they’ll believe they are a failure suffer in a lot of aspects of their lives. Perfectionism tends to have an impact on many areas of a person’s life. Sometimes, it can affect only one domain, while other times it can impact multiple domains, which are:-

· The Workplace or School: People may take longer than others in completing a task, and might also avoid the tasks if they don’t feel confident enough to complete them. It stems from the desire to complete every task perfectly.

· Intimate Relationships or Friendships: Perfectionism can make an individual place unrealistic standards on their loved ones which in turn brings a lot of stress and pressure into the relationships.

· Environment or Surroundings: This domain includes an individual’s need to be able to fulfill all the goals of his/her house, which can cause that individual to spend huge amounts of time and energy keeping their surroundings in line with their aesthetic standards.

· Hygiene & Health: Perfectionism can cause a lot of health issues, as one might stop brushing their teeth because they forgot it once. This can lead to eating disorders like Orthorexia Nervosa, in which a person feels compelled to follow a rigid healthy diet.

· Physical Appearance: It can cause a person to worry excessively about their personal grooming or style. A person would take hours choosing what to wear or how to style their hair.

How does Perfectionism Affect Your Mental Health?

Well saying you’re a perfectionist in an interview sure sounds good, but does the desire for doing everything perfectly gives any kind of happiness? Various research studies have shown that if an individual constantly chases after perfectionism, it can have a serious impact on that individual’s mental health and well-being.

Living with an internalized voice of perfectionism is very difficult. People with perfectionism often have a harsh internal dialogue going on inside their heads ‘inner critic’ which constantly tells them they’re not good enough – no matter what they do or how hard they try.

Prof. Hewitt talked about Perfectionism in an interview where he said, “Perfectionism often verges on self-abuse. [Perfectionists] are hugely hard on themselves, with a hatred that is breathtaking at times.”

In a research study by Thomas Curran in the Department for Health at the University of Bath, U.K., the authors explain perfectionism with the term “most debilitating”. In Socially Prescribed Perfectionism, “individuals believe their social context is excessively demanding, that others judge them harshly, and that they must display perfection to secure approval.”

Some of the Mental Health problems include anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation which are linked to perfectionism. Self-critical Perfectionism is said to increase the risk of bipolar disorder, and some studies indicate that it can explain why people with bipolar disorder experience anxiety.

The adverse effects of Perfectionism don’t stop at mental health but are found to result in high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. When faced with physical illness, people with Perfectionism tend to have a harder time coping.

How to Counter the Harms of Perfectionism?

Dealing with the ‘inner critic’ can be a difficult job, but there are a number of things one can do to silence that voice. The first and foremost step in changing perfectionistic attitudes into healthy striving is the realization that Perfectionism is undesirable. Understanding that perfection is an illusion that is unattainable will lead to better mental and physical health. Some of the following strategies can be helpful:-

· Setting realistic goals: When an individual focus on their wants and needs, while considering their earlier accomplishments and sets realistic goals, it will result in a greater sense of self-esteem and success.

· Practice Self-Compassion: Challenging the self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that fuel perfectionism. A research study stated that the practice of self-kindness consistently reduces the strength of a relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults.

· Adjusting Your Standards: While choosing a task, an individual who strives for perfection can aim for 90% success instead of 100%, or even 80 or 60%, which will result in the realization that the world doesn’t end where you are not perfect.

· Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking: Instead of defining yourself as incompetent when you don’t achieve perfection, you can think of an alternative explanation of the situation. In this way, you would likely achieve more without perfection and feel better about yourself.

· Seek Professional Help: As a part of perfectionism, an individual might strive to hide their personal problems, which makes them harder to treat. But it’s important to seek help when you need it. If this kind of attitude is interfering with one’s daily functioning, one should seek professional help.

How can BluetoYellow help in taking care of your Mental Health?

BluetoYellow is working towards providing quality online counseling sessions to the young population at affordable prices. Our dynamic therapists follow a client-centric approach that creates a safe and confidential space for you to express your emotions and thoughts without any judgment.

If you are suspecting that perfectionism is interfering with your well-being, or if you know someone who can be benefited from the blog, forward the page to bring awareness to them.

You can start your mental health journey with the small step of booking an appointment with BluetoYellow today.

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