The Unhealthy Side of Perfectionism

“Try to view failure as a learning opportunity and most importantly, forgive yourself when you don’t succeed.”

-Rose Caiola


Fear of failure can cause undue stress, anxiety and depression

Have you ever felt the need to be perfect? Have you ever needed others around you to be perfect? Or if you aren’t perfect, do you worry others will value you less? Of course, having high standards is not a bad thing. It can mean you possess character and a strong work ethic. But if failing to meet these standards makes you feel stressed out or vulnerable, then the desire to be perfect becomes unhealthy.

The truth is, perfectionism can interfere with your quality of life. If the demand to be perfect haunts you or someone close to you, learn about the signs of perfectionism and how you can overcome them. There is a way you can find purpose and strength without feeling the need to be perfect.

Definition of perfectionism

Perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection (1). People who are perfectionists regard failure as a sign of personal worthlessness. Some people think striving for perfection is simply a healthy motivation. However, many psychologists have linked perfectionism to depression, anxiety and eating disorders (2).

It may seem counterintuitive, but perfectionism places a negative spin on people’s actions. A person who’s a perfectionist is usually more focused on avoiding failure than being truly successful. And negativity is always a first step in forming unhealthy habits.

Signs of perfectionism

Before we talk about how to improve perfectionist behaviors, let’s review them in detail. From Psychology Today, here are nine signs of perfectionism (3):

  • You think in black-and-white terms. If something is not perfect, then it’s a total disaster!
  • Your actions are also extreme: you do not practice moderation. For example, you blew your diet on one cookie, so your reaction is that you might as well eat the whole batch.
  • You don’t often trust co-workers, family or friends to do something correctly. In other words, you have difficulty delegating tasks.
  • You have unrealistic expectations for both yourself and others.
  • You have trouble completing projects. You feel there is always something more you can do to improve on it.
  • Your self-worth depends on your accomplishments and how other people react to those accomplishments.
  • You fixate on your failures and are hard on yourself over the tiniest mistakes.
  • You often procrastinate or avoid activities at which you think you’ll fail.

The perfectionistic self-preservation scale

We’ve all experienced moments of perfectionism. I demand a certain amount of perfection in my own practice, which helps my patients trust in me. But it’s more about how we present our perfectionist tendencies that determines unhealthy behaviors. The Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS) rates the extent of desire a person possesses to present as perfect (2). There are three aspects of the PSPS:

  • Do you constantly advertise your own perfectionism?
  • Do you avoid situations where you might end up looking less than perfect?
  • Do you fail to disclose a situation in which you’ve been imperfect?

Perfectionism busting techniques

The best tool for overcoming perfectionism is cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps you to find new ways of thinking about your goals and accomplishments (4). Of course, being able to admit to your imperfect behavior is often the biggest hurdle. Here are four tips to follow:

  • Think realistically about yourself, the situations you find yourself in and the people around you. Remember, “Nobody is perfect!” (5)
  • Try to see something from someone else’s perspective (5). This may be the most difficult thing to do, but just ask yourself, “What would my friend, family member or co-worker think about this?”
  • Stop sweating the small stuff. The same line of questioning above may reveal a bigger picture: “Does this really matter?” (5).
  • Work on your ability to compromise. This will help you to be more flexible in situations you see as black or white. The question here is, “What level of imperfection am I willing to tolerate?” (5)

Perfectionism is a behavioral problem. Therapy can help you replace negative reactions with a more positive outlook that can have a tremendous effect on both your mental and physical health. And perfect or not, a positive attitude will give you all the strength you need to be your own Health Hero™!

Reminders about perfectionism

  1. People who are perfectionists set impossibly high standards for themselves and others.
  2. Perfectionism is unhealthy when you focus more on avoiding failure than on striving for success.
  3. Perfectionism is linked to mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
  4. People who are perfectionists measure their self-worth on their accomplishments and how others react to them.
  5. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the best treatment for perfectionism.

 

Resources

  1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perfectionism
  2. http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.aspx
  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/better-perfect/201611/9-signs-you-might-be-perfectionist
  4. http://www.healthline.com/health/perfectionism#Causes3
  5. https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Perfectionism.pdf

This article originally appeared on AskDrNandi.com and is republished here with permission.

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