There is value in setting goals for yourself. There is also value in doing your best to achieve those goals, treating each one with the care it deserves. It is healthy to strive for excellence, but for perfectionists, however, the desire to achieve those goals to “perfection” can create standards that are, in many ways, impossibly high and unachievable.
What is Perfectionism?
Putting in as much effort as we can, we vie to complete tasks successfully, and maybe even perform at or above our expectations. It’s why the term “perfectionism” is often used as a synonym for hard work, especially in career and academic settings.
But, while there is some value in trying to be “perfect,” those that are true perfectionists often find that it is a great daunting challenge, rather than an asset, in helping them achieve their goals. The desire for something to be “perfect” becomes overwhelming, to the point where the standards they set for achieving perfection are both figuratively and literally impossible, especially when the outcome might be subjective.
Perfectionism is a way of thinking. It is not a personality trait or behavior, but rather a thought process for responding to challenges and setbacks. Perfectionism tells us that, in one or more areas of our lives, we should be able to do something perfectly, and anything less is a failing on our part. That’s often the reason that while some of the personality traits that go into perfectionism can be useful, others are often psychologically and emotionally harmful.
Signs of Perfectionist Thinking
Recent studies have shown that perfectionism is becoming far more prevalent in both adults and children than it has been in the past. Psychologists estimate 2 out of every 5 children and teenagers exhibit perfectionist thinking and tendencies, that they will carry into adulthood unless they can alter this thought pattern.
Because of its close relationship to hard work and an attention to detail, perfectionism can easily be mistaken for a positive trait. But perfectionists often show behaviors that can be problematic, such as:
- Procrastinating or avoiding tasks that they expect cannot be done perfectly.
- Only being concerned about the end result, rather than the process.
- Considering any less than perfect results in a failure.
- Criticizing themselves whenever they do not meet their own standards.
- Fear, depression and low self-esteem surrounding their goals and self worth.
Perfectionist thinking might only be present in some areas of your life, or in all of them. Many people experience it in work or school, while personal appearance, sports, hobbies, and relationships are also all areas where perfectionist tendencies can play a role.
The Risks of Perfectionism
Both the attempt to be perfect and the fallout from being unable to achieve that perfection can harm relationships, careers, academic performance and sense of self. It can also lead to many other mental disorders, such as:
- Depression and Anxiety
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Self Harm
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Suicidal Ideation
This is why, while perfectionism may sometimes feel like an asset, many perfectionists benefit from seeking help with mental health. As a life coach and psychotherapist, this is where I come in. Through practices like mindfulness, therapy, and self-compassion, we can work through pressure you put on yourself to be perfect, and use empirically proven strategies to help you work more productively in your personal and professional life. Contact me today to get started.