perfectionism, Healthy perfectionism, Unhealthy perfectionism, anxiety, depression, Guilt, health, procrastination, Relationships

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. – Anne Lamott

Ever wonder why some people, no matter how well they do in life, (job, school, relationships, financial, friendships), they always feel anxious and on the brink of not feeling “good enough”?

Perfectionism is a nasty thing, because it never allows you to be good enough, lovable enough, or just enough. A perfectionist could do an absolutely perfect job, but they will only see the little flaws that no one would ever notice. Happiness is elusive for a perfectionist, because there is always something more that can be done to make their work, life, or body better.

Perfectionism stems from fear of making a mistake. When you’re afraid of what might happen, you limit your options and don’t always make the best possible choices. Often perfectionism comes from a desire to please others, looking to others for a sense of worth and relying on their opinions to give you a sense of your value.

Healthy perfectionism

  • Doing the best you can with the time and tools you have–and then moving on
  • Setting high personal standards with a gentle acceptance of self
  • Managing behaviors so that they do not interfere with daily life

Unhealthy perfectionism

  • Seeking or emphasizing maximum performance over other aspects of life
  • Perceiving that one’s work, actions or behaviors, are never good enough
  • Feeling continually dissatisfied about oneself–which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other physical symptoms
  • Feeling guilty if not engaged in meaningful activities at all times
  • Having a compulsive drive to achieve, where personal value is based on what is accomplished or is produced

In the Harvard Business review, Brian Swider, Dana Harari, Amy Breidenthal and Laurens Bujold Steed, discuss perfectionism in the workplace. When asking about one’s greatest weakness, common answer is, “I am a perfectionist.” But is perfectionism a weakness? Many interviewers might see it as a strength?

Extensive research has found the psychology of perfectionism to be rather complex. “Yes, perfectionists strive to produce flawless work, and they also have higher levels of motivation and conscientiousness than non-perfectionists. However, they are also more likely to set inflexible and excessively high standards, to evaluate their behavior overly critically, to hold an all-or-nothing mindset about their performance (‘my work is either perfect or a total failure’), and to believe their self-worth is contingent on performing perfectly.” Studies have also found that perfectionists have health related issues, higher levels of stress, burnout, workaholism, depression and anxiety.

These authors discuss two distinct but related sub-dimensions of perfectionism:“The first, called ‘excellence-seeking perfectionism’, involves tendencies to fixate on and demand excessively high standards. Excellence-seeking perfectionists not only stringently evaluate their own performance but also hold high performance expectations for other people in their lives.

“The second, called ‘failure-avoiding perfectionism’, involves an obessive concern with and aversion to failing to reach high performance standards. Failure-avoiding perfectionists are constantly worried their work is not quite right or good enough and believe that they will lose respect from others if they do not achieve perfection.”

As stated in Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment, by Paul Hewitt, Gordon Flett and Samuel F. Mikail, researchers have found that perfectionism is way of approaching life that often creates or amplifies all sorts of mental health issues. It also signals a problematic relationship with the self. “It’s not a way of thinking,” Hewitt says. “It’s a way of being in the world.” Perfectionism isn’t about perfecting things: your job, a specific project, the way you look, or a relationship. It’s about perfecting the self, an urge that doesn’t necessarily come from a healthy place: “All components and dimensions of perfectionism ultimately involve attempts to perfect an imperfect self,”

Perfectionism can result in eating disorders as well as exacerbating chronic illness, like irritable bowel, fibromyalgia and recovery from heart disease. Perfectionists do a lot of “emotional preoccupation coping,” or ruminating about what’s wrong, rehashing what could have been otherwise. Yale psychologist, Sidney Blatt found perfectionism to lead to self-critical depression.

Another caveat of perfectionism is procrastination.“if mistakes are unacceptable, it’s going to be hard to get things done. You’ll be more likely to procrastinate since you can’t do badly on things you haven’t yet started.”

If you struggle with fear of failure, anxiety about being “perfect”, excessively high standards, and/or stress about not being “good enough”, this can affect your health and quality of life. Psychotherapy with Lind Butler, MEd, LPC can likely help you gain moreself-acceptance, self-compassion and set realistic expectations of yourself, while alleviating anxiety, depression and stress.

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