Perfectionism can be defined as the pursuit of excellence, and the relentless striving for high standards – what’s wrong with that?!
Some people view perfectionism as a good thing, while others see it as entirely negative. Although at times, it can increase one’s chances at success, the tendency to pursue these standards can often lead to self-defeating thoughts and critical evaluations of both self and others. Despite the negative consequences from setting such demanding standards, the perfectionist will continue to strive for them.
How did I become a Perfectionist?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this – everyone is different. However, the core reason is related to the way we view ourselves and the world, and is often influenced by our temperament and early life experiences. For example, you might have learnt certain behaviours through reward, punishment, or watching others model that behaviour, and as a result, developed ‘inflexible’ and ‘inaccurate’ rules for living.
These rules and assumptions usually come in the form of ‘black and white thinking’ (eg If I don’t do this one thing right, I am a failure), or ‘shoulds/musts’ (eg I must be perfect, otherwise people will disapprove of me).
Are there good reasons for being a Perfectionist?
We all set certain standards for ourselves, and having goals helps us to achieve things in life. When we challenge ourselves, we also have the opportunity to learn new skills. There are many good reasons and positive qualities associated with Perfectionism. For example, never losing things because you are so well-organised, being efficient, satisfaction from knowing you’ve tried your hardest, or being fully prepared for a situation or event.
However, when these goals are set too high, or, when it is only achievable at a huge cost, it can get in the way of our happiness.
Should I Adjust My Standards?
Due to the pressure you are putting on yourself, it likely that you are left feeling constantly tense, on edge, and stressed out. Having no free time, blaming yourself if things aren’t done right, feeling frustrated if people don’t do things your way, or feeling that you need to do more in order to feel accepted by others, are some of the ways perfectionism can negatively impact your life.
This can impact your wellbeing and lead to problems such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, insomnia, and a persistent sense of failure.
How can a psychologist help?
A psychologist can assist by helping you to:
- Identify the unhelpful areas where perfectionism is negatively impacting your life.
- Explore the rules and assumptions that you formed in your early years, and which still guide your behaviour and thoughts.
- Set appropriate goals and standards for yourself so that it is more likely that you will experience a sense of fulfilment, rather than feeling frustrated and blaming yourself.
- Challenge your perfectionist behaviours and thoughts, and develop healthier rules and assumptions.
Author: Katherine Vuong, B Beh Sc (Hons), MAPS.