Perfectionism: Striving to be perfect.

Who doesn’t want to be perfect, right?  What’s wrong with perfectionism? We all want things to go well for ourselves in our career & school and personal lives.  Setting high standards can lead to high achievement.

Perfectionism, on the other hand, is striving for things to be perfect in most aspects of life, all of the time.  And when things don’t go perfect, as things often don’t in life, the person who suffers from perfectionism is self-critical and blaming.   This self-criticism, which often is intended to motivate, actually leads to poor self-esteem, extreme fear of failure and procrastination (“I can’t do it perfectly, so I won’t try”).  Perfectionism is a losing proposition.  We are human.  We are going to make mistakes.  Being perfect all of the time is an impossible standard to meet. Studies show that perfectionism can lead poor self-esteem, burn-out, procrastination, chronic stress, poor relationships, depression & anxiety, eating disorders and increases the risk for suicide.

There are at least three components or types.  Most people with perfectionism usually have all three components:

  1. Self-oriented: With this type of perfectionism the person sets very high standards for themselves.
  2. Other-oriented:  Conversely, other-oriented perfectionism, the person sets high expectations of others.
  3. Socially prescribed: Lastly, socially prescribed perfectionism is thinking that others are demanding perfection from you.  Hence, if you don’t meet this standard, then you will be rejected by the other.

How does perfectionism develop?

It is thought to be a personality trait.  Scientists believe it has a genetic link, that it runs in the family.  Certain types of temperaments can contribute to it, too.  Additionally, it is thought that family & society plays a role in its development.  Lastly, abuse and neglect can be a contributing factor.  That is, “If I am perfect no one can hurt me”.

Ways to reduce perfectionism

First off, if you do have perfectionism, you may be very reluctant to want to change.  It helps you feel valued and often is part of your identity. Therefore, the first step is identifying ways that perfectionism gets in the way of your life. Perhaps you spend much of your waking hours working and have very few close relationship.  Or perhaps you procrastinate on tasks.  Maybe you isolate yourself.

A trained therapist helps clients reduce perfectionism with cognitive approaches including modifying standards, complete a task, on purpose, that includes mistakes, reduce negative thinking, etc.

Additionally, therapists may work with te client on the underlying causes as in the case abuse and neglect.



Posted in Anxiety, Eating Disorders, Weight Regulation.