Perfectionism is a personality trait characterised by a person striving for perfection, success, or high-performance standards. It can be portrayed as a positive trait but when obsessive, can sadly be linked to mental health disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, eating disorder, self-harm, and low self-esteem. At its worst, perfectionism can lead to suicidal ideation.
People who strive for perfectionism typically believe that whatever they do is not good enough unless it is perfect and even then, the perfectionist may still have feelings of failure and self-deficiency. Typically, a perfectionist will set unreachable goals, seldom considering their own wants and desires. They set the bar so high for themselves that when things do not go in their favour, they become self-critical, self-blaming, and self-judgemental.
It can be a common occurrence for a perfectionist personality to minimise their successes and feel that they are worthless or stupid if their achievements are not perfect. They tend to find imperfections in the things that the rest of us would find satisfactory, self-criticising creating a feeling of incompetence and stupidity, thus leading to negative self-loathing and low self-esteem. Perfectionists also tend to fear disapproval, rejection, and judgement from others, and can be defensive towards criticism and as a result alienate those who give them feedback.
Perfectionism is not a valuable or required influence in one’s life and can cause more damage than good.
Perfectionism can impact various areas of a person’s life including:
- School or the workplace
- Hygiene and health
- Physical activity
Some common traits of perfectionism include:
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of failure
- Unrealistic thoughts, behaviours, and goals
Some factors that can contribute to perfectionism include:
- Parental influence
- Insecure early childhood attachment
- Existing mental health issues
- Fear of disapproval from others
Treatment for perfectionism may include:
Perfectionism can be an undesirable trait causing high levels of unwanted emotions and self-defeating thoughts and behaviours. It is possible to learn new, healthier mindsets around perfectionism. A good therapist can guide and support you through the process of challenging these self-defeating thoughts and behaviours that drive the perfectionism and help you to set more achievable outcomes.
One of the first steps to positive change is confronting the fears that are driving the perfectionism and becoming comfortable with your failures. It can be helpful to allow yourself to be less than perfect in some areas of your life, celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small, and avoid self-criticism and self-loathing. Instead of viewing failure as a negative experience, ask yourself what you can learn from this experience and embrace the setbacks as a learning curve.
When setting goals, take small steps and make them achievable and realistic, otherwise you could set yourself up to fail. Do not let the desire to be perfect deprive you of a sense of personal satisfaction. Practice some positive self-talk, compliment yourself for things that you have done well and spend some time self-reflecting on what you have achieved.