What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by setting extremely high standards for oneself and striving for flawlessness and excellence in all aspects of life. While it can be a driving force for success, perfectionism often leads to negative consequences such as anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy.

In this article, we will delve into the nature of perfectionism, exploring its types and the impact it can have on mental health. We will also provide practical strategies to combat perfectionism, fostering self-compassion, setting realistic goals, challenging negative self-talk, embracing mistakes, and seeking support. By understanding and addressing perfectionistic tendencies, individuals can cultivate a healthier mindset and pursue a more balanced and fulfilling life.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by setting extremely high standards for oneself and striving for flawlessness and excellence in all aspects of life. People who are perfectionists tend to have an intense fear of failure and may be excessively critical of themselves, even when they have achieved a high level of success.

Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals and have an all-or-nothing mindset, believing that anything less than perfection is a failure. They may experience anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy when they fall short of their own standards, which can negatively impact their mental and physical health.

Perfectionism can be both positive and negative. On one hand, it can drive individuals to achieve great success and strive for excellence in their personal and professional lives. On the other hand, it can lead to burnout, stress, and a negative impact on mental health if the high standards are unrealistic or unattainable.

While going through therapy to recover from my extreme burnout, my therapist described perfectionism as a type of self-harm because no matter how good you perform, it is never good enough, and no matter what at the end of the day you will berate yourself no matter how well you performed. Another characteristic of perfectionism I learned through therapy is that perfectionism tends to not celebrate any of their own wins, no matter how large! They accomplish the task they set in front of themselves and then move directly on to the next big project or task without taking time for celebration, rest, or reward.

It’s important to note that perfectionism is different from striving for excellence or having high standards. While striving for excellence can be a positive motivator, perfectionism can be a hindrance to progress and may negatively impact mental health.

Types of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can manifest in different ways, and there are different types of perfectionism:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism: This type of perfectionism involves setting high standards for oneself and striving for excellence. People with self-oriented perfectionism may be highly motivated to achieve their goals, but can also be self-critical and experience feelings of guilt or shame when they fall short of their own expectations.
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism: This type of perfectionism involves setting high standards for others and having unrealistic expectations of them. People with other-oriented perfectionism may be highly critical of others, which can negatively impact their relationships.
  3. Socially prescribed perfectionism: This type of perfectionism involves feeling pressure from others to be perfect and meet their expectations. People with socially prescribed perfectionism may feel a need to conform to the expectations of others, which can lead to anxiety, stress, and a negative impact on mental health.

Perfectionism can also be associated with certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders.

Combatting Perfectionism

If you or someone you know is struggling with perfectionism, it’s important to seek support and guidance from a mental health professional. Therapy can help individuals identify unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, develop coping strategies, and improve their mental and emotional well-being.

Here are some strategies that can help combat perfectionism:

  1. Challenge negative self-talk: Perfectionists often have an inner critic that is constantly telling them they are not good enough. By challenging these negative thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and positive self-talk, you can begin to shift your mindset. You can begin doing this by asking your self “Is this a fact or is this feeling?” Facts have concrete evidence to back them up (i.e. you always fail at every task you attempt, you are shamed by others for not being good enough, etc.) but the reality is that most perfectionists cannot provide facts that support their internal dialogue.
  2. Set realistic goals: Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals for themselves, which can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy. By setting realistic and attainable goals, you can create a sense of accomplishment and build confidence.
  3. Practice self-compassion: Rather than being overly critical of yourself, practice self-compassion by treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness. This can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
  4. Focus on progress, not perfection: Rather than striving for perfection, focus on progress and improvement. Celebrate small successes along the way and acknowledge the effort you put in, rather than just the outcome.
  5. Embrace mistakes: Perfectionists often fear mistakes and view them as failures. However, mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and can help you grow and improve. Embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as a reflection of your worth.
  6. Seek support: Seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Therapy can be particularly helpful in addressing underlying beliefs and patterns of thinking that contribute to perfectionism.
  7. Practice self-care: Make time for self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature. These activities can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  8. Learn to delegate: Perfectionists often struggle with delegating tasks to others, believing that they are the only ones who can do it perfectly. However, learning to delegate can help reduce stress and improve productivity.
  9. Prioritize rest and relaxation: Perfectionists often have a tendency to overwork and burn out. Prioritizing rest and relaxation can help prevent burnout and improve overall mental and emotional health.
  10. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, can help you stay present and reduce anxiety about the future. By focusing on the present moment, you can learn to let go of perfectionist tendencies and embrace the present.
  11. Learn to say no: Perfectionists often have difficulty saying no to additional responsibilities or commitments. Learning to set boundaries and say no when necessary can help reduce stress and prevent burnout.
  12. Practice self-reflection: Take time to reflect on your patterns of thinking and behavior. Identify triggers that lead to perfectionist tendencies and work on developing new coping strategies.

Remember, combating perfectionism is a process that requires effort and patience. It’s important to be kind to yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. By taking proactive steps to combat perfectionism, you can improve your mental and emotional well-being and lead a more fulfilling life.

Do you have any other tips on how to combat perfectionism? Please comment below!

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