A lot of people take pride in their work and strive to do their best. Others, however, tend to be excessively focused on trying to do every little task perfectly. Any time these individuals think they have not met their own high expectations, they become upset and overly critical with themselves.
Perfectionism refers to the desire to do everything flawlessly—to be perfect. While this is often viewed as positive, it can actually lead to a lot of stress, anxiety, unhappiness, depression, and negative self-talk. Perfectionists tend to feel like failures whenever they make mistakes and may avoid trying new things out of fear of not meeting their own high standards.
The Motivation Behind Perfectionism
This longing to be perfect often starts at a young age. If a child is frequently criticized or feels unloved, they may work hard to please others in order to “earn” their love and admiration.
Do you spend much longer completing a task than any of your coworkers? If you require 2 to 3 hours to finish a task that typically takes most people only 20 minutes to do, it may be due to excessively high standards.
Perfectionists may initially strive to obtain straight A’s in all of their classes, be the perfect friend in their social circle, and later on, become the ideal parent or the best worker at their company. Their logic is often that as long as they do everything perfectly, no one will be able to hold anything against them, and they will be more deserving of others’ respect and admiration.
How Perfectionism Hurts Mental Health
Perfectionistic behavior may be an attempt to compensate for the underlying core belief of feeling inadequate, or “not good enough.” Striving to do things well can be healthy when satisfaction is gained through the effort to succeed. Perfectionists tend not to be happy with their accomplishments and beat themselves up mercilessly because it is impossible to attain the extremely high standards they set for themselves.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, perfectionism can lead to a host of problems, including chronic depression, anxiety, eating disorders, high blood pressure, anger, and relationship problems. Having unrealistic expectations that cannot be achieved may even lead to suicidal thoughts, and in some cases, attempts.
Should I Get Help for Perfectionism? 6 Signs
Many of us may have some perfectionist traits, so how can we tell if our desire to be perfect has gotten out of hand? The following are some warning signs to look for:
- Setting extremely high standards for yourself. Do you almost always expect yourself to do everything perfectly, or are you overly harsh with yourself when you don’t meet your high expectations? Feeling as though you are never good enough can lead to ongoing stress and many of the health issues listed above.
- Frequent procrastination. Do you repeatedly put off starting a task for fear of not being able to do it well enough? This may be a sign that your perfectionism has become an issue. It may also create problems in regards to accomplishing goals, as you may struggle to get things done.
- Spending too much time completing a task. Do you spend much longer completing a task than any of your coworkers? If you require 2 to 3 hours to finish a task that typically takes most people only 20 minutes to do, it may be due to excessively high standards.
- Too much concern over the opinions of others. Are you constantly worried about what others think about you and afraid of letting them down?
- Avoiding taking risks. Do you tend to play it safe because you are afraid of making mistakes, and these make you feel like a failure?
- Excessive rumination over mistakes made. Do you tend to think about small mistakes you’ve made over and over and beat yourself up for them?
Imperfection is part of the human condition. Mistakes and failures can be opportunities to learn and grow if we view them in a positive way. If you find your desire to be perfect has been creating too much stress in your life, you may want to consider meeting with an empathetic therapist in order to explore deeper feelings that may be contributing to your perfectionism and learn to start setting more realistic expectations for yourself.
“Psychology works” fact sheet: Perfectionism. (2014). Canadian Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_Perfectionism.pdf
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