Understanding Perfectionism

Are you a perfectionist? Do you often feel a need to be perfect at every thing you do? even at the cost of your health and wellbeing?

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the tendency to continually strive for excessively high standards. The standards set are often unattainable and yet you continue to pursue them despite the personal cost to you. This can leave you in a constant state of self-criticism and negativity and at potential risk of burnout.

Perfectionism is distinct from “striving for excellence” which is more about personal improvement and is internally focused. It is the desire to please others so as to avoid painful feelings such as failure, blame and shame. It’s associated with a desire to feel in control. Listen to Brene Brown’s TED talk on perfectionism.

Types of Perfectionism

There are three types of Perfectionism:

Self – oriented perfectionism: where people have high personal standards and unrealistic expectations of themselves and the importance of being perfect. Consequently they are constantly critical of themselves.

Socially – prescribed perfectionism: where people feel incredible pressure to be the best and fear that others will reject them if they’re not. The perceived pressure may come from family, work, societal or cultural contexts whose approval is important to them in terms of their identity.

Other – oriented perfectionism: where people hold others to high, often unrealistic standards and can be harsh and judgemental in criticising them when these standards aren’t met. This can be highly detrimental in the workplace.

Signs of Perfectionism

Here are some common signs to look out for in considering if Perfectionism is an issue for you.

  • You’re an “all or nothing person”
  • If your view in most things is that if you can’t do it perfectly or win, then there’s no point in trying or competing
  • You think “I must get things right the first time”, because if I don’t get it right, there’s no point continuing
  • You’re unable to tolerate making mistakes. This means that you can also be highly critical and intolerant of others making mistakes
  • There’s no merit to you in small scale ‘wins”, as you learn something new.
  • You focus a lot on what others think of your efforts or worry about what they think, rather than appreciating the effort yourself
  • You may also procrastinate as avoidance feels better than the fear of potentially failing at something or not meeting the standards you set for yourself.
  • You may struggle with interpersonal relationships as showing vulnerability is difficult for you
  • You tend to spend a lot of time on an individual task and find it difficult to do anything else until its fully completed to an exacting standard.
  • It’s very difficult for you to ask for help, as you believe you should be able to do things on your own
  • You often feel guilty for not meeting the standards you set for yourself or which you think others achieve eg not getting enough done, or making mistakes or overlooking something relatively insignificant
  • You reject the idea of “cutting yourself some slack” as that would mean “letting yourself off the hook” and not being a high achiever
  • You find it difficult to accept feedback, even where it’s constructive and tend to be defensive when receiving any negative feedback

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