According to Therapy Today, perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. I’m putting you on the spot here but what is your definition of perfectionism? Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions is that perfectionism increases our chances of success. Still, instead, it can make it harder for us to reach our goals, cause self-defeating thoughts or behaviours, anxiety, depression, stress and other mental health issues.
If there was a battle between perfection and excellence, this is what it might sound like: from perfection’s corner “reach for impossible goals, avoid failure at all costs because it’s devastating if you do, don’t stop doing because it’s what brings you value, you have to be number one, and we must dodge criticism even if it’s constructive.”. From excellence’s corner: “have a go and try something new, work on goals that are within reach, enjoy the process and do your best, learn from failure and welcome constructive criticism”.
While we might find ourselves having perfectionist traits or self-talk at times perhaps a gage to know when we are functioning in the realm of perfectionism is when it’s no longer serves our lives or those who are nearest and dearest to us becoming a part of our identity. Some traits that we are failing into perfectionism could be when we find ourselves:
- Comparing ourself to others constantly
- Holding ourself to an unrealistic standard
- Having an all or nothing mindset. If it can’t be done perfectly, then the task won’t get done
- Focusing on the completion of a task rather than the process and journey of getting there
- Not finishing a task unless it is perfect
- Avoiding trying something new for fear of getting it wrong and not appearing perfect
- Difficulty being happy for others who are successful
- Seeing that not getting 100% is a sign of failure
If you haven’t heard of Brene Brown and her work, she is a professor who has spent her career studying the concepts of courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and this is what she has to say about perfectionism “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.” She explains that perfectionism is used by many people as a shield to protect against the pain of blame, judgment, or shame. The breeding ground for perfectionism can also be the constant fear of disapproval, for example, when expressed disapproval from parents because a child’s efforts don’t result in perfection. Taking into considerations one’s family of origin, for example, this can also include having a parent who exhibits perfectionistic behaviour themselves.
If you feel that you may have traits of perfectionism that cause you daily distress, be encouraged to know that it is possible to learn healthier attitudes about your goals and standards. If this is you, you might consider counselling! If you would like to know how counselling works or you’ve been thinking about giving it a go click here.