First and foremost, let’s dispel a common misconception. Perfectionism is not the same as being a high achiever. In fact, many perfectionists aren’t considered high achieving at all. High achievers are hardworking individuals who persist in their goals and work hard to achieve them. This drive to achieve isn’t based on what someone thinks of them or a need for approval or gratification from others. It’s an internal drive. Perfectionism can be internalized as well, but it tends to be more reliant on a worry about what other people think. Worry that, if they don’t get something just right, they will be perceived as failures drives many of their actions. Rather than really wanting success or perfection, perfectionists, at their core, fear failure. In this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at exactly what perfectionism is, the ways it negatively impacts people, and how perfectionists can make changes to perfectionistic thinking and start living more satisfying lives.
Am I Perfectionist?
Sometimes, perfectionism hides itself behind the guise of beneficial qualities like high achievement or striving. Other times, perfectionism can mimic (or cooccur with) other disordered emotions or behaviors like depression, anxiety, and disordered eating. If you’re not sure perfectionism is your concern, answer the following questions:
- When you work really hard to get things just right, do you celebrate your success, or do you find something that could have been better?
- Do you recognize it’s okay for others to make mistakes, but feel like the same is not true for you?
- Even if you complete a task perfectly and receive approval from others, do you ever feel perfect?
- Do you avoid completing tasks that you may not be able to do perfectly?
- Is it difficult for you to meet a deadline because nothing you work on ever feels complete or perfect enough?
- Are you worried no one will like, love, or respect you if you aren’t perfect?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, you may be a perfectionist.
Is Perfectionism Always Bad?
Wanting to get things right or put forth your best efforts isn’t necessarily a negative. In fact, one of the best things about working with perfectionists is how much they want to do well. The goal is to take the perfectionist urge to do well and use it to overcome the potential concerns related to perfectionistic thinking. Specifically, perfectionism often leads to concerns like excessive stress, anxiety, burnout, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, and depression. Additionally, perfectionism can be a concern in and of itself because people who struggle with this concern often lack resilience. That means what others perceive as a small setback feels like an insurmountable obstacle to the perfectionist. Perfectionism can leave individuals feeling frozen in place because any move they make may not go just right. Without appropriate intervention, perfectionism significantly decreases the individual’s sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and stability in daily life.
One of the most difficult things about perfectionism is how often this concern develops in young people. Children and teens who struggle with perfectionism may be seen as either under or overachieving. The under achieving teens and children may be misdiagnosed with anxiety or even attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder since they struggle to meet deadlines and fail to complete projects they begin. The overachieving young perfectionist may fly under the radar until they encounter an obstacle they can’t overcome. At this point, they could be diagnosed with disordered levels of stress or anxiety or even depression.
How Does Therapy Help?
When it comes to perfectionism, therapy is all about restructuring negative and harmful patterns of thinking and behaving. For instance, if someone doesn’t want to begin a new project because they’re afraid of failing, therapy may start by thinking through the worst-case scenario. What if you do fail? What will happen? Does your life change for the worse? Are there benefits to failing? Is there something you can learn from your failure? From there, we may think about the best-case scenario. Even if you get this exactly right, what happens? Is your life infinitely better? This type of thought challenge exercise during therapy can help perfectionists begin to see that most situations will fall somewhere between these extremes. There are many different approaches that you can explore with your therapist to help you break through perfectionist patterns.
Do I Need Therapy to Manage Perfectionism?
Some people manage to overcome perfectionism on their own with years of learning from their failures or less than perfect achievements that these things are not usually world-altering. However, there’s no need to put yourself through years of discomfort and feeling unsatisfied. Instead, you can work with a therapist to process your perfectionist patterns and learn and grow. If you’re interested in getting started, the Lotus Psychology Group team would love to be part of your therapy journey. Working with us is easy. Simply call (248) 957-8973, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete our online contact form.