Episode 15 – ‘Perfectionism’

Episode 15 - Perfectionism

26 July 2022


A perfectionist is someone who strives for flawlessness. This is often accomplished through fixating on imperfections, trying to control situations, working hard, and/or being critical of the self or others. 

 While not a psychological disorder in itself, perfectionism is linked to anxiety and other mental health issues, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

 The root of perfectionism is believing your self-worth is based on your achievements. It is present to help us feel in control or better.  It can stem from a combination of factors like Rigid, high parental expectations. Highly critical, shaming, or abusive parents.


It is important to say that there are many different variations of perfectionism and how it plays out.


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. It is typically viewed as a positive trait rather than a flaw. People may use the term “healthy perfectionism” to describe or justify perfectionistic behaviour 

 They may feel that if they truly were perfect, they would not have had to work so hard to achieve their goals. Some examples of perfectionism include: Spending 30 minutes writing and rewriting a two-sentence email. Believing that missing two points on a test is a sign of failure. 

 There are different types of perfectionism : self-oriented, socially-prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism was defined as attaching irrational importance to being perfect, having unrealistic expectations of one’s self, and holding punitive self-evaluations. 

Socially-prescribed is where the biggest challenge is being worried and bothered about what others think of us. 


How do you know if you are a perfectionist? 


We hear it as praise all the time. Perfect! Flawless! Impeccable! But can anything truly be perfect? Is perfection even an ideal we should be reaching for? 

While it’s up to philosophers to hash out the nature of perfection, psychologists can tell us this: Too much perfectionism is not good for us. Sure, a drive to better ourselves can help us stay committed to challenging tasks and overcome serious obstacles, but psychologists have linked excessive perfectionism with mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and more. * Perfectionism can even increase your risk of death 

Perfectionism is one of the most fascinating issues in psychology, as it can both benefit and harm us. Perfectionism is one of the many ways our minds can help or harm us. 


Let’s have a look at some of the most common signs. I have 7 pointers to share with you although these are not an exhaustive list. 


  1. You’re a Perfectionist in All Things 

It’s one thing to want to be perfect in your profession. It’s a whole other thing to want to be perfect in every single task you face. For instance, unless you’re a chef, you shouldn’t be too upset when you overcook a steak or your pasta dish doesn’t come out as beautifully as the pictures in the cookbook. If you find yourself getting terribly frustrated every time you fall short of perfection, no matter the task, your perfectionism is likely harming your quality of life.


  1. You’re an All or Nothing Person 

If you believe that second place is really just the first loser, your perfectionism may be warping your ability to strive for realistic success. True success is not either/or and it’s not a finite resource. You can be successful—and take pride in your success—without being the absolute best or the only one at the top.


  1. You Crave Approval 

Who judges perfection? In the minds of many perfectionists, it’s other people. This tends to make perfectionists desire approval above all else. If you find yourself focusing more on what people say about your efforts than on the efforts themselves, your perfectionism is negatively affecting your priorities. 


  1. Feedback Makes You Defensive 

We all tend to get upset if someone says something unkind to us. But there’s a difference between a cruel comment and one intended to help you improve. Perfectionists have a hard time distinguishing between the two and will often lash out at constructive feedback. Your perfectionism is not helping you if you have a hard time sitting through a performance review without getting into an argument.


  1. You’re Highly Critical of Others 

If you feel as if you have to be the best all the time, you may resort to tearing other people down to make yourself feel elevated. While we’re all critical of others from time to time, a level of perfectionism that leads you to be constantly critical can hurt your professional standing and cause you to lose friends. 


  1. You’re a Big Procrastinator 

One of the core aspects of harmful perfectionism is a fear of failure. In many people, this fear manifests in avoidance behaviour like procrastination. If you don’t do the task, you can’t fail, right? But that kind of thinking can put you endlessly behind on deadlines and add a lot of stress to your life.


  1. You’re Full of Guilt 

If you feel as if you have to be your best no matter what, any mistake, however small, can feel like a significant failure. This can make you feel as if you’re constantly failing, which can, in turn, lead to a persistent sense of guilt. If you often feel as if you’re always letting others and yourself down, your perfectionism is getting in your way of enjoying life. 


How to Overcome Perfectionism


1- Become More Aware of Your Tendencies 

The first step to overcoming perfectionism is becoming aware of your perfectionist thoughts and tendencies. Take some time to pause and pay attention to your thought patterns around perfectionism. You might even try writing these thoughts down, to understand them better. Once we are aware of how we allow perfectionism to take hold of our lives, we will be more able to alter our self-talk around this issue.


2- Focus on the Positives 

Wanting everything to be perfect means that we tend to fixate on the negative parts of our work or of ourselves. However, it’s important that we make a conscious effort to also recognize the good. For everything you’re not quite satisfied with, challenge yourself to identify three things that you do appreciate. 


3- Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes 

When we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we can see that it’s not the end of the world when we fail. Mistakes are opportunities for us to learn, grow and do better. One way to practise this is by taking up a new hobby that you’ll likely not be good at on the first try. Instead of trying to be “perfect” at it, focus instead on enjoying the activity and slowly learning how to get better. What you might find is that mistakes are necessary to get to where you want to be.


4- Set More Reasonable Goals 

Perfectionists tend to set goals that are unrealistic, because of impossible standards. One way to let go of perfectionism is to set goals that are more achievable and SMART. We will feel much less stressed and more confident in our ability to reach our goals when they are realistic and challenging in a healthy way.


5- Learn How to Receive Criticism 

People who are perfectionists tend to have low self-esteem because they take criticisms personally. However, constructive criticism that can help us learn and grow is important. Try to recognize that healthy criticism can be helpful and is normal because it can allow us to do better. Mistakes or missteps are perfectly normal along the way. 


6- Lower the Pressure You Put on Yourself 

Remember that the person who pressures you the most is yourself. Be kind to yourself and practice self-acceptance by lowering unrealistic standards you set for yourself. If you are still motivated and doing your best, you’re doing just fine. There is no such thing as “perfect,” but we can be proud of doing our best.


7- Focus on Meaning Over Perfection 

Try to shift your focus on finding meaning in what you do, rather than trying to do it perfectly. If something brings us joy and purpose, then it doesn’t matter if it’s not done perfectly. There is more fulfilment to be had in finding meaning along the way.


8- Try Not to Procrastinate 

Perfectionists can be notorious procrastinators, giving themselves an excuse to slack off it they can’t ensure that they do their work perfectly. This can be really unhelpful and more stressful in the long run. The hardest part is always starting, but even creating a rough outline of our work ahead of time is better than nothing. Remember that it’s okay if your work isn’t perfect with the first try or first draft, and give yourself the grace to continue working on the project.


9- Cut Out Negative Influences 

It’s important that we also monitor how things like social media, TV and movies, books, or podcasts can reinforce perfectionism. We should be especially wary of how social media promotes a narrative of “hustle culture” and perfectionism in our work. If you need to limit these channels, or delete them altogether, this can also help us shift away from perfectionism.


10- Go to Therapy 

Lastly, seek professional help with the anxiety around perfectionism. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in particular can help people struggling with perfectionism reframe their thoughts. Therapy can also help you to better understand the deeper reason behind feeling the pressure to be perfect. If you find that you’re still struggling, therapy may be a good option to give you even more tools to overcome perfectionism. 


Releasing guilt is like removing a huge weight from your shoulders. Guilt is released through the empowering thought of love and respect for yourself. Let go of standards of perfection and refuse to use up the precious currency of your life, the now, with thoughts that continue to frustrate and weaken you. Instead, vow to be better than you used to be, which is the true test of nobility. 

                                                                                                                                            – Dr Wayne Dyer



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