“You look absolutely perfect!” It seems everyone would like to get a compliment just like this. Don’t deny that you haven’t wished for a perfect partner, a perfect career, a perfect house, and the list goes on. There is nothing wrong with aiming for perfection. What is the standard for perfection anyway?  When does perfectionism become a problem?

Considered a positive trait by many, perfectionism increases your chances of achieving success. Despite this optimistic viewpoint, perfectionism can cause self-upsetting behaviors. When perfectionism becomes a problem, this makes goal attainment more difficult. This could also cause stress-related problems, depression, and other mental health problems.         

What Does Perfectionism Mean?

Perfectionism is defined as the desire to be perfect or to appear perfect in public. Perfectionism is also the belief that perfection can easily be achieved. The term healthy perfectionism is used to validate perfectionist thinking.

Striving to be the best does not equal perfection. Troubled individuals use perfectionism as a defense mechanism against negative emotions, shame, or judgment from society.

Signs of Perfectionism

Aiming for perfection is not all that bad. This mindset can encourage and inspire a person to strive hard and reach their goals. Still, some die-hard perfectionists need to feel perfect or achieve perfection frequently. Do you think you have perfectionistic tendencies? The signs are listed below:

  • You don’t want to do a task unless you know you can do it perfectly and effortlessly.
  • You don’t care about how you achieve the goal. What matters is the end result — perfect and flawless.
  • Perfection is subjective. The result of any task you do should be perfect based on the standard you set for yourself.
  • You procrastinate. A perfectionist is hesitant to start on a task that they think the result won’t turn out perfect. Hence, they delay working on the task.
  • You take longer than usual to finish a task because you want the result to be flawless. This causes inefficiency in your work.  
  • You are never satisfied with your work. In your eyes, you are never perfect.
  • You think people like you for your perfection. You only share your good qualities, and you hide your imperfections or failures.  

What Are Perfectionistic Traits?

Typical perfectionists don’t care about the process, the learning, or the sacrifice. The only task they find worth doing is the task that can produce perfect outcomes. Since they focus so much on the results, they tend to have self-criticism. They constantly compare their output with others, and they aim to be better than them.

Perfectionists are unsatisfied even if their work was positively recognized. If they are really perfect, they don’t have to give so much effort to accomplish their task.   

The list below shows common perfectionist behaviors.

  • When you are writing, you check and re-check the sentences for correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You excessively spend hours doing this.
  • You always want to get a perfect score on a test. A single mistake is considered a big failure.
  • You are envious of people who are doing better than you or are successful.
  • You compare your accomplishments with others, and you set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
  • You don’t do a task that you know you are weak at.
  • You avoid social gatherings that will require showing off of strengths. You fear that you will fall short of being perfect if you don’t win.

Types of Perfectionism

When you say that a person is a perfectionist, you know they basically want everything flawless. Even if perfectionism has a common root, it can form branches. The three types are formed because of the differences in motives observed in a given situation.

Personal Standards Perfectionism

Out of the three types, personal standards, perfectionism is considered the healthiest. This type is less likely to cause extreme stress or anxiety.  A person who lives this type of perfectionism makes a set of standards that encourages or inspires them.

They are not prone to create harmful habits. The standards they make are realistic. These goals energize, encourage, and inspire them.

Self-Critical Perfectionism

Self-critical perfectionists are easily frightened and intimidated by the standards they have set for themselves. They don’t feel motivated to carry out the task. They are easily discouraged, knowing that their plans may not happen. This type of perfectionism will lead to distress, anxiety, and self-condemnation.

Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

This type of perfectionism is impacted dramatically by society. Socially prescribed perfectionism is the excellence imposed on professionals such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, and alike. A high achiever is more prone to have negative thoughts, hopelessness, stress, and have suicidal thinking.

This is also applicable to individuals who belong to high societal or familial backgrounds. They are required to meet unrealistic standards set for them. In the home setting, it is common for parents to demand high grades from their children. In society, the physical image you project should also abide by the perfect standard set by society.

Areas of Life Affected by Perfectionism

Perfectionism affects the various areas of a person’s life. Listed below are the areas of life affected by perfectionism:

  • Workplace or School. Perfectionists spend more time finishing a task as compared to their colleagues or close friends. They are also hesitant in accepting a task if they feel they lack the skill set. Their inefficiency and reluctance are a result of their desire to be able to accomplish a task perfectly.
  • Relationships. Perfectionists demand unrealistic standards in their relationships. These demands bring in stress, pressure, and discomfort in the relationship.
  • Physical activity. Perfectionism is common in individual and team sports. In individual sports, the athlete wants perfection to attain the gold medal. They are also very competitive with themselves. In a team sport, each member of the team seeks perfection and attention. Each one strives to be better than the others, so they can become the star player.
  • Environment. You spend long hours tending your home. A piece of garbage can tip you off because you want your environment to be clean and litter-free. The same is true for your work or school environment.
  • Verbal and written skills. Perfectionists pay attention to their written and verbal skills. They strive to speak and write with perfect grammar, pronunciation, and intonation. However, if they make a mistake, the quality of their written and verbal skills may decrease. They will feel discouraged to write or speak again in public.
  • Health and Hygiene. Being obsessed with staying healthy and fit can do more harm than good. Perfectionists make a strict diet plan and workout. They have to stick to it to maintain themselves physically. Because of this, research suggests they could develop some eating disorders like Orthorexia Nervosa.
  • Physical appearance. Perfectionists worry so much about how they look in public. They would spend hours looking for the right grooming products at the grocery store. They could even do extensive research about these products on the internet. They would worry about their choice of fashion and hairstyle. Wanting always to look impeccably perfect, perfectionists may develop eating disorders or exercise addiction to maintain their preferred physical appearance.

Causes of Perfectionism

There are several causes that contribute to the development of perfectionistic behavior in a person. Some of these are listed below:

  • The feeling of insecurity and the constant fear of disapproval from others.
  • You have mental health issues like Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There is a connection between OCD and perfectionism. However, not all perfectionists have OCD, and not all with OCD are perfectionists.
  • You have parents who demand perfection from their children. They are easily disheartened when their children don’t achieve the perfection they expect. They constantly push their children to excel in all possible fields, even to the point of abusing them.
  • You are a product of an insecure attachment. Children who don’t have healthy relationships with their parents will have problems dealing with adulthood. They may have a hard time accepting defeat or imperfect results.   

Individuals who grew up with perfectionist parents will struggle to maintain an impressive academic and career record. Parents should learn to control their perfectionist ways so their children will less likely develop perfectionist tendencies growing up.

Perfectionists tend to Be High Achievers

People often assume that achievers are perfectionists. Achievers are highly dedicated individuals who can accomplish anything they set their minds to. They excel solely out of personal gratification. Unlike perfectionists, high achievers are not afraid of failure or making mistakes.  

Perfectionists are driven to excel for fear of failure. They avoid results that show they might not be good enough, affecting their perception of self-worth.

Perfectionists always strive for never-ending perfection. They feel pressured to maintain their excellent work and are expected to do better. Having perfectionistic behavior can cause mental illness.

Eating Disorders, Mental Health and Perfectionism

The more perfectionist a person gets, the higher their risk of acquiring psychological disorders. You can suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, OCD, insomnia, chronic fatigue, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and even suicidal tendencies.

Perfectionism has conquered even the younger generations through social media. Access to social media allowed children to develop unhealthy comparisons. Social media and social influencers are highly curated. You only see the perfect, and the flaws are well hidden behind the camera. The realities behind the scenes are difficult to explain to younger children. They will become more confused and frustrated.  

There is no definite treatment for perfectionism. First, what is important is your ability to recognize your failure. You are human and making mistakes is normal. You should learn to have self-compassion. Be more kind and understanding toward yourself.

Celebrate Your Imperfections

If you are a parent, don’t be too hard on yourself and your children. You are doing the best you can to raise them. Love them without conditions.

If you are a child, you are doing a great job! Don’t beat yourself up with a few mistakes. Mistakes are there to teach you a lesson and not block you from achieving a bright future. You will indeed become successful if you learn to accept your strengths and weaknesses with all your heart.

You can celebrate your wins and failures here at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC). Through the help of KCC’s therapists, you can change your perfectionist habits. At KCC, you can share a laugh or tear while sharing your imperfect life story. Book an appointment now!

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