What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionist thinking can be checking and rechecking apologizing too much for minor mistakes or spending too much time doing less important things like cleaning your house. Acknowledging your perfectionist thinking is the first step to be able to change it. Feeling pressure to be perfect is an unfair expectation to put on ourselves since perfectionism is an unachievable goal. No one can be perfect no matter how hard we try. Perfectionism can make it difficult to make decisions, make us second guess or regret decisions. It can make us avoidance of risk and new experiences out of fear of failure. It can make it difficult to commit such as in a relationship or choosing a career. It can also make self-esteem dependent on meeting impossible standards which leads us to feel consistently not good enough or like we don’t measure up. Perfectionist thinking limits us to only seeing ourselves in extremes as either perfect or a failure. Perfectionism leads us to believe that everything must be perfect all the time. It’s unfair to ourselves to do so. Placing demands on ourselves in the forms of perfectionism such as if I don’t make an A on this English exam I’m a failure leads to distorted and unhelpful thinking and beliefs about ourselves. A more accurate statement would be it’s unlikely that my grade on this exam will have an impact on what I’m doing a year from now. This puts in perspective how a grade does not define who we are as a success or a failure.

To change the effectiveness in thinking we should try to choose more realistic or helpful ways to view a situation. Acknowledging advantages or disadvantages to changing your beliefs and standards and help yourself be more prepared to choose a more realistic and helpful way of thinking about a situation, such as the English test. Realizing that the English test is not a way of defining self-worth and things of identifying alternative thoughts. Instead of believing I’m a failure, I choose to think about how this grade will unlikely have an impact on what I’m doing a year from now. Being aware of the thought patterns is the first step to changing them. We can consider it advantages and disadvantages of the original perfectionist thoughts as well as the alternative thoughts. Weighing the advantages of holding on to our original perfectionistic thoughts and standards versus adopting alternative thoughts and standards can help us point out how our thought processes hurt us versus help us. Another example of a perfectionistic statement is my haircut looks terrible and I’m terrible for being seen in public. An alternative thought is people on the street are much less interested in my hair than I am and probably won’t even notice. Besides my hair will grow back eventually. By choosing to reframe how we were originally thinking about our hair we choose to give ourselves grace and compassion. We also remind ourselves that whether or not people notice our hair it’s a temporary problem. This gives us a more helpful way to view the situation.

Overcoming perfectionism:

  1. Make a list of advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect
  2. Increase your awareness of self-critical nature of all of your all or nothing thoughts and how they extend to other people in your life
  3. Set a strict time limit on each of your products when the time is up move on and attend to another activity
  4. Learn how to deal with criticism
  5. Be realistic about what you can do

Changing perfectionistic behaviors requires us to set healthy goals based on our wants and desires, some being one step beyond present or previous achievements, having pleasure being derived from the process of working towards the goal, and disapproval or failure being seen as specific to each situation. Perfectionistic goal setting often basis goals and expectations of others, requires us to be perfect or best in all times, may focus on the end result and not the process of working towards the goal and may see disapproval or failure as generalized to self-worth. Perfection goals can tend to be set too high and too difficult to achieve and then cause stress when they are unable to be met. It’s important to set realistic goals. SMART Goals is an acronym that can help us remember the components of healthy realistic goals.

S – Specific, the goal should identify a specific action or event that will take place

M – Measurable, the goal and its benefit should be quantifiable

A – Achievable the goal should be attainable given available resources

R – Realistic, the goals require you to stretch some but allow the likelihood of its success

T – Timely, the goal should state the time period in which it will be accomplished

Setting healthy goals requires us to understand that some situations call for perfection such as surgery but other situations do not such as choosing an outfit. It requires us to prioritize by focusing time on the most important problems. We need to set standards that are challenging but also achievable and be motivated more by the potential for success and happiness versus the fear of failure criticism or rejection. Setting healthy boundaries reminds us to see ourselves from a balance perspective with both strengths and weaknesses.

Perfectionism can contribute to problems such as procrastination, stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s possible to be perfectionistic in one area of your life but not in others and certainly not in every. Perfectionism is a personality trait caused by both environmental and biological factors such as upbringing or genetics. Despite being a personality trait perfectionism can be changed. Therapy is effective at reducing perfectionism. Therapy can be used to explore one’s strengths and develop more balanced thinking and improve self-esteem. If you would like extra help or support in acknowledging and overcoming perfectionistic tendencies, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.



Arielle Teets