What is Perfectionism?
If you have had either of these thoughts, then you are not alone. The desire to be perfect is common in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and progressively increases as people age and have more academic, occupational, and social obligations to fulfill. Perfectionism is defined as setting unrelenting standards that need to be met in order to feel satisfied with yourself. These standards are often incredibly high and very difficult to achieve, and once reached, people tend to still feel unsatisfied with themselves. This sense of perfectionism can lead to a wide range of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, eating disorders, chronic stress, and suicidal ideation. Although perfectionism can have its advantages, such as fulfilling responsibilities and meeting expectations, it can frequently and quickly result in the above mentioned mental health concerns and can become long-lasting.
How Can I Notice Perfectionism?
There are many ways to notice perfectionism in yourself or in your child. Certain actions or behaviors can include avoidance of specific tasks and responsibilities out of fear you cannot do it right, excessively checking things over or asking others if things are done the way they are supposed to be done, and either procrastinating or overcompensating for when things do not appear to be the way they are supposed to be. In children and adolescents, this may look like constantly second guessing their answers on an examination or redoing and correcting problems on a homework sheet. In adults, this may look like difficulty making decisions, not accepting help from others, giving up on tasks too soon, or not knowing when enough is enough and when it is time to stop a task. It is easy to miss these signs as many people would consider these actions and behaviors as helpful to accomplishing goals.
What are Common Perfectionistic Thoughts?
According to the International OCD Foundation, there are several thoughts that people who struggle with perfectionism have. This can include rigidly following the rules, such that they “must” or “should” adhere to a certain standard about how a task should be done. This can also include considering everything important, so that you may have a hard time deciding what to do and prioritizing tasks. It is common to have the opinion that mistakes are catastrophic in that your fear of making a mistake causes you to overestimate the likelihood of failure and to not take feedback from others. It is common to repeat things until it sounds, looks, and feels right to you, which can cause you to spend too much of your time on the same task as well as it gives you the impression that you did not do good work.
What Can I Do To Change Perfectionism?
There are many ways to target and change perfectionism. In children and adolescents, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy has been associated with significant reductions in perfectionism. In adults, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy has been linked to reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms. A focus on reducing self-blame and improving self-compassion has also been shown to mitigate the negative effects of perfectionism. By lowering expectations of meeting impossible standards and viewing failures as important milestones to achieving success, you can learn to become more satisfied with your growth and achievement of goals. Seeking treatment for support in reducing perfectionism can assist children and adolescents in lowering their self-criticism and improving their self-concept, which ultimately can lead to living more meaningful and fulfilling lives as adults. For adults, there is evidence that lower levels of self-blame and higher levels of self-compassion can lead to a better ability to adaptively respond to life challenges. Changing perfectionism takes courage and strength, but can result in greater happiness, life satisfaction, and goal achievement!
At Restorative Psychological Services, we see many people who struggle with perfectionism as it is very common. We are uniquely qualified to support you in identifying patterns of perfectionism and identifying strategies to change these behaviors. We focus on reducing self-criticism and improving self-compassion in an effort to assist you in living a more fulfilling life.