Although there’s no perfect definition, we understand perfectionism to involve:
1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards (for yourself and/or others) that are personally demanding, in the context of the individual. (Typically, to an outsider the standards are considered to be unreasonable given the circumstances.)
2. Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards.
3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost to you.
The Paradox of Perfectionism
Many people think of perfectionism as something positive. It is often seen as the pursuit of excellence, setting high standards, and working hard to challenge one’s self.
People often have good reasons for being perfectionists. They may say that it allows them to be efficient, organised, or prepared for anything. Although having high standards and goals may help us achieve things in life, sometimes these standards get in the way of our happiness and can actually impair performance.
This is the paradox of perfectionism!
The excessive drive to achieve ever-higher levels of performance is self-defeating as it leaves you little chance of meeting your goals and feeling good about yourself. This kind of pressure is likely to cause you to feel constantly on edge, tense, and stressed out.
Perfectionism can also make your self worth particularly vulnerable as not reaching the (possibly un-achievable) standards you set for yourself may result in you feeling like a failure. Pursuing these personally demanding standards can have a significant impact on your well-being, and can lead to frustration, worry, social isolation, depression and a persistent sense of failure.
Common types of perfectionistic behaviours include:
- Struggling to make decisions in a timely manner
- Constantly searching for additional detail for decision making – ‘paralysis by analysis’
- Reassurance seeking
- Asking for the opinions of others and placing too much emphasis on those opinions, regardless of the expertise or subject knowledge of the other person
- Excessive organising and list making
- Repeatedly writing and re-writing lists of the tasks you want to get done in the day
- Giving up easily
- If it can’t be perfect, it can’t be done
- Always waiting for the right time to do something
- Not knowing when to stop
- Obsessing over details, constantly tweaking and analysing the results of anything they do
- Checking, re-checking and checking again
- Unable to part with items or documents for fear of losing knowledge
- Cannot finish anything because of all of the above
Tame your perfectionist behaviours
One way to check out the accuracy of perfectionistic thoughts and find more helpful ways of thinking is to use a thought diary.
Thought diaries are designed to help you become aware of your negative thoughts and notice how these thoughts affect how you feel and behave. Thought diaries can also help you investigate the accuracy and helpfulness of your negative thoughts and develop new more balanced thoughts.
- Get yourself a cool diary and each time you notice a negative thought, write it down in the diary.
- Note the words that you’re saying to yourself and how it makes you feel.
- Then start to question the assumptions your inner voice is using when it says these things to you.
In time, you’ll start to reinforce to yourself, that the negative thoughts have no basis in fact and you’ll be able to ignore them. It will take some time, but I encourage you to persist. You are worth it.