What is Perfectionism?
At Agoura Hills Counseling, many of our clients struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionists believe that they must be perfect to avoid any type of failure or rejection. They may also believe that if they do not meet their standards, people may not care about or like them. Although they typically express this perfectionism through being hard on themselves, some perfectionists also are very critical of others. Sometimes perfectionists have the same standards for others as they do for themselves.
Perfectionists can display the following characteristics:
• They tend to be self-critical and self-conscious.
• They often set unrealistically high performance standards for themselves.
• They may think they must achieve success and mastery to be valued or respected by others and/or avoid failure to protect their sense of self-worth.
• They tend to procrastinate due to fear of failure.
• They are highly critical of others who fail to meet their standards.
• They tend to be competitive and compare themselves with others.
• They may feel that they need to be perfect in order for the relationship with a significant other or close friend not to end.
• They tend to feel that they must always strive for success or else they will be viewed as a failure by others.
• They generally view themselves as falling short of perfection, making it hard for them to achieve self-acceptance.
How Perfectionism Develops
How perfectionism develops is complex, but it is believed that perfectionism can stem from early experiences. For example, a child who has cold and unaffectionate parents may believe that he or she is not loved unless he or she achieves perfection or that only perfect behavior will bring them attention.
Perfectionism also may be tied to how parents react when they see their children making mistakes. For example, if a parent says, “I’m so disappointed in you! Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?” the child might feel that he or she must never make mistakes and always be the best.
In addition to environment, genetics may contribute to perfectionism. Children who have a relative who is a perfectionist are more likely to also be a perfectionist.
It is also believed that coping skills may play a role in perfectionism. For example, if an individual copes with anxiety by studying excessively to make sure she or he gets the best grades, this behavior could go from healthy to unhealthy.
At Agoura Hills Counseling, we use EMDR Therapy to help clients identify past life experiences that may have contributed to the development of their belief, “I have to be perfect.”
How Perfectionism Can Hurt
Perfectionists are more vulnerable to developing depression and anxiety because of the stress they put themselves under to meet their own expectations. Perfectionism also can have a negative effect on social relationships when individuals start avoiding activities in fear of failing or exposing imperfections and inadequacies.
Perfectionists often spend an inordinate amount of time planning and organizing to make sure everything will be “just right.” Such people give away their personal power by waiting for others to give approval before they feel good about their efforts.
In relationships, a perfectionist might never feel like their relationship is good enough and always worry about the fact that they will be rejected. This can lead to anxiety in relationships or being unable to maintain them at all.
Getting Help for Perfectionism
People who are working on perfectionism may find it helpful to work with a therapist. Learning new ways of coping can be especially beneficial, including learning how to accept mistakes and failures as part of life. Sometimes therapy can help people see the big picture when it comes to how self-defeating one’s behaviors may be.
Some signs that may indicate the need for professional help include:
• Severely limiting work or social activity due to fear of criticism or failure.
• Difficulty moving on from a mistake or failure.
• Relentless thinking about past mistakes and failures.
• Going to great lengths to avoid situations that have a potential for failure.
• Severely depressed feelings and self-hatred due to failure or imperfection.
• Frequent thoughts of suicide or death in order to escape the humiliation of one’s perceived inadequacies.
Ways to Change Perfectionism
The most helpful steps in dealing with perfectionism are to:
• Examine your behaviors and thought processes.
• Identify your unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.
• Learn how to be kinder and more compassionate toward yourself when you fail or meet an undesirable outcome.
• Challenge your perfectionistic thoughts. Change the way you think about your mistakes or failures (e.g., “I don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile”).
• Learn how to reward yourself for efforts, not just outcomes.
• Identify actions that are likely to trigger intense feelings of perfectionism (e.g., talking to certain people, having specific types of conversations).
• Learn to ask for help, even if you’re afraid of what others might think.
• Start a task even if you’re not entirely confident about the outcome.
If you’re looking for a therapist to help you combat perfectionism, reach out to us. We can help! Schedule Your Free Consultation Here