A perfectionist is someone who constantly sets incredibly high standards for themselves and expects nothing less than perfection. They have a relentless drive to achieve success and are constantly striving to improve themselves. Many very successful people from all different walks of life consider themselves to be perfectionists. However, having unattainable goals can lead to an overwhelming sense of pressure and stress.
The Problem With Perfectionism
While some overachievers like to proudly label themselves as perfectionists, this title is not generally something to boast about as it can be accompanied by many negative traits. Perfectionists are their own worst critics, and they can become hyper-focused on their shortcomings rather than their accomplishments. This can lead to a constant state of anxiety and self-doubt, as they relentlessly criticize and judge their every move. The fear of failure and the desire for perfection can be so intense that it becomes paralyzing, preventing them from taking risks or making decisions.
Furthermore, the milestones that perfectionists set for themselves are constantly changing. They may never feel satisfied with their accomplishments, always pushing themselves to do better, achieve more, and reach new heights. This creates a never-ending cycle of stress and anxiety, as they strive for an impossible standard.
The inner turmoil of perfectionism can have a significant impact on a person’s well-being. The constant stress and anxiety can lead to physical and mental health issues such as insomnia, depression, and burnout. It can also strain relationships with others, as perfectionists may expect the same level of perfection from those around them.
Signs of Perfectionism
With all the possible negative behaviors and emotions that may come with perfectionism, it’s wise to evaluate whether your ambition has driven you to become a perfectionist. Below are some common signs to look out for.
1. You Constantly Feel Dissatisfied With Life
The constant feeling of striving for something that is beyond your reach can leave you exhausted and depleted. No matter how much you’ve achieved, you always feel unaccomplished.
2. You Are Highly Self-Critical
Despite a win or a success, you focus on what could have been better, and fail to acknowledge or celebrate your successes. It is also difficult for you to receive constructive feedback.
3. Your Thinking Is Distorted
You see the world in black or white with no shades of grey. “I am bad because I had two snacks today.” “I’m a failure because I am two hours late on a project.”
4. You Constantly Seek Approval From Others
If you do not receive positive reinforcement from others, it can leave you feeling drained. While you may dismiss their praise as being patronizing, you still thirst for it.
5. You Have Low Self-Esteem
This is often the case even though you appear confident on the outside. This is because your self-worth is dependent on others.
6. You Procrastinate
You tend to delay completing a project until the last minute. You may also put off starting something until you feel you are adequately prepared and knowledgeable, which often is unnecessary for the task at hand.
7. You Frequently Use the Word “Should”
Words have power and using language such as “should” is guilt-inducing. “I should have acted differently” and “I should have succeeded” are phrases you commonly use. This implies that whatever you do is not good enough.
8. You Avoid Taking Risks or Trying New Things
You tend to stay within your comfort zone to avoid the possibility of failure. The thought of failing is so anxiety-inducing that you seek to protect yourself at all costs.
9. You Have Zero Tolerance for Mistakes
Your preoccupation with needing everything to be perfect means that you are hard on yourself and others when your expectations are not met.
10. You Neglect Your Health
This can include skipping meals or losing sleep because you fixate on achieving your goals. You see self-care as luxuries that are to be enjoyed only after you’ve “made it.”
What to Do About Your Perfectionism
Some general tips for addressing your perfectionism and avoiding some of the negative outcomes include:
- Practicing mindfulness
- Replacing your current goals with more reasonable ones
- Being kinder and more forgiving to yourself
If you are experiencing distress related to perfectionism, seek the help of a mental health professional. Perfectionism is often associated with the need to be in control. In order to modify your behavior, you need to change your mindset. This means letting go of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. It also involves letting go of the need to control the outcome of a situation.
There are cognitive re-framing techniques that can be learned that will help you move toward a healthier state of mind, and ease your anxiety, self-esteem, and depression. Reducing your perfectionist tendencies will improve your quality of life and increase your confidence.
- Greenspon, T. S. (2014). Is there An Antidote To Perfectionism? Psychology in the Schools, 51(9), 986–998. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21797
- Overholser, J. C., & Dimaggio, G. (2020). Struggling with perfectionism: When good enough is not good enough. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 76(11), 2019–2027. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.23047
- Stoeber, J. (2017). The Psychology of Perfectionism: Theory, Research, Applications. Routledge.