Is Perfectionism – Good or Bad?
When you initially think of perfectionism the first thoughts that come to your mind are someone you know who seems to get just about everything right. They do their work perfectly, they dress immaculately, live in a beautiful house just can’t seem to do any wrong. They are people we secretly envy and are jealous of because all we see is a perfect world and we wish we were in it because life would be so much easier. But is perfectionism good or bad in reality? The outsider’s snapshot is not always what it seems. Let’s talk about the reality of being a perfectionist and why sometimes things may not be as wonderful as they seem.
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What does being a perfectionist actually mean? Well, the dictionary definition is relatively concise it simply states “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” So what does that mean in the real world? Imagine you were still at school and you had completed a maths test and got 90%. To the rest of the class, this was an unbelievable mark marking you out as outstanding. If you were a perfectionist however you would have been upset that you didn’t get 100%.
Now let’s look at a work situation. You have been asked to create a report for your manager about the latest sales figures. You spend not only every working hour on the report but you then take it home and work on it every evening. Refining the look of the report, the figures, the fonts and so on. No matter what you do you are never quite happy with sending it to your boss as you question every word and detail. When your boss finally gets the report they are thrilled at how comprehensive it is and praise you for the content. You suddenly spot a typo on one of the pages and beat yourself up because you can’t believe that got through.
Perfectionism isn’t just about having good attention to detail and trying to get things right it is an obsession with trying to be perfect in an imperfect world and getting angry with yourself when inevitably the odd thing goes wrong.
What’s Wrong With Perfectionism?
Is perfectionism good or bad? Well, having high standards is not necessarily a bad thing but it is problematic when you beat yourself up about tiny flaws which are of little consequence. This constant pressure to perform and be outstanding all the time takes its toll on your physical and mental health. People who are perfectionists are known to be more likely to suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, depression and OCD. They are also more likely to self-harm, be workaholics or suffer from addiction issues.
Perfectionist tendencies create stress and pressure on an individual and often there is no let-up. Imagine pouring huge amounts of energy every single day into getting things “just so”. Something eventually has to give and this is where mental health issues, eating disorders and physical problems start to creep in and create problems.
The problem is that perfectionism is on the rise. This is partly fueled by social media and how information is spread across the population. Once upon a time, you would have only known about people in your social circle that you were physically close to. Now you can see how people across the world are faring and it is easy to feel that you don’t match up.
If your Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Snapchat feed is filled with beautiful perfect looking people, in massive houses with flash cars then you believe that you should be able to achieve similar results if you try hard enough. Now instead of competing with people locally, you are comparing yourself to the whole world.
Adaptive vs Maladaptive Perfectionism
Not all perfectionism is bad. There is adaptive perfectionism and then there is maladaptive perfectionism. When you are an adaptive perfectionist you may still strive to get good marks or results but don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. An example of this might be a goalkeeper in a football team. They will practice their hardest daily to be the best at their sport and to let in as few goals as possible during a match. Yet inevitably some will get through. They won’t beat themselves up week after week because of this instead they understand it is a normal part of the game and they move on.
Maladaptive perfectionism is where the problems start. This is where reactions to making mistakes may be over the top and out of proportion with what has happened. If we go back to the case of a goalkeeper letting in goals imagine them storming off the pitch at the end of the game, telling their teammates that their career is over and then spending the next month fretting about their mistake. Clearly this isn’t a healthy way to live.
Root Cause of Perfectionism
So are you born a perfectionist or is it something that is a learned behaviour? Typically the problem is a learned behaviour and something that we have picked up in childhood. In fact, perfectionism is often a safety mechanism to try and help us. Here are just a few of the reasons why the problem starts:
Parental or School Pressure – If you have a parent or a school that has impossibly high standards it can create perfectionist tendencies. Imagine your father getting angry with you if you come home with marks that were lower than they wanted. A child is going to feel upset, scared and petrified of getting things wrong again. So the next time they work ten times harder to please the parent.
Schools can also create a culture of perfectionism. There is an obsession in the UK at the moment with school league tables. How many children get high marks at certain schools is scrutinised by parents and determines where they will send their children. The schools are under incredible pressure to keep their high standards and for their pupils to continue achieving the best results. If you are a child in one of these schools this pressure to perform so that you don’t let the school down can create problems. Is this perfectionism good or bad? Well clearly unhelpful pressure to perform is not never a good thing.
Disapproval From Others or Mistakes – Imagine making a big mistake when you were a child where the consequences seemed enormous to you at the time. Perhaps failing a big test or embarrassing yourself in front of your peers. For some children, anxiety starts to kick in which wants to protect them from anything like that happening again. So from that point on they try harder than ever not to make the same mistake ever again in their life. Their perfectionism is driven by fear as they never want to be back in the same situation again.
Anxiety or OCD – Anxiety is closed linked with perfectionism. Fear of not being upset, scared or embarrassed again can fuel issues with perfectionism. This is why the maladaptive reactions to getting things wrong can be so severe. Part of the mind desperately wants things to be ok and panics when things are not working out as planned.
Steve Jobs was a famous perfectionist who was so interested in the detail that he took far longer than he should have to produce their initial Macintosh computer. There is no doubt that his procrastination and attention to the fine detail costs the company money when they were trying to produce products.
Stanley Kubrick is known as the ultimate in perfectionist film directors. After difficulties on the film Spartacus he decided that from that point on he wanted complete control over every aspect of his films. So he became writer, director, editor and researcher.
Martha Stewart famously changes her sheets every day and never allowed her daughter to sit on the bedspread in case it got creased.
Plus who can forget Monica Gellar from friends the super neat and ultra-competitive character from friends? Ok, she may not be real but her need for things to be perfect is not a million miles away from many people’s desires to get things right.
So what can you do to get help if you find that perfectionism is impacting your life and causing anxiety? Well, therapy for perfectionism is one of the best places to start. As a perfectionist may have difficulty knowing what is healthy and unhealthy in terms of their need to do things perfectly an outsiders perspective is always useful. During therapy, a therapist can help you to change negative thought patterns which are no longer serving your needs. Here are some of the things that therapy can assist with.
Setting Realistic Goals – Therapy can help you to set goals that are attainable rather than so impossible to achieve that they create problems. Learning to take your foot off the gas can make a big difference to your stress and anxiety levels.
Accepting Mistakes – Therapy can teach you to accept mistakes and learn from them rather than beating yourself up about them. Everyone makes mistakes and that is ok providing we don’t continually make the same ones over and over again. In fact, many famous people wouldn’t be where they are now if they weren’t resilient. James Dyson made over 5,000 attempts at his bagless vacuum cleaner before he got it right!
Stop All Or Nothing Thinking – Life isn’t all about just success or failure. There are lots of areas in between that are perfectly acceptable. There is no need to beat yourself up when things aren’t 100% successful. Instead, a therapist can teach you to focus on what went right.
Learning to Love Yourself – Perfectionism is not just about getting tasks right but also worry about not looking perfect. Sometimes our unrealistic expectations make us want to be thinner, more beautiful or taller. Being body positive and learning to love yourself can make a difference especially when perfectionism is linked to eating disorders.
Perfectionism Good or Bad – A therapist can also help you to understand the difference between adaptive perfectionism vs maladaptive. Learning to understand the differences between the two can make a big difference in the way that you think and behave.
Hypnosis for Perfectionism
It is worth noting that hypnosis for perfectionism is a great tool for changing negative thought patterns through suggestion and positive visualisation. It can also be used to address the underlying reasons for a problem. Most people entering a therapy room understand they have a problem but they don’t understand the mechanisms and automated thought processes that are fueling the problem. Hypnosis techniques can help you to rediscover the instances in your life that started your problem so that you can see things from a new perspective.
Learning the reasons for a problem can help to give you a new perspective and often can completely change the way in which you think. As an example, if you learned that your perfectionist tendencies were an attempt by you to not anger a demanding parent you can start to understand the drivers for your need to always do things right. Therapy can now be aimed at helping you to understand that your parent was the one with the problem, not you.
Getting Help to Change Negative Thoughts
So is perfectionism good or bad? Well, when taken to extremes it can create psychological problems as well as impact your physical health. It is important to get help for this toxic perfectionism before it causes any further detrimental impact on your life. If you would like to talk to us about our therapy programs for perfectionism or anxiety then get in touch by filling out the form below so that we can get in touch.
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