By the end of this conversation the student will be able to define and understand the causes of perfectionism, discuss the consequences of perfectionism, identify areas in their lives where they are striving for perfection, identify additional resources to learn more about perfectionism.
What is perfectionism? A person with perfectionist tendencies has high standards for themselves and others, and could easily become distraught if standards/expectations are not met.
Distinction between being a perfectionist and being high-achieving Both aim for an excellent outcome. However, the perfectionist is absorbed with end results and doesn’t really enjoy the journey of getting there.
What are the causes of perfectionism?
- There is a correlation between perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However:
- Not all perfectionists have OCD
- Not all people with OCD are perfectionists
Having a fixed mindset
- People with a fixed mindset avoid failure at all cost and require consistent positive feedback to affirm they’re capable.
Sensationalism of success and failure
- Heroes and ‘geniuses’ in society are often portrayed as naturally gifted, rather than as people who have had to work hard and overcome failure in their lives. The media perpetuates this stereotype.
Fear of disappointment or feelings of insecurity/inadequacy
- Many perfectionists have a fear of disappointing their parents, friends, other loved ones, and/or other people in general. This fear often stems from having been labelled as ‘gifted’, ‘clever’ or as a ‘star performer’ as a child, which can cause people to believe they are only valued for their achievements and not as their intrinsic selves. Being labelled as ‘gifted or ‘highly talented’’ can also cause people to feel pressure to live up to others’ high expectations and as a result constantly fear disappointing people.
Cultural factors For historically underserved people, perfectionism might be a natural result of trying to reach a high standard in order to compete with who typically excels in organizations. As campuses and organizations work toward more authentically diverse environments, this challenge might weigh on people less - but for the time being, it is a common reason for perfectionism that should not be overlooked.
How do perfectionist tendencies manifest themselves?
- Education/workplace: taking longer to complete a task to aim for flawless performance/results
- Relationships: placing unrealistic standards on loved ones which would cause stress
- Environment/surroundings: needing the physical space to be tidy or be in line with a specific aesthetic
- Hygiene and Health: such as feeling compelled to stick to a diet, etc.
- Physical appearance: worrying excessively over one own’s physical appearance
- Social Media: striving to portray an “everything is going great” picture of one’s life
Specific instances of perfectionism include:
- Spending 30 minutes writing and rewriting a short email
- Believing that missing 2-3 points on an exam is a sign of failure
- Dropping a class or delaying a task because it’s pointless to make an effort unless you can achieve perfection
- Avoiding trying a new activity with friends for fear of being shown up as less than perfect
- Having difficulty being happy for others’ successes
- Constantly comparing oneself to others and feeling inadequate or jealous of others
Why can being a perfectionist be harmful to one’s mental health and well-being?
- Overall negative impact to mental health - with greater risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts
- Worries about tiny mistakes create unnecessary stress, frustration, and low self-esteem
- Impediment of personal development by not seeking learning
- Development of a sense of self-loathing by reinforcing the belief of “not good enough”
- Problems with relationships: few close or long-term relationships, as the perfectionist relies solely on their own goals and keeping people at an emotional distance
- Are you seeing any of these consequences show up in your daily life?
How can we identify if you or others are suffering from perfectionism?
- You think in all-or-nothing terms (something is either bad or perfect)
- You have demanding standards for yourself and others
- You have trouble completing a project/task because you think there’s something more you can do to make it better
- Your self-confidence depends on what you accomplish and how others react to you
- You tend to ruminate (think about it a lot) on something you messed up on
- You avoid situations or procrastinate where you think you might not excel
- Do any of these feel true to you?
What are some strategies to reframe and overcome perfectionism? Consider the following strategies for inspiration:
Perfectionist Quiz Visit this link to complete the Perfectionist Quiz and see how other people fare on each question.
Discuss the results together
- What did you notice?
- Did you learn anything about yourself?
- What (if anything) will you plan on changing or working on?