Aiming For Flawlessness: What Is Perfectionism?


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Written by Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

11 Oct, 2022

Are you someone that can’t bear the thought of walking away from a task until it’s perfect?

Are you constantly checking off your accomplishments like a real-life report card?

While perfectionism may not seem like the worst trait in the world to carry, it turns out, it’s actually not perfect at all.

On the surface, perfectionism seems to be the mindset of always doing your best! It’s what we're told for years in primary school, isn’t it? Do your best and you will succeed.

But, what if your best never seems to be quite good enough?

If any of this sounds like you, you might be struggling with perfectionism. What exactly is it and where does it come from?

Let’s talk all about the never-ending battle to be perfect and a few ways in which you can overcome your perfectionism.

What Does It Mean To Be a ‘Perfectionist’?

Perfectionism is one of those difficult mental health disorders, that while looking healthy on the surface, can actually be incredibly destructive and harmful to self esteem.

When in a balanced place, striving to be perfect can be incredibly motivating and helpful in boosting productivity. However, when someone struggles with perfectionism to a concerning degree, they may lose themselves in the toxic grip of success.

A ‘perfectionist’ is described as someone who is constantly striving for flawless success, achievement, and accomplishments. This is someone who will fixate obsessively on any imperfections, may try to control every situation, criticize themselves harshly, or set unrealistic expectations for their lives.

There are 3 different types of perfectionism

Self-Oriented Perfectionism: Someone with this type of perfectionism has attached a high significance to being perfect. They will strive to be flawless in every way in order to gain acceptance from others.

Other Oriented Perfectionism: This type of perfectionism looks like an extremely rigid parent figure that demands perfection from their kids. They too attach an obsessive significance to being perfect and expect others to do the same. It can sometimes be covering an underlying trait of obsessive compulsiveness.

Socially Oriented Perfectionism: The third kind of perfectionism relies on the idea that others believe in perfectionism and are holding you to extremely high standards that you then impose on yourself. It may also sometimes be construed as narcissism.

How Do I Know If I’m a Perfectionist?

As with many personality disorders, being a perfectionist may be glaringly obvious to those around you, but seem like normal, everyday behaviours to yourself.

If you suspect you might be suffering from perfectionism, here are a few signs that may occur:

  1. You’re a Perfectionist In Every Area: Many times, perfectionism takes hold in every aspect of an individual's life. While some areas such as work or academic success may seem more important, you might find yourself exhibiting perfectionist behaviours or frustration in even the smallest circumstances.

  2. You Operate On Extremes: Do you find that you’re an all-or-nothing kind of person? Either you want to win, and be the best, or you don’t want to play at all. If you feel as though the second place is an absolute embarrassment you might be struggling with perfectionism.

  3. You Struggle With Feedback: Do you seem to get defensive even when the most well-intentioned people give you constructive criticism? This may greatly trigger your inner desire to be without fault and cause you to get angry, frustrated, or upset.

  4. You Thrive Off of Approval: Perfectionism lies in the idea that in order to be accepted by others you must first be perfect. Your inner desire to gain approval from others may make you feel as though you need it to be happy and fulfilled. This need to receive approval can sometimes be considered a narcissistic trait.

What Causes Perfectionism?

Of course, everyone inherently wants to be successful, achieve their goals, and ultimately be loved by others. But what causes someone to take these to the extreme?

As with many mental health troubles, our childhoods play a huge role in the way we function as adults.

For a large majority of perfectionists, the way they were raised by their parents, particularly in their teen years, contributes to how they behave now. If they grew up in a family that set unrealistically high expectations for them, they may have felt as though they wouldn’t receive love or approval from their caretakers unless those goals were met. This can cause a deep-rooted fear of failure or disappointment from others.

For example, parents that demanded straight A’s or the winning touchdown unconsciously set the stand of perfection in their home. Punishment for not measuring up to their expectations could have been severe or abusive.

This type of childhood can then follow an adult well into their later years and manifest in many ways such as controlling behaviour or low self-esteem.

How Do I Overcome My Perfectionism?

Before you go ahead and set a goal to overcome your perfectionism, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do I often fail to meet my own standards?

  2. Do I often feel extremely frustrated if I can’t do something?

  3. Do I often feel overly anxious or stressed trying to meet my goals?

  4. Has anyone ever told me that my standards are too high?

If you’ve answered yes, you may need to engage in some inner work to help overcome your perfectionism. There’s a big difference between being someone who is a high achiever, and being someone who is a perfectionist.

Perfectionism has been linked to many mental health difficulties such as OCD, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. It’s imperative for your own mental and physical health to seek out professional help if you feel you can’t overcome it on your own.

Here are a few tips to help you begin to work through perfectionism

  1. Recognize your perfectionist tendencies.

  2. Write down any perfectionist behaviours that arise throughout the day.

  3. Identify the good in yourself - apart from your achievements.

  4. Allow yourself to make mistakes, no matter how hard it is!

  5. Set your personal goals and then scale them back to be more reasonable.

  6. Recognize that constructive criticism is good for self-growth.

  7. Shift your focus to find purpose in what you do, rather than perfection.

  8. Don’t procrastinate out of fear of a job not being done perfectly.

Final Thoughts

Some cultures and households encourage a perfectionist mindset. However, the beauty of growing up is that you can become whatever adult you wish to be. Just because you were raised to strive for perfection, doesn’t mean you have to live that way forever. No human being is or ever was perfect. Keep that thought in mind as you go about your day. Your achievements are not tied to who you are. Success is not a measure of your worth.

If you continue to feel like you are struggling to address your perfectionist traits, speak with a qualified psychologist or therapist today on Talked.

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Emma Reliason

B.A. - Psychologist

Emma is an accomplished writer with a passion for mental health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where she gained insight into why people think, feel and behave the way they do.

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