Perfectionism is a personality style characterized by the tendency to relentlessly strive for excellence, the setting of exceptionally high unrealistic standards for performance and striving to attain these standards. Past studies have linked perfectionism to pathology such as alcoholism, anorexia, depression and personality disorders. The concept of perfectionism has three main domains. Self-oriented perfectionism originates from the belief that striving for perfection and being perfect is extremely important. The individual sets strict, unrealistic and high standards for oneself, by which he evaluates his own behaviors and achievements. Besides the striving of perfection in all endeavors, one also strives to avoid failures and thus self-criticism and self-punishment. The second domain is the other-oriented perfectionism. It is the high and unrealistic standards that one sets for others. The individual expects others to be perfect according to his own set of high standards and severely evaluates others’ performance. It is often linked with blaming others, lack of trust, cynicism and interpersonal problems. The third dimension involves the need to reach standards and expectations that are perceived to be set by others. Socially prescribed perfectionism is bases on the belief that others expect perfection of the individual. Others evaluate the individual harshly and put pressure on the individual to achieve their own unattainable goals. The individual believes that he has to live and achieve these expectations. Even though the individual is aware that the prescribed perfectionism is unrealistic, the individual is externally motivated to follow these expectations in order to receive approval, avoid disapproval of others, disappointment ,fear of criticisms and in extreme cases the wish to avoide rejection and punishment.
Failure to live up to the high standards is often followed by anger, guilt, shame, harsh self-criticism, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. The self-esteem of perfectionists is determined by their own ability to achieve the high standards, goals and successfully pursuit excellence. The never ending strive to achieve higher goals is self-defeating. Besides the obvious high investment of time, energy, work and self-sacrifice (i.e. social isolation), the pressure also causes allot of stress, distress, frustrations and inability to take pleasure and satisfaction from the already achieved success. When the individual cannot live up to the expectations, instead of realizing that the standards are unrealistically high, the perfectionist will conclude that he did not invest enough effort, which will lead to even harder work and more sacrifices in the future.
Perfectionists also have common cognitive style errors such as black & white thinking, should and musts statements, filtering, overgeneralization of failure, catastrophising and jumping to conclusions. Perfectionists have common unhelpful behavioural repertoire too, such as excessive organizing and list making, constant correcting, avoiding situations in which they might ‘fail’, reassurance seeking, excessive control i.e. what they say, write ,do, look like etc. They might also put off doing things because they are not sure that they will be able to do it perfectly. On the other hand, they might have trouble delegating tasks as they believe that others will not fulfill their expectations and reach the same level of excellence as they can. These behaviors are time consuming, can actually interfere with the achievement of the goals and they relentlessly maintain the perfectionists’ living style.
In addition, by repeating the same behavioral pattern the perfectionist refrains from being confronted with the possible realization that the expectations and/or self-restrictions may not be accurate. If for example, the perfectionist will delegate the work load for once, perhaps he will observe that the results are not as catastrophic as he expected. By carrying out different behavioral experiments , the perfectionist can test the accuracy of the perfectionistic beliefs, adjust them and adapt a more proportional and helpful behavioral style. To challenge your unhelpful rules and assumptions about your perfectionism you must first realize, recognize and acknowledge what they actually are. Then, question whether your rule is realistic ,reasonable or achievable. Think of the negative implications that the rules/standards have on your life. Think of the short and long term consequences that it has. It is worth it? Beneficial to you? Afterwards think of the ways that you can test these beliefs/rules and observe the results. Can you now generate a more helpful, flexible, realistic rule or assumption? Put the new rule or assumption into practice in everyday life and observe the changes that it brings to the way in which you see yourself, the world and how you behave. Practice challenging your perfectionism. It is important to grant yourself the time to challenge yourself and to practice. Don’t expect quick, drastic changes nor perfect first attempts ‘cause that will just lead you down the same trap ,which you are trying to escape from.
Antony, M. M.,& Swinson, R.P. (2009). When Perfect isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism. Oakland,CA: New Harbinger publications.
Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L. (Eds.). (2002). Perfectionism: Theory, research, and treatment.Washington, DC: American Psychological