Social Perfectionism – Social Anxiety & OCD | Orlando CBT Therapist Shares Insights
Perfectionism is considered a core feature of many disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, eating disorders and depression. Perfectionistic individuals tend to have extremely high personal standards and critically evaluate every mistake one makes. Because social anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder in which fear of being judged critically by others is the primary feature, perfectionism tends to play a big role in the disorder.
Statistics from the National Comorbidity Survey (Kessler et al. 2005) report that social anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness following depression and substance abuse. Social anxiety is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V, 2013) as an extreme fear of being negatively judged by others, as well as chronic concern and doubt about one’s social skills and social performance. For some, symptoms can be so severe that they affect virtually all aspects of daily life and make it difficult to function well at school and at work or have romantic relationships and friendships. People with social anxiety are also at a greater risk for developing substance use disorders and depression. As a matter of fact, research has found that approximately one half of individuals diagnosed with social anxiety also have a co-occurring mental disorder, alcohol or drug problem.
People with social anxiety have been found to have very high expectations when it comes to their performance in social situations and then become highly self-critical when they don’t reach these expectations. These primary features of social anxiety are also the key components of perfectionism. Research has found that people with social anxiety have many of the same thoughts, feelings and behaviors that individuals with perfectionism have. They also tend to share unrealistic beliefs that include:
- I must be perfect so that others will value and accept me.
- My value and worth depends on my achievements.
- My value and worth depends on what others think of me.
- Being anxious and fearful means I am weak and defective.
- In order to like and accept myself, I must be perfect.
- If I am criticized about something, it means that everything about me is wrong or bad.
Individuals with perfectionism and social anxiety tend to see the world in black-and-white absolutes. Things are either great or they are terrible. There aren’t varying degrees of rightness or of knowledge or proficiency in something. I can either do something perfectly or I can’t do it at all. I either know something perfectly or I know nothing at all. If one person doesn’t like me, I am unlovable. This harsh way of judging oneself is at the root of both clinical perfectionism and social anxiety disorder and left untreated, both can become chronic and pervasive.
At GroundWork in Orlando, we work with individuals who experience perfectionism and social anxiety utilizing extensively researched, effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches. Research has confirmed significant improvements for perfectionism and social anxiety with thorough and comprehensive CBT treatment. It is important to note that the name “cognitive-behavioral therapy” is being thrown about arbitrarily by therapists who do not have training and mastery of these concepts. CBT is not simply a “set of techniques” that work to help everyone with all kinds of mental health disorders. Therapists often say that they “do CBT therapy” because it is popular terminology, yet when specific CBT approaches for social anxiety disorder, perfectionism or other disorders are not understood and used, people will not receive the help they need.
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