The Cost of Perfectionism
Orlando Anxiety Therapist Shares Challenges of Perfectionism
Most of us would like to perform as well as possible in school, at work or in sports. Our performance is evaluated, corrected, critiqued and rewarded from the time we are very young and we begin to learn that in order to get approval from others, we have to work hard to achieve certain standards. In addition to expectation from others, many individuals place a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed, attain certain achievements or meet high standards. Most people who do well set high standards for themselves in order to achieve what they want to achieve and without personal high standards, people typically achieve less.
So, how is perfectionism different from a healthy pursuit to achieving high standards? Psychiatrist David Burns defines people who are perfectionists as individuals “whose standards are high beyond reach or reason” and “who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishments”. He also states that in perfectionistic individuals their drive to achieve impossibly high standards actually interferes with their performance and causes signifiant anxiety.
Because people who are perfectionistic set standards that are very difficult or even impossible to attain, this can often lead to anger, anxiety and depression in both children and adults. In addition, perfectionism is often a feature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCDP) it is also common in individuals with anxiety, and who have issues with their body image. Perfectionism is also frequently a problem for gifted children (children with high intellectual ability).
Often these individuals implement perfectionistic strategies that have negative consequences:
- Perfectionists typically engage in all-or-nothing thinking. In other words, if the perfectionist can’t do it perfectly, he won’t do it at all. The all-or-nothing mentality often paralyzes him and often results in missing deadlines at work or at school.
- Perfectionists tend to believe that everything is equally important and they therefore have a difficult time prioritizing tasks and assignments.
- Perfectionists often repeat and redo things until it feels, looks or sounds “right”. Thus, perfectionists often review, edit, erase, re-read and repeat compulsively.
- Perfectionist tend to rigidly follow rules. You may hear the perfectionistic individual say things like “it has to be done this way” and have little patience for another’s way of completing the task.
- Perfectionists think that mistakes are catastrophic and will typically spend a great deal of time and energy hiding actual or perceived mistakes from others. In addition, they tend to misjudge the consequences of a mistake.
The problem with perfectionism isn’t the goal of doing well, it is with the inability to give up on strategies that aren’t working, an inability to accept imperfection and a need to have perfect control over all aspects of life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) methods for the treatment of perfectionism have been found to lead to more long-term relief than medication. CBT therapists at The Center for Anxiety and OCD at GroundWork Counseling we implement empirically validated techniques for the treatment of anxiety, depression and compulsive behaviors caused by perfectionistic thinking that can help you to keep your perfectionism in check and help you find ways to manage your stress effectively by challenging your unhelpful thinking and accepting your emotional states.
The author Anais wrote a passage that is particularly relevant for people who struggle with perfectionism: “You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right, too.”
At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our specialized and trained CBT therapists can help you to reduce your feelings of anxiety, create balance, and decrease unhelpful and perfectionistic thought patterns that stand in the way of your happiness.
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