When nothing is good enough..
When a person feels constant pressure to meet high standards across many aspects of their life they may be experiencing perfectionism. A perfectionist often feels angry, guilty or ashamed when they do not meet standards set by themselves or others.
A perfectionist will strive to be perfect, but this is a moving goal post. When one task is achieved the next will be set, leaving the person feeling that nothing is ever enough. It is impossible for a person to be perfect. Each individual has their own set of limitations and vulnerabilities. Perfectionists find it difficult to recognise this fact, and instead desperately set extremely high standards for themselves which can create a lot of anxiety, and pressure.
It is important to recognise the difference between perfectionism and motivation to achieve excellence. A person who is striving for excellence may have more realistic goals and expectations for themselves. They are also able to be more accepting when things don’t go right, rather than blame themselves or feel like a failure. Generally speaking it is positive for people to set realistic goals and commit to them, as this can promote a sense of purpose, direction, and self-worth. However when a person becomes unrealistic in their expectations, and strives for perfection even with negative consequences, this can indicate a problem.
People who experience perfectionism may live their lives flipping between striving for things to be perfect, and feeling worthless and disappointed with feelings of failure. A perfectionist will often feel like they are living on an emotional rollercoaster.
For the purpose of this article perfectionism can be defined as the ‘constant striving to meet unrealistically high standards and thoughts and feelings of failure and worthlessness when standards are not met’.
Signs of Perfectionism
Striving to meet unrealistically high standards across multiple aspects of your life.
Becoming self-critical, angry, shameful, or guilty when standards are not met.
Often finding fault or becoming judgemental towards yourself or others .
Seeking reassurance from others that you have done well.
Feeling anxious about performing in fear of failing.
Inability to receive or accept compliments or successes.
Worrying/ruminating about what you could have done better in past situations.
Impact of Perfectionism
1. Anxiety - Yes anxiety can drive perfectionism, but perfectionistic tendencies can also maintain anxiety.
2. Exhaustion - Unrelenting standards can be exhausting. Chasing a moving goal post can feel tiring and all encompassing.
3. Social Isolation - It is common for perfectionists to get wrapped up in achievement and have less time to put in to meaningful connections with others.
Where to find help
Psychology/Therapy - Seek professional help from a psychologist to understand the origin of your perfectionistic tendencies and learn how to manage unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Self-Help - Use resources such as books, websites and activity sheets to learn strategies and techniques to manage unhelpful or negative thoughts and feelings. Hint: Consider self-compassion and mindfulness.
Social Support - Consider group therapy or socialising with people going through a similar experience. Connecting with these people can reduce isolation, aloneness and help people feel validated and more connected.
Tips and Strategies
Consciously ‘notice’ victories and successes, big or small.
Make a conscious effort to recognise your victories or successes no matter how big or small. Overactive brains become good at ignoring positive information. Start correcting this now, by embracing feelings of achievement.
2. Confront your fear of failing
Recognise when you are afraid of failing. Allow yourself to feel this feeling, without surrendering to it. That is, feel the fear and do it anyway.
3. Learn self-compassion
Learn the art of self-compassion. That is, self-kindness, self-care, respecting and loving yourself, accepting limitations and embracing your strengths. These days there are ample resources online and in libraries. This can be used as a tool to overcome/manage perfectionism.
4. Be open to the idea of good enough
People with perfectionistic tendencies often have extreme views of success and failure. They may see things as quite black and white. eg. If I don’t get 90% or more on every exam this year I am a failure. Becoming familiar with the concept of “good enough” may be a helpful approach to letting go of extreme/black and white thinking, and seeing the grey.
Facts about Perfectionism
When not managed perfectionism can be harmful for a persons mental health (Curran & Hill, 2017).
Perfectionism among adolescents and young adults has significantly increased since the 1980’s (Curran & Hill, 2017).
Perfectionism has been linked with depression (Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Chen, S., Saklofske, D. H., Mushquash, C., Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L., 2018).
4. Recovery/management of perfectionistic tendencies is possible.