Perfectionism is a form of control and defence. Perfectionists think that if they are 'perfect' they will be safe and accepted, and in extreme cases, think that being perfect will prevent bad things from happening. Living this way is extremely debilitating and stressful.
Perfectionism is not seen as a mental health disorder, but it is recognised that it can lead to self-defeating thoughts, low self-esteem and unhealthy behaviours that can lead to anxiety, low mood, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. In rarer cases the perfectionists avoidance behaviour can even lead to suicide.
Perfectionism is not to be confused with being a high-achiever. High-achievers are people who are committed to doing their best to achieve goals that are important to them, they are not overly concerned with what people will think of them and do not let fear of failure stop them from pursuing their objectives.
Perfectionists are very good at putting up a front that everything in their world is going great and is 'perfect', even when it really isn't...think of a picture of a duck serenely gliding along the surface of a pond whilst underneath the surface its legs are paddling furiously. Perfectionists are just trying to avoid feelings of not being 'good enough'.
"Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: if I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement and blame". Brene Brown.
Signs you may be a Perfectionist
All or nothing thinking - telling a perfectionist to just 'do their best' is not going to work for them. They either do it perfectly or they perceive they have failed.
Highly Critical - perfectionists judge themselves very harshly and they tend to judge others harshly too. Mistakes are not tolerated.
Driven by fear - perfectionists are driven by the fear of not achieving their goals to their exacting standards. The fear of failure is very scary to them.
Unrealistic expectations - perfectionists tend to set themselves very high standards that are often unrealistic and therefore out of their reach, compounding their feelings of failure.
Too focused on the end result - perfectionists rarely saviour the growth or learn from any mistakes on the road to reaching their goals.
Procrastinate all the time - the fear of failure becomes so intense that they actually fail to start any project and this often leads to low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem - perfectionists high standards and critical judgements often push friends and family away which can lead to isolation and loneliness.
People pleasing - perfectionists want everyone to notice their accomplishments and can becomes stressed if people are not pleased with their work.
Defensiveness - perfectionists do not take kindly to criticism and any judgements directed towards them may result in emotional outbursts.
Feeling the job is never completed - perfectionists will continue to make amendments to a task that everyone else has long ago finished, because they want to make sure it is 'perfect'.
Feel relief when others falter - this reinforces the perfectionists belief that they are the best.
Difficulty asking for help - perfectionists believe they should be able to do everything themselves and if they cannot do everything perfectly that is just unacceptable.
These are just some of the traits of perfectionists. As you can see, this way of living must be very exhausting and actually striving for 'perfection' is counter-productive in many ways. Take this study by Ellen Langer of Harvard University: she asked 3 groups of people to prepare three unprepared speeches. She told the first group they were not allowed to make any mistakes, the second group were told any mistakes would be forgiven and the third group were told to deliberately insert mistakes into the speech. Group three delivered the most composed, articulate speech and that is because restricted anxious minds as in groups one and two, are less creative and less productive: trying to be 'perfect' doesn't work for us.
So, what can be done?
When I work with clients, we focus on the 3 P's : Positive Action, Positive Interaction and Positive Thinking and in this case a 4th P which is Purpose, because when we do this we create a lovely constant flow of Serotonin in the brain, which helps us cope with anything life throws at us and allows us to be imperfect and to be 'good enough'. I also help clients to empty their stress bucket which helps them to find better ways of coping. Here are some things you can do to help;
Create more realistic goals.
Challenge your inner critic and focus on what you do want, not want you don't want.
Practice self-care and self-compassion.
Practice saying 'No'.
Monitor your expectations.
If you find that your perfectionism is making you anxious and depressed, seek help. You may be a perfectionist due to childhood trauma or because you were brought up by a perfectionist parent, but in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy, we do not concern ourselves with the 'why's', we focus on moving forward and helping you find solutions to channel your drive in more healthy behaviours. We work quite quickly in 8-12 sessions although each client is different and this can vary, with client commitment, lasting long-term changes can be made to free you from your perfectionism.
Call me today on 07974789390 to book an Initial Consultation.