The Downsides of Perfectionism and How to Overcome It?

Perfectionism, when followed religiously, can easily become a weakness rather than a strength. Most organizations set organizational/personal goals and targets each year and drive their employees to deliver beyond expectations in order to earn an incentive or bonus on top of the regular salary. With the reward in mind, most of us strive so hard to achieve set goals. However, when the cut-off comes, it turns out that the team or you, in particular, failed to reach the individual targets in spite of being so close to achieving it. With the desperate need to be perfect or win over your colleagues, now you double your efforts for the next cut-off. Finally, this time when the deadline comes, you have successfully accomplished the desired objective. But instead of celebrating this win, your anxiety levels only grew worse because soon it’s time for the next cut-off, and the fear of not being a perfectionist stops rewarding yourself. For some, the fear of failure can also be a reason for the urge to being perfect and not make any mistakes.

Besides, perfectionism can also lead to the constant need to hold a good reputation or compete over others leading to harmful effects on your wellbeing in the long term. Toxic perfectionism is on the rise, and studies show that it can cause several psychological disorders such as binge eating, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Most of us are struggling with perfectionism and are unaware of the existing tools of perfectionism.

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According to a study published by American Psychological Association, there’s been an increase in the generations of college students with higher scores of different forms of perfectionism than the previous generations.

The study analyzed data from 41,641 British, American, and Canadian college students. It stated that between 1986 and 2016 that the scores of different types of perfectionism have increased. The percentage scores by which they increased are:

  • Self-oriented perfectionists increased 10%
  • Socially prescribed perfectionists increased by 33%
  • Other-oriented perfectionists increased by 16%

Generational perfectionism being on the rise doesn’t necessarily show productivity; rather, it prevents individuals from reaching their full potential.

The Intoxicating Effect of Perfectionism

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Over the past several decades, the subject of perfectionism, its causes and manifestations, and the appropriate remedies have been the focus of many research studies. Many people who have admitted that they are perfectionists view this trait as a weakness and not a strength. Similarly, people who have mingled with those who are considered perfectionists have grown an aversion or dislike towards them.

Naturally, one does not want to put up with someone with unrealistic standards and ongoing pressures that characterize a perfectionist. They are “toxic,” as one may put it. As a result of perfectionism, there have been a lot of tensions in human relationships, and worst, some even lead to self-harm.

Types of Perfectionism

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Many people believe that being a perfectionist is what takes you to places in life. But do we ever stop and question the norm of perfectionism? No, we don’t!

We’re so busy fantasizing about the concept of perfectionism that we often forget where it stems from and how it affects one’s self-esteem, mental health, and life in general. Many times perfectionistic tendencies arise from past conditioning, trauma, unattainable standards set by society, and we all are well aware of how these affect us in our lives that too “negatively.”

Perfectionism as a concept has three different variants to it. It was two Clinical Psychologists from Canada, Dr. Paul Hewitt and Dr. Gordon Flett, who took it upon themselves to study the uncertainty behind the concept of “perfectionism” for more than two decades. It was after that we came to know that there exists a spectrum as with most other characteristics.

They explained three types of perfectionism based on their Multidimensional Permfectionistic Scale.

1. Socially Prescribe Perfectionists

Perfectionists belonging to this type are considered extremely self-critical. Socially prescribed perfectionists undergo enormous pressure to do their best in everything and get worked up about being rejected by others or failing to meet the expectations others set.

Expectations set by the family, culture, society often lead to having low confidence and self-esteem and leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and even, at times, depression.

How to overcome tendencies of socially prescribe perfectionism?

We can overcome socially prescribed perfectionism by being more aware of our perfectionistic tendencies. Instead of focusing on the bad, try to cultivate a positive perspective. Even little progress is still progress. Don’t refrain from making errors; they will give you more room to improve.

2. Self-Oriented Perfectionists

People with self-oriented perfectionism are meticulous, diligent and prefer to keep everything in order neatly and in their place. They go after their goals and ambitions but set extremely high expectations for themselves regarding their day-to-day life, career, relationship.

How to overcome tendencies of self-oriented perfectionism?

Failure is inevitable and a part of life. Instead of mindlessly following the competitive mindset and trying to be the perfect one in life, focus on the work on hand; enjoy and love what you do. At the end of the day, don’t be so hard on yourself.

3. Other-Oriented Perfectionists

Perfectionists belonging to the other-oriented group set high standards and expectations for others instead of themselves. They confine others to critical judgment and are rather condemning and deprecatory. This may cause hindrance in building healthy work relationships with peers and may also lead to being disrespected at work.

How to overcome tendencies of other-oriented perfectionism?

Overcome other-oriented perfectionism by understanding and bifurcating the set standards and reality of life and surroundings. We need to understand and embrace the fact that the future is unpredictable, and adversity is inevitable. Acknowledge uncertainty as a part of a work environment, or in general life.

Consequences of Perfectionism

We are all aware of the fact that anything done in excessive amount affect us. Some of them are overworking, overeating, eating a lot of medicines, working out a lot, but are not limited to these only. Perfectionistic behavior performed in an excessive amount have its consequences. Instead of benefitting from it, the person often experiences reduced productivity and fatigue, affecting one’s interpersonal relationships. A few of the consequences of perfectionism are:

  1. Impatience
  2. Loneliness
  3. Anxiety
  4. Low self-esteem
  5. Strained physical health
  6. Depression
  7. Obsessive Behaviour
  8. Stress
  9. Burnout

Perfectionism: A Weakness And Not A Strength

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A perfectionist seems always to find his worth in his performance and does not believe in unconditional love and acceptance. They are people who may not recognize it or even say it aloud, but this concept lies in their subconscious minds.

This character trait often manifests itself in several ways, like one wanting to garner a perfect score or else label oneself a complete failure. Another example is one wishing to adhere to every single rule strictly or else label them a total rebellious person.

Consequently, there are no such things as a “perfect man,” no matter how hard one strives for it in this universe.

Humans will indeed commit mistakes – it is not a question of if, but when. When a mistake is committed, one will either respond positively by learning a lesson from it or react negatively – mulling it over and over in his mind and harboring a growing self-disgust while unwilling to do something about it to move on. The latter scenario characterizes a perfectionist.

Hence, perfectionism becomes a weakness because it disables us to proceed with even greater zeal after the mistake.

On the contrary, a person with usual standards can quickly move on after the mistake and proceeds with even greater motivation than before. To address perfectionism, identify the root causes of it.

Perfectionism: Originated from Childhood

It has been studied that perfectionistic attitudes very likely stem from childhood. According to Leah Davies (n. d.) of The Center for Parenting Education, perfectionism appears as a result of combined inborn tendencies and external factors. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to, “excessive praise or demands from parents or teachers,” living up to adults’ expectations that have perfectionistic tendencies, and having parents or guardians who demonstrate conditional love and giving rewards or punishments based on their children’s performance.

These children grow up believing that they can be accepted and loved only if they always perform well. That is why they set a very high standard for themselves to avoid punishments but rather continuously earn their parent’s and teacher’s approval and love.

This is a very miserable mindset because one way or another, these children will undoubtedly incur mistakes and, having done so, will end up beating themselves for it. Davies says that several gifted and skilled children end up having poor academic performance due to their unwillingness to accomplish a task for fear of committing mistakes. The standard is set so high by themselves or by their parents and teachers becomes a hindrance rather than a motivation for their success.

Perfectionism: A Result of Past Trauma

Some perfectionists acquired this kind of trait due to their past traumatic experiences. These people have set a very high standard for themselves to conceal their painful memories and avoid possible future recurrence. As a result, they end up anticipating failures and worst scenarios. Their way of avoiding such is to obsess over details and to proceed with very high caution. Aside from this, there is a deep-seated desire to “fix things up.” Thus, when something unwanted comes, perfectionists blame themselves for it.

Perfectionism: Result of Unattainable Standards of Culture and Media

According to Jeremy Tyler, Doctor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, social media is the number one cause of perfectionism nowadays. People believe that what they see and read on social media is true. Because of this, people have an ever-growing desire to match with the picture-perfect world they see on social media. Tyler said, “A big trigger for perfectionism is social media and that fear of missing out.”

It is so challenging, if not difficult, to step back and realize that what was being posted on social media was not exactly true. Unfortunately, due to this, a large number of people, particularly teenagers and young adults, became perfectionists in assessing their lifestyle to make it appear like those they have seen on media.

Overcoming Perfectionism

As chronic as it may appear, perfectionism is treatable. There are several practices a perfectionist can do to remove his perfectionistic tendencies or to lessen them to an appropriate or healthy level. Depending on the root of perfectionism, the perfectionist or his family and friends can adapt the following proven suggestions.

Tips to Overcome Childhood-Stemmed Perfectionism

There are proven tips for parents and teachers who have established a very high standard for their children. These tips include, but are not limited to, exhibiting unconditional love and acceptance, maintaining a calm and relaxed environment, avoiding comparisons at all costs, giving sincere commendations when the child does something good, and training them to give kind comments and praise their peers.

A perfectionist man who grows up that way because of his parent’s or teacher’s upbringing can overcome perfectionism by restructuring his mindset.

  1. First, it is a good idea to state realistic statements about oneself on a daily basis. Statements like, “Nobody is perfect” and “I will just give it my best, and I will leave the rest” can undoubtedly help.
  2. Another tip to apply is to view oneself from others’ point of view. In this manner, a perfectionist’s view of oneself will not be limited by his own standpoint, but he will be able to see things in another light.

Tips to Overcome Trauma-Based Perfectionism

The perfectionists made that way by their past traumatic experiences can overcome their perfectionistic tendencies by evaluating their fears. Some fears are reasonable, while there are also unreasonable, unrealistic fears.

Try to diminish unreasonable fears. Understand and acknowledge that there are simply things and circumstances in life that are outside of one’s control.

Knowing this, we can focus on things that we can control and strive our best to excel in those areas while letting go of those things that are outside of our control. When this is being put into practice, a once perfectionist person can eventually change into a person with healthy expectations and standards, who can graciously make and tolerate small mistakes.

Tips to Overcome Culture and Media-Based Perfectionism

It is very beneficial for everybody to have a social media break once in a while. Focusing on the tasks at hand and paying undivided attention to the people around you can help you shift your focus from constantly updating on social media to doing worthy activities with your loved ones.

We need to realize that there is life to live apart from being on social media. Having a social media detox or taking a break from social media can make one improve self-awareness and help understand what matters the most in life.

Living in the moment and not consuming one’s time on social media updates can help lessen society’s unrealistic standards and alleviate perfectionistic tendencies.

Contrary to what we believe, perfectionism is not at all bad. When maintained up to a healthy level, it will help improve one’s performance and productivity. But, it becomes a big problem when perfectionism grows into an unhealthy and extreme manner, becoming a source of pride and thereby creating a toxic person.

Once you identify that you are a perfectionist, there are many ways to cope and overcome it. Therefore, perfectionism is not really a hopeless and helpless case.

Tips to overcome Condition-Stemmed Perfectionism

We all have our own set of conditioned beliefs and values. So we have been fed these beliefs since a very young age that we don’t even question them, let alone changing these beliefs.

For instance, we’ve been to that scoring full marks will get us into a good college or land a good job one desires. Another example is people who score fewer marks in their exams are more likely to perform poorly in their lives.

So how are marks and life even related?

We’re taught and made to believe such aggravating values. One of these is being perfect and being the perfect student, daughter, son, employee. In addition, we’re made to believe that if we’re not perfect, then we will be good for nothing in life.

But, we have the power to change these conditioned beliefs. Reverse conditioning or counter conditioning may help us change these beliefs with new and more good ones that do not harm us physically or mentally or others around us.

Concluding thoughts

Perfectionism isn’t a bad thing but done in excess, and it may hamper us, our well-being, and even those around us. Instead of focusing on the competition and being the best, we can focus more on the task at hand and try to enjoy it.

After all, we all know that to err is human. As humans, we tend to make mistakes, and it’s okay; what’s important is we learn from them and correct them. Don’t let fear hold you back. Perfectionists fear that if they don’t do something perfectly, people will reject them, and the people around them will disapprove of them.

Well, guess what those around you are not you, and that’s your power, give yourself more credit.

Key Takeaways On Being A Perfectionist

  • We’re humans at the end of the day, we tend to make mistakes, and it is okay not to be perfect.
  • Toxic perfectionism at times holds us back from attaining our full potential.
  • Perfectionism: A Weakness and not a Strength: Perfectionism is more of a weakness than strength. Instead of using perfectionism for our benefit, these beliefs make us question ourselves and our capabilities.
  • Consequences of Perfectionism: Perfectionism, like anything else, has side effects such as anxiety, depression, obsessive behavior, stress, burnout, and many more.
  • Instead of setting unrealistic goals and not achieve them, we can set realistic, attainable goals.
  • Achieve these goals by taking the time and doing good work rather than focusing on being the best.
  • No matter how hard we try, we’re bound to make mistakes. Focus on the positive side more than the negative ones. Use positive reinforcement.
  • Patience and practice can help overcome perfectionism.
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself. Instead of “perfecting” the task, focus more on understanding the task and enjoying it.
  • Learn from the mistakes you make instead of fearing them.
  • Focusing on the unhealthy patterns in life and change them into healthy ones.
  • Perfectionism often stems from trauma and childhood conditioning.
  • Perfectionism: Originated from Childhood: Studies have found the perfectionistic tendencies frequently originate from childhood.
  • Types of Perfectionism: There are three types of perfectionism present in humans, namely, Socially Prescribe Perfectionists, Other-Oriented Perfectionists, Self-Oriented Perfectionists. Although with the correct practices and patience, we can overcome these perfectionistic tendencies.
  • Perfectionism: A Result of Past Trauma: Many perfectionistic beliefs originate from the past traumatic experience, and it also does them more harm than good.
  • Overcoming Perfectionism: Perfectionism is treatable with the correct practices and with a bit of patience.
  • A study by American Psychological Association states there’s been an increase in the different forms of perfectionism between the years 1986 and 2016.

Can we overcome perfectionism?

Yes, with more practice and patience, we can overcome perfectionism.

Does perfectionism make a person successful?

No, perfectionism has nothing to do with success. Doing your best and giving your best in whatever you do matters more. Perfectionist or not, you will be successful in life and whatever field you may desire.

Does perfectionism affect one’s life negatively?

Perfectionism does affect one’s life negatively. It often time plants self-doubt in people.

Is perfectionism harmful?

Yes, studies show that perfectionism can harm people not just mentally but physically as well.

Is it true that the concept of “perfectionism” hampers one’s self-esteem?

If a perfectionist fails to “perfect” the task at hand, then yes, it hampers their self-esteem and often embeds self-doubt.

Does perfectionism affect our mental health?

Perfectionism does affect our mental health. For example, perfectionists may have anxiety, depression, even eating disorders at times.

Does perfectionism hold one back?

The concept of being the best and perfecting everything we do does hold a person back. However, rather than perfecting, if we look at the task from a different light, we may be able to leave perfectionism behind and actually enjoy the work with it holding us back.

AT Author is a writer at AlignThoughts. She shares her thoughts and ideas to inspire and help others for personal growth.