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What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is described as a personality trait and it usually involves specific behavioral tendencies. People who are perfectionists have high expectations and tend to rely on consistent methods and routines to meet these expectations. Most perfectionists tend to compare themselves to an ideal or perfect version of themselves. When these ideals are not met, it can lead to feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and patterns of self-criticism.

What are the traits of perfectionism?

There are many traits that identify perfectionism, some being:

  • Needs to feel indispensable.
  • Allows no room for mistakes
  • Fears taking risks
  • Has insatiable need for achievement
  • Has difficulty accepting criticism
  • Is extremely competitive with others
  • Puts unrealistic expectations on others
  • Procrastination
  • Sets impossible standards for oneself
  • Needs approval from everyone
  • Concentrates on failures

People may display these traits in one or more areas of life. Some examples of more specific ways perfectionists can manifest include: body image, academic achievement, people pleasing, parenting, and routines/OCD.

What causes perfectionism?

These are several factors that can contribute to whether a person develops perfectionism:

  • Low self-esteem or feeling inadequate
  • Highly shaming, critical, or abusive parents
  • Cultural expectations
  • Black and white thinking
  • Efforts to feel in control
  • Rigid, high parental expectations

Having perfectionist tendencies is not inherently harmful, but certain expressions of these traits can lead to secondary consequences on a person’s mental health, functioning, and overall quality of life. Some of the harmful effects of perfectionism include higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of depression, increased risk of suicide, eating disorders, and guilt and shame.

Treatment of perfectionism

Therapy can be helpful to anyone struggling with perfectionism. A person can gain more self-awareness, learn new methods of coping, and work to improve their overall quality of life. Ways that counseling can help:

  • Evaluate when perfectionism is a strength of weakness
  • Developing a more stable sense of self-worth
  • Exploring early experiences that contributed to perfectionism
  • Developing more realistic goals and expectations
  • Developing resilience to cope with mistakes, criticism, and failure
  • Identifying core beliefs and schemas that drive perfectionism
woman on beach in sun with arms stretched out to her side

Perfectionism is a mindset and not a permanent state of mind. With increased awareness, daily practice and some mental prowess, perfectionists can free themselves from the illusion of perfectionism.

“Imperfection is a form of freedom”
Anh Ngo

Do you have traits of perfectionism and want to work at changing your mindset?  Reach out to Laila Wiechmann at Shoreside Therapies, located in Whitefish Bay WI.

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