Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait, associated with high achievement and success. It is characterized by one setting unrealistic and high standards for themselves. Too often, they perceive their own efforts as inadequate, despite evidence of success. Have you heard “well if you just tried harder”? This may have been something you heard often when growing up or even now. Phrases like that left us feeling that there is little to no room for error, in fact, made us feel that any mistake was unacceptable! Perfectionism can also play into what we are experiencing now, including anxiety, stress, and burnout. Anxiety plays a significant role in perfectionism, driving us to strive for unattainable standards and causing distress when those standards are not met.
Anxiety is a natural response to stress and is often experienced when individuals perceive a threat or challenge. When it comes to perfectionism, anxiety arises from the fear of making mistakes or falling short of your own expectations. As a perfectionist, you set impossibly high standards for yourself and are constantly striving for perfection, which leads to a persistent sense of anxiety.
Perfectionism takes many forms, including self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented. Self-oriented perfectionism involves setting high standards for yourself and striving for personal excellence. Socially prescribed perfectionism pertains to perceiving that others have high expectations for your performance and feeling pressured to meet those expectations. Other-oriented perfectionism involves setting high standards for others and being critical of their performance.
Regardless of the type of perfectionism, anxiety is the common factor that drives you to strive for perfection. As a perfectionist, you often feel a sense of urgency to meet your high standards, which can result in a constant state of stress and anxiety, possibly even feeling like you are trapped in anxiety. This anxiety can also lead to procrastination, as you find that you avoid taking action out of fear of making a mistake or falling short of their expectations. Anxiety causes you to almost freeze while panicking and feeling overwhelmed on how to make this thing perfect which delays the start of that thing.
Moreover, anxiety can also cause you to engage in rigid thinking patterns. As a perfectionists, you often have all-or-nothing thinking (there is no middle ground), where you view your performance as either perfect or a failure. This kind of thinking makes it difficult to recognize progress or appreciate accomplishments, leading to further anxiety and self-criticism.
There are several strategies that can help manage perfectionism and the associated anxiety:
Practice self-compassion: Recognize that perfection is not attainable and that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would a friend. You can treat yourself with kindness by even saying kinder things about yourself.
Set realistic goals: Break larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This will help you feel a sense of progress and accomplishment, while also making it easier to achieve your overall goal.
Challenge all-or-nothing thinking: Practice recognizing and challenging rigid thinking patterns. Recognize that there is a range of outcomes between "perfect" and "failure," and that progress is often more important than perfection.
Focus on the process, not just the outcome: Instead of only focusing on the end result, pay attention to the steps you take to achieve your goal. Celebrate your progress along the way, rather than just the final outcome.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and can provide tools to manage anxiety and stress. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few deep breaths. This may feel challenging, but with practice, it is helpful.
Seek support: If perfectionism is causing significant distress or interfering with daily life, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional. Therapy provides a safe space to explore underlying beliefs and develop new strategies for managing anxiety and perfectionism.
Managing perfectionism takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and don't be afraid to seek support when needed. With the right strategies and support, it is possible to break free from the cycle of perfectionism and achieve a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Here are some benefits of seeking therapy to address perfectionism:
Develop a deeper understanding of perfectionism: Therapy will help you explore the underlying beliefs and thought patterns that contribute to perfectionism. This deeper understanding can provide insight into the root causes of perfectionism and help you develop new strategies for managing it.
Learn new coping strategies: Therapy helps provide you with new tools and strategies for managing anxiety and perfectionism. These strategies may include mindfulness techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or other evidence-based approaches.
Challenge negative self-talk: Therapy will help you recognize and challenge the negative self-talk that fuels perfectionism. By reframing negative thoughts and beliefs, you will learn to develop a more compassionate and realistic view of yourself.
Increase self-awareness: Therapy is able to help you become more aware of your emotions and behaviors, and how they are interconnected. This increased self-awareness will help you recognize patterns of behavior that contribute to perfectionism and make changes to break free from those patterns.
Improve relationships: Perfectionism impacts relationships with others, leading to high expectations and critical attitudes. Therapy will help you develop more positive and healthy relationships by improving communication skills and reducing perfectionistic tendencies.
Managing perfectionism is a complex and ongoing process that requires self-awareness, patience, and support. By recognizing the negative impact of perfectionism on mental health and developing strategies to manage anxiety and rigid thinking patterns, you will be able to break free from the cycle of perfectionism and achieve a more balanced and fulfilling life. Seeking support from a mental health professional can also provide a safe and supportive space to explore underlying beliefs and develop new strategies for managing perfectionism. With the right tools and support, it is possible to let go of the constant pressure to be perfect and embrace a more compassionate and accepting approach to life.
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.