Is Perfectionism Good or Bad?

While perfectionism may sound like a lofty, honourable objective, it is not.

Instead, the desire for perfectionism is an impossible quest with no realistic expectations of attainment.

Sadly, it also thwarts your happiness and is often accompanied by depression.

Of course, there is a difference between being the kind of perfectionist who has high standards, is persistent and conscientious (adaptive or healthy) and the type considered an unhealthy or maladaptive perfectionist.

Maladaptive perfectionists are excessively preoccupied with making mistakes and feel the need to be best at everything. If they make a mistake they consider it catastrophic. Moreover, they suffer doubts about performance, disappointing others and are obsessed with control.

Ultimately, maladaptive perfectionism can rule one's life and cause severe anxiety and stress.

So how can you avoid being an unhealthy perfectionist?

First you must recognize what unhealthy perfectionism looks like.

Signs that you are an unhealthy perfectionist:

You are never done. Since perfection doesn't exist you keep working to strive for it, however, you never get there; consequently your project is never completed.

You cannot accept being 'second best' at anything. You are very competitive and cannot stand to lose at anything no matter how insignificant. You even go so far as to avoid tasks when you know you cannot be the best.

You obsess about past mistakes. You fret over what you did and didn't do correctly. You revisit every step worrying that you did not do enough, or that you did something wrong.

You are judgmental/critical of others. Since you want perfection in yourself, you are also critical of others who make mistakes or don't do things perfectly. 

You need to be in control. When working with others you want to take charge because you want it 'done right'. You even take on extra work to make sure it is done right.

You cannot accept constructive criticism. When any errors you make are pointed out to you, you become defensive and dejected because you cannot accept being less than perfect.

You are a people pleaser. You want everyone to like your work and think highly of you. If they do not like something you've done you become stressed.  See article: How to Not Worry What People Think of You

Your perfectionism is affecting your health. Constant obsession with achievement and conditional self-acceptance take a toll on your health both mentally and physically. This unhealthy preoccupation leads to anxiety, depression and paralyzing self doubt.

Unsurprisingly, unhealthy perfectionism can wreak havoc with your health, relationships, and life in general.

So how can you overcome unhealthy perfectionism?

Tips on Overcoming Unhealthy Perfectionism

✓ Become a healthy perfectionist. Rather than being obsessed with perfection, strive for high standards and set realistic goals that focus on improvement, not the impossible. You will know it's a healthy rather than unhealthy because you will feel excited about, rather than weighed down, by the challenge.

✓ Eliminate the all or nothing mindset. All or nothing thinking is self defeating. Nothing in life goes smoothly and without glitches. Success in any endeavor is a process that often entails two steps forward, one step back. Accept that you will do some things imperfectly and incompletely at times. Focus instead on progress.

✓ Practice self-acceptance. Negative self-talk is certainly a part of unhealthy perfectionism especially when things don't go according to plan. Instead of berating yourself, recognize that you've done your best at the given moment. Look for what went right and then resolve to improve.

See: Love Yourself - The Art of Self-Acceptance 

✓ Nourish your relationships. Relationships are important - do not put your work ahead of your relationships. While being dedicated to work is important, so is sustaining relationships. One should not suffer for the sake of the other. Set aside quality time to spend with your loved ones. Do not let your desire to be perfect cause you to neglect your relationships.

✓ Take small steps. Since perfectionists are often inclined to set unattainable goals, a way to reduce a lot of stress and get around this tendency is to take small and incremental steps toward what you want to accomplish. By setting smaller, achievable goals, you can work up to a more successful outcome.

✓ Become aware. By becoming aware of some of your perfectionist patterns you can put yourself in a position to change them. A good way to do this is to start a daily journal where you record the thoughts and feelings of failure, negativity or falling short in some way. Examining these thoughts will help you become aware of your tendencies and, in turn, be in a position to alter them. Journaling is also a great stress reliever in general. See article: 8 Life Changing Benefits of Journaling

Some examples of perfectionist thinking include:

⮚ Black and white thinking such as: "If I'm not perfect I'm a failure"
⮚ Catastrophic thinking: "If I make a mistake, I will be humiliated forever"
⮚ Should statements: "I should never make mistakes;' "I should be great at this."

Examples of perfectionist behavior include:

⮚ Chronic procrastination
⮚ Giving up on, or not completing tasks
⮚ Constantly reworking things trying to improve them
⮚ Fearing to try new things to avoid making a mistake
⮚ Avoiding social interaction due to a fear of negative evaluation

As a word of caution - when you strive to change some of your perfectionist behaviors, to avoid feeling overwhelmed only attempt one behavior at a time.

✓ Put things in perspective - including your perfectionism. Perfectionists tend to obsess over and get bogged down in details and little things so they often end up missing the bigger picture. Unfortunately, this tendency can cause tunnel vision.

To put things in perspective ask yourself questions such as:

  • What really matters?
  • Is getting a small detail right more important than the overall effect?
  • Is proving you're right about an insignificant factoid worth ruining a relationship?
  • What is the worst that can happen?
  • How does what you're obsessing over factor into the grand scheme of things?

As far as being perfect goes, understand that perfection is a myth. There is no such thing. While some things may seem faultless particularly on television, in magazines and in the movies, know that it has taken much practice and special photography to make them appear as such. It is an illusion.

In order to manage perfectionist tendencies start by cutting yourself some slack. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. No one really expects it of you, nor is it possible.

Consider that if everything in life went smoothly we would be deprived of the valuable lessons we learn when we make mistakes. Life is meant to be lived imperfectly!

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