Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be perfect, the need to appear to be perfect, or the belief that perfection is attainable. It is typically viewed as a positive trait, however, it can become detrimental and cause anxiety and depression if taken too far. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism can be excessively self-critical and often engage in self-defeating thoughts or behaviours, which can make it increasingly difficult to achieve their goals.
Types of Perfectionism
There are 3 broad types of perfectionism:
- Self-Oriented Perfectionism → Self-oriented perfectionists set lofty goals and hold themselves to high standards in both their personal lives and careers, but are unable to attain them. They often feel intimidated by their goals, rather than motivated. They can feel hopeless, or that their goals will never come to fruition.
- Other-Oriented Perfectionism → Other-oriented perfectionists hold others to a very high standard. They can be extremely critical and judgemental of others, which can be detrimental to relationships in both their personal and professional lives.
- Socially-Prescribed Perfectionism → Socially prescribed perfectionists are very self-critical. The pressure they feel to be perfect is derived from external standards (ie. work, family, society, friends, etc) and the fear that others will reject them if they do not perform accordinaly. They often experience high levels of anxiety and low self-confidence.
Signs of Perfectionism
- Procrastination (avoiding starting a task because you’re afraid you cannot complete it perfectly)
- Feeling the need to be in control in both personal and professional relationships
- Viewing the end product as the most valuable part of any undertaking
- Never viewing a task as finished until it is perfect
- Obsession with work, rules, or lists
- “All-or-nothing” mentality
- Low self-esteem
- Being highly critical of oneself
- Setting unrealistic or impossible standards for oneself
Perfectionism and Counselling
Counselling can help people struggling with perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies in a variety of ways. Counsellors can help individuals learn to alter their behaviours, restructure their thoughts, and gain healthier perspectives. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Family Systems therapy have proven to be helpful in addressing perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies.
Perfectionism and Mental Health Disorders
Perfectionism is shown to have high rates of comorbidity with several mental health disorders, including:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders (Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa)
Resources we Recommend for Perfectionism:
- Resources – Anxiety Canada
- How To Deal With Anxiety: 5 Coping Skills and Worksheets (positivepsychology.com)
- The Best Books on Burnout | Five Books Expert Recommendations
- The 10 Best Books For Anxiety, According to an Expert (verywellmind.com)