Are you a perfectionist?
Perfectionism is a fast track to unhappiness, yet so many of us struggle with it on a daily basis, myself included. Perfectionism is a generally know to be a personality trait that can sometimes lead someone to success, however it can also lead to self-defeating behaviours and thoughts.
I believe I’ve struggled with perfectionism since childhood. I would spend hours on my homework, rubbing and crossing out answers that were actually correct! I remember during my final year of my undergraduate I would spend an hour or more writing and re-writing paragraphs for my dissertation. I find myself doing the same when creating content for my own blog or other blogs that I write for; sometimes I don’t even send them in or I scrap them, even if they are good enough.
According to D.E. Hamachek (1978), there are two contrasting types of perfectionism: Normal vs. Neurotic. ‘Normal’ perfectionists tend to pursue perfection without compromising their self-esteem and they get a sense of pleasure from their efforts. On the other hand, ‘neurotic’ perfectionists tend to strive for unrealistic goals and feel dissatisfied.
“The development of neurotic perfectionism tends to occur in 1 of 2 kinds of emotive environments: (a) non-approval or inconsistent approval in which parents fail to establish explicit performance standards for the child, or (b) parental expressions of conditional positive approval far exceed those of unconditional positive approval.” – Hamachek, (1978), Psychology: A Journal of Human Behaviour
The Origins of Perfectionism
Perfectionist tendencies often occur from a dysfunctional childhood. As a child, your caregivers may have been a tad controlling and they may have told you what to do, think and feel. So the perfectionist tendencies that you and myself developed were actually a survival technique to cope in this ‘unhealthy’ environment.
“Failure is not an option” is often a quote that many children hear growing up – I used to live by this quote and until realised that it caused me much anxiety. It’s such a skewed thought if you ask me because failure is inevitable.
There’s a difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism.
As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve learnt that perfectionism can damage your sense of self.
For example, if you were expected to get straight A* grades and you were punished every time you came home with a lower grade, over time you would have learned that your parents love is conditional. That scenario can lead to unworthiness, isolation, anxiety, anger, sadness, invalidation, and many other complicated moods and emotions. An insecure attachment can also be a contributing factor to perfectionist tendencies.
There’s also a link between Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism. – But that’s another post for another day.
How perfectionism can contribute to mental health conditions
Research has shown that perfectionism has a high correlation with anxiety, depression, stress and suicide risks, it’s also been linked to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
Can perfectionism be treated?
Of course, it can; perfectionism is measured by using a tool called the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale created by Gordon Flett and Paul Hewitt. This scale provides mental health professionals with insight into the specific sources of perfectionism, as a person may be a perfectionist in one area of their life.
Therapy is often a helpful in treating perfectionism, cognitive-behavioural therapy is a proven and effective tool that can help frame a perfectionists thoughts. Psychodynamic therapy is also another form of the therapy that can assist perfectionists. A study ‘Psychodynamic/Interpersonal group psychotherapy for perfectionism: Evaluating the effectiveness of a short-term treatment (2015)’ found that psychodynamic therapy is effective in treating the components of perfectionism.
A therapist will typically focus on what caused the person to develop perfectionist tendencies such as the fear of failure, the desired to be loved and/or the desire to people please one’s parents.