Having high expectations of yourself can be positive and motivating — until it’s not. You see, such a mindset can set you up to be a perfectionist. This personality/behavioral trait guides you into comparing yourself against unattainable standards. As a result, you suffer from a fear of failure which, in turn, causes you to become a procrastinator. Simply, if only perfection can be considered a success, it often feels best to put things off or not even try.
There are many other red flags to watch for. So, let’s start by identifying a few such signs before digger deeper to explore possible sources for perfectionism.
A Few Signs that You Might Be a Perfectionist
- Not appreciating the process: All that matters is the result.
- Black-and-white thinking: “Almost perfect” = failure.
- Self-criticism: They see mistakes and flaws everywhere.
- Low self-esteem: This is the inevitable outcome of self-criticism.
- Defensiveness: There’s no such thing as “constructive criticism.”
- Depression: If all that matters is the end result, this does not contribute to a happy state of mind.
Does Perfectionism Stem from a Specific Source?
We return to the question at hand. So many factors go into creating a person’s worldview. However, on a more universal level, there are some very common threads that can create a climate of perfectionism in a person’s life. For example:
Perhaps the top indicator of perfectionism is how someone has been parented. Parents who are demanding are often the ones who set unrealistic standards that can haunt a perfectionist for years. Mistakes result in punishment and foster a fear-driven form of motivation. Even when the parents are no longer in control, the perfectionist will fulfill the role they once played.
Another childhood predictor of perfectionism is trauma. It could be abuse, neglect, or anything else that conditions the child that they are to blame because they weren’t “perfect.”
Some of these elements have been touched on above. A person with low self-esteem — for any reason — can learn to fear making mistakes. They fear being embarrassed in front of others and exaggerate how that might feel. Such a choice is rooted in a dread of not being good enough. When self-doubt is addressed via therapy, it can contribute mightily to lessening the hold perfectionism has on you.
A common outcome of anxiety is a desire to control things. You desperately want to know in advance what will happen and how it’ll go. So, you try to control everything. If you don’t make the “right” choices, you tell yourself, you are setting yourself up for stress and possibly humiliation. The only solution to this kind of perception is to be perfect. If you recognize that perfection is actually unattainable, it leads to the fear of failure and procrastination mentioned above.
How to Deal with Perfectionism
For starters, you don’t want to convince yourself that you need the “perfect” way to manage this problem. Instead, practice making small, subtle choices that can facilitate a shift, e.g.
- Expose yourself to situations you usually avoid
- Practice patience and self-compassion
- Stop comparing yourself to others; run your own race
- Recognize mistakes as normal, unavoidable, and potential lessons
- Be more spontaneous
- Challenge your critical inner voice
All of the above suggestions are made more accessible when you work with a therapist. Your weekly sessions are where you explore your state of mind, the factors that created it, and the approaches you need to foster change. Perfectionism is not carved in stone. You can address it, manage it, and reduce it. If this way of thinking is interfering with your joy, let’s talk. I’d love to help you get on a path to a healthy, productive lifestyle through anxiety therapy.