At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.
Is perfectionism a highly desirable trait that ensures high standards and reliability —or a psychological handicap indicative of dithering, delay, and delusions? Is it a healthy drive or self-destructive?
We all know that perfectionists value and foster excellence and strive to meet important goals.
Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at Norwegian Business School, explains that there is a dark side of it: perfectionism is seen as a cause and correlate of serious psychopathology. At worst, perfectionists believe they should be perfect—no hesitations, deviations, or inconsistencies. They are super-sensitive to imperfection, failing, and weakness.
Psychologists see perfectionism almost always as a handicap. They see perfectionists as vulnerable to distress, often haunted by a chronic sense of failure, indecisiveness, procrastination and shame. Perfectionists are rigid.
The clinical opinion on perfectionism is that it can and does involve setting excessively high personal standards. It can also mean imposing one’s standards on others and having equally high (often quite unrealistic) expectations of them.
According to Adrian Furnham, perfectionism comes from our closest family members: our parents, sisters or brother and grandparents. They may have been critical and demanding. Perfectionists in adulthood live with their parents’ voice, and their standards.
So what are the main issues with perfectionism? Psychologist identify several of these:
1. Concern over mistakes, which reflects negative reactions to mistakes; a tendency to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure.
2. Personal standards, which reflect the setting of very high standards and the importance placed on these high standards for self-evaluation.
3. Doubting of actions, which reflects the extent to which people doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.
Adrian Furnham explains that perfectionist are driven by a fear of failure; a fear of making mistakes; and a fear of disapproval. They can easily self-destruct in a vicious cycle of their own making:
Set unreachable goals → fail to reach them → become depressed and lethargic → have less energy and a deep sense of failure → get lower self-esteem and high self-blame.
Do you recognize yourself using the above formula?
There is nothing wrong with setting high standards, but they need to be reachable with effort. It’s all about being OK; human not super-human; among the best, if not THE best.
Do you consider yourself a healthy perfectionist or maybe it is making your life harder?
Below you will find some questions for self-test, could any of the below apply to you?
1. You give up before starting.
2. You avoid delegating because you think others won’t meet your standards.
3. You want to be good at stuff straight away.
4. It bugs you when other people won’t do something your way.
5. You say no to opportunities if you’re not 100 percent confident you’ll perform well.
6. You get defensive if anyone criticizes you even slightly.
Does any of the above apply to you?
Remember last time something went not as you expected, not according to your plan? Maybe someone from your friends or your beloved ones did not meet your ¨standards¨? What was the outcome? Maybe this time it was not the person but your high expectations that disappointed you?
What can be done?
First thing is to realize in which areas of your life you put too much pressure on you, so at this point you don’t have any positive results because you strive for excellence, all or nothing. What are these areas? Work? Your love life?
Another important thing is to cultivate self-love, remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect in order to be valued, in order to inspire others and to be loved.
And probably, give more attention to those whom you care about, giving more and expecting less.
The tricky thing about perfectionism is that we stop accepting making mistakes ourselves and hardly tolerate when others do them. It almost always leads to frustration, distance in any relationship since we are not ready to have less than we expected.
What if we could accept ourselves the way we are and set reachable goals? Perhaps it is good to remind ourselves that we do not need to be perfect in order to leave happily? Maybe it’s time to surround ourselves with people who are not afraid of our imperfections and do not expect us to be the best?
Let’s allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes, let’s allow ourselves and others to be imperfect!