The Misfortune of Perfectionism

Do you set unrealistically high expectations for yourself and others? Are you goal driven, always busy, and have a hard time relaxing? Do you avoid making mistakes? And when you do, do you dwell on them? If so, you may be a perfectionist. . . 

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My perfectionistic tendencies usually start with exciting ideas like making personalized fortune cookies for my son’s class birthday party. However, because I lean towards perfectionism, these “fun” projects are easily highjacked by high expectations, fear of failure, and projection of other’s perceived high standards for me. 

And, once hijacked by these thoughts, I lose sight of my heartfelt reason for starting these projects and find myself acting out of alignment with my values. (Picture a mean mama crouched over an oven shaping 350 deg fortune cookies with my bare hands while yelling“STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN BOYS!”)

My perfectionistic tendencies usually start with exciting ideas like making personalized fortune cookies for my son’s class birthday. However, because I lean towards perfectionism, these “fun” projects are easily highjacked by high expectations, fear of failure, and projection of other’s perceived high standards for me. 

The Development of a Perfectionist

Researchers can predict perfectionistic tendencies by as early as age 7. According to Sharon Martin, LCSW, author of the CBT Workbook for Perfectionism, early childhood experiences of 

·demanding, overwhelmed, or distracted parents

·culture and media high expectations

·innate temperament

all contribute to having high standards for self and others. And once established, perfectionists are reinforced like crazy for their perceived excellence.

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Perfectionism on the Rise

According to the World Health Organization 2017 report,  perfectionism has risen over the last 27 years. Some arguethat the rise in perfectionism may be due to a number of factors including:

·the cultural emphasis on competitive individualism 

·exposure to other’s perfect self-representations on social media

·escalating educational demands on young people

· an increase in anxious and controlling parents

The Dark Side of Perfectionism

Sure, perfectionists do score higher on conscientiousness and motivation. But there is a dark side. A 2018 metanalysis of 95 studies, including over 25K working individuals, showed that perfectionists score higher on depression and anxiety. And, to my inner perfectionist’s horror, perfectionists do not perform any better at work than those scoring low on perfectionism!

Perfectionism can be broken down into three types:

1.    high expectations for self (check!)

2.    high expectations forothers (check!)

3.    high perceived expectations fromothers (check!)

High socially prescribed perfectionism (#3 above) is on the greatest rise among our college students, and has the largest negative impact on their mental health, with increased levels of: 

·anxiety

·social phobia

·depression

·suicidal thoughts

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A Way Out

If you, like me, struggle with a strong inner critic, fear of other’s judgment and make frantic efforts to control what is uncontrollable through perfectionism there is hope! Books like Sharon Martin’s CBT Workbook for Perfectionism teach skills in:

·identifying and challenging perfectionistic thoughts

·increasing mindfulness, self-compassion, and gratitude practices

·stepping out and taking behavioral risks at being imperfect.

Brene Browne also offers research and heartfelt insight into the source of perfectionism and the Gifts of Imperfection. 

Underneath perfectionism is a desire for approval, to connect, to be loved. Important values that many of us share. So, I’m shifting my intention to focus on those values . . . over and above the perfect party cookie or interview question. 



























Diana HillComment