What is perfectionism & is it healthy?

Many of us live in a culture, where achievement is highly valued and hard work is supposed to bring happiness.  In this context, it is not surprising that perfectionism and perfectionists appear to have grown in number.

So is perfectionism good for you?

Perfectionism is not the healthy pursuit of excellence and the striving for achievement. It goes beyond that. There is nothing wrong with striving and success.

There is also no definite line between healthy striving and striving which becomes negative.

However unhealthy perfectionists are too dependent on the outcome of their achievements. They continue to pursue their standards, despite negative consequences for themselves and others.

For example, Jo held perfectionist standards about having a clean house. He spent his time feeling anxious, stressed and unable to enjoy the environment that he spent so long making perfect. His excessive concerns over how his house had to be perfect, led his friends to visit him less often, as they felt they could not relax in his home.  

Ann worried excessively about failing at work, despite outward signs of her success. This led her to procrastinate about making decisions in case she got it wrong. Over time this led her to fall behind with deadlines and her boss started to notice.

Unhealthy perfectionism has an impact on the person's self worth, as they never live up to their impossible standards and can be highly critical of themselves. It can affect one area such as work, parenting or many areas.

Even when they do meet their standards, people who have unhealthy perfectionism will discount their achievements, thinking that their goal was not hard enough or that anyone could have achieved them.  This leaves the person in a ‘no win’ situation, in which they feel like a failure whether they meet their standards or not.

Perfectionists often test out their performance by repeating tasks or checking for mistakes. They also sometimes compare themselves to others and seek reassurance from others, as to how well they have done.

Perfectionism can have many negative consequences:

  • Emotional – such as anxiety and depression

  • Social – such as isolation, as the person applies their standards to others sometimes, leading to discord.

  • Physical – such as insomnia, muscle tension, exhaustion, upset stomachs

  • Cognitive – such as poor concentration; rumination (about perceived mistakes); increased self – criticism; low self – esteem and judging yourself on ‘what you do’ not ‘who you are’.

  • Narrowed interests - due to focussing all ones time on one area, with wider pleasures being denied, as they are seen as wasteful.

  • Behavioural – such as repeated checking or re-writing to achieve the ‘perfect’ version; being over busy or spending time list making; putting off tasks (procrastinating) or avoiding tasks for fear of failure.

So do any of these examples seem familiar to you?

Take our brief questionnaire to see if you are a 'healthy striver' or if 'perfectionism' is spoiling your quality of life.

If you require help with perfectionism, please visit our 'contact us' page to make an enquiry.