Perfectionism: Many Types
Some people proudly proclaim that they are perfectionists, like this is a good thing. While it is a good thing to have high standards and to try to do your best, this is not the same as being a perfectionist. Those trying to be perfect, can quite simply never attain this ambitious goal; it's not possible and not adaptive to living a happy and succesful life.
Paul Hewitt, PhD, has studied perfectionism for more than twenty years, he says that there is a large amount of research correlating perfectionism with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental health problems. Even suicide.
According to Hewitt, all forms of perfectionism inherently create problems of adaptation for sufferers. The example he gives which illustrates this, is a student who routinely receives A+ for all his assignments, who becomes depressed and despondent because he is awarded an A. This student sees the A as a failure, because he needs to be perfect.
Other researchers in the field, like Jeff Szymanski, have countered, that some forms of perfectionism are adaptive. The important thing is, that people do not allow perfectionism to rule their lives. These people have extremely high standards, aim high and seek to excel in what they do. Szymanski, however, does admit that perfectionism is “a phobia of mistake-making. It’s the feeling that if I make a mistake, it will be catastrophic.”
“We learn from failure, not from success!” Bram Stoker, Dracula
Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor, sees perfectionism as existing on a continuum. Those in the more severe range, tend to encounter more problems due to constant negative self talk, anxiety and depression. Other aspects and facets of perfectionism are:
- Placing excessive importance on high personal standards.
- Seeing mistakes as failure.
- Believing their parents have very high expectations of them.
- Parents who are overly critical.
- High emphasis on being neat and organized.
- Doubt their own ability to finish tasks to the standard they want.
The central problem, is, that fear of making mistakes can paralyze people, stop them from learning or even having a go. This is how perfectionism can become very destructive.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Perfectionism can be agonizing, it can be an incredible burden and create immense pressure. A person may have such impossibly high standards, that it may be almost impossible to achieve them. Organizing a party for example, may involve aiming for the best food, the classiest decor and for every guest to enjoy themselves, all of the time. There may also be the belief that others will only value you, if you are perfect.
Relationship problems are often common for those with perfectionist traits. There may be the requirement that ones spouse be perfect and the tendency to demand perfectionism from family, friends and those around you. And then there is the problem, that no matter how much praise is given, no matter how much is achieved, it is never enough. This can undermine a persons very self-worth.
Perfectionists may try to hide the mistakes they make, they may opt out of enjoyable activities or opportunities to learn due to the fear of not living up to their own high standards. And, self-criticism can become debilitating.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Overcoming perfectionist tendencies, does not mean that you have to become a slacker or embrace mediocrity. It means that you have to realise when such self-imposed, overly high and often unrealistic standards are having detrimental affects on you and those around you. You need to learn to challenge your assumptions, confront your own behaviour and re-evaluate what it is that you are trying to achieve. Gaining some perspective is really all that is needed. Realising that the pursuit of perfection will not make you happier or a better person; it may however, erode your sanity and demolish your self-esteem and stop you from enjoying life. None of us will ever be truly perfect, it's just not realistic. We all make mistakes, and we never stop learning from them.
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