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Are You a Perfectionist?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 4

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

To err is human

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.”
  Mahatma Gandhi

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.

Dali quote

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.”
  Albert Einstein

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.


Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control
Amazon Price: $16.95 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 1, 2013)
This book presents a revolutionary approach to overcoming perfectionism-a way to transform your need for precision into self-acceptance, compassion, and love for each perfectly imperfect passing moment in our lives.
What to Do When Good Enough Isn't Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism: A Guide for Kids
Amazon Price: $10.99 $6.20 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 1, 2013)
Perfectionism may seem like a worthy goal, but it's actually a burden. When you believe you must be perfect, you live in constant fear of making mistakes. Most children don't know what perfectionism is, yet many suffer from it. Nothing they do is ever good enough. Written to and for ages 9-13, this book helps kids understand how perfectionism hurts them and how to free themselves. Includes true-to-life vignettes, exercises, and a note to grown-ups.


Sep 21, 2013 9:45am
Hi Imprimatur: I loved your article--it is both informative and thought-provoking. Fortunately, I am not at all a perfectionist at least in the classical sense. In fact, I'm about as imperfect as a person can get--ask my wife! But I have seen what happens to true perfectionists. I have a close friend, for a example, who basically has never done anything in his life because of the fear of failing which is a symptom of perfectionism. And, over the years, I've seen other negative results occur because people simply wanted to much from themselves. I am convinced that this is a childhood malady, however. Parents can make kids feel they are NEVER good enough and no matter what they have done, they could have done better. This is a mythology of course but a myth that has been harmful to individuals. Anyway, as said, loved your article so two BIG thumbs from me and rating to boot.
Sep 21, 2013 11:29pm
Thank you very much for your kind comments and rating. I agree that critical parents, with very high expectations, can often be at the root of perfectionism. The truth is, that we all need to have the freedom to make our own mistakes and never stop learning from our life experiences.
Oct 7, 2013 1:42am
nice.. ^^
Oct 7, 2013 3:27am
Very interesting. I don't think perfectionism is inherently wrong, but can lead to bad things as you mention. This article definitely makes you think.
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  1. Hewitt, P.L., Flett, G.L., Sherry, S.B., Habke, M., Parkin, M., Lam, R.W., et al. "The interpersonal expression of perfection: Perfectionsitic self presentation and psychological distress.." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(6). 2003.
  2. Eric Sherman, L.C.S.W. "Are you a perfectionist?." Psychology Today. 2012.

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