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Pursuit of Perfection

Updated: 18 hours ago

We all feel the pressure to excel, to work hard, earn more, make the grade, sculpt your body, look put together, it goes on and on. Perfectionism is often praised and rewarded, but there is a line between high achievers or detail-oriented individuals and perfectionists. Holding yourself to a high standard and being hard on yourself when you can't always measure up creates fear of failure, shame, exhaustion, masking, worthlessness. In this post, we'll explore what perfectionism really entails, its implications for mental health, and strategies for managing it.

achievement verse perfectionism

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism isn't just about setting high standards. It's a complex psychological pattern characterized by setting excessively high performance standards, coupled with overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. Broadly, perfectionism can be categorized into two types:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism: Where individuals impose unrealistically high standards on themselves.

  • Socially prescribed perfectionism: Where individuals believe that others have unrealistic expectations of them, which they must meet to be valued or accepted.

The Psychological Toll of Perfectionism

Chronic Stress and Anxiety: Constantly striving for an unattainable ideal can lead to chronic stress. For perfectionists, the fear of failure and making mistakes can be paralyzing, manifesting as anxiety, panic attacks, and in severe cases, obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Depression: The incessant internal pressure and inevitable failures (by their unrealistic standards) can lead to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, common precursors to depression.

Low Self-Esteem: When self-worth is tied to achievement, failure can lead to significant hits to one's self-esteem. Perfectionists often berate themselves for not meeting their own high expectations, which can erode self-confidence over time.

Relationship Problems: Perfectionism can strain relationships. Perfectionists might project their high standards onto others, leading to conflict and misunderstandings. They might also withdraw from relationships out of fear that their imperfections will be exposed.

Practice self compassion and mindfulness

Strategies for Managing Perfectionism

Managing perfectionism involves recognizing the patterns and implementing strategies that promote healthier attitudes and behaviors. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Set Realistic Goals: Start by setting achievable goals that challenge you but are within reach. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. There is often such a thing as good enough. Notice when perfection is not necessary.

  • Embrace Imperfection: Learning to accept and embrace imperfection is crucial. Understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and that there is value in each attempt, regardless of the outcome. Allow yourself to try something new without being immediately good at it. Remind yourself what you learned from experiences that weren't perfect. Practice speaking kindly to yourself as you would a friend.

  • Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: Practicing mindfulness can help you become more aware of the present moment and less caught up in judgments about past failures or future worries. Coupled with self-compassion, mindfulness encourages a kinder, more understanding relationship with oneself.

  • Seek Professional Help: If perfectionism is significantly impacting your quality of life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide a supportive environment to explore the roots of perfectionism and develop effective coping mechanisms.

Setting realistic goals helps address perfectionism

Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. While striving for excellence is not inherently harmful, tipping into perfectionism can lead to a host of mental health issues. By understanding the signs and symptoms of unhealthy perfectionism and taking active steps to manage it, individuals can find a more balanced and fulfilling approach to personal and professional life. Achieving a balanced perspective on imperfection can lead to greater mental health, resilience, and ultimately, a happier life.

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