There is nothing wrong with striving to do one’s best to achieve an excellent outcome.
In its more positive form, perfectionism can provide the driving energy which leads to great achievement, as well as the motivation to persist at a task in the face of all problems and challenges.
Some very gifted and talented people, even geniuses, are mostly perfectionists and provide meticulous attention to every detail. Such commitment provides the persistence to produce great scientific discoveries, magnificent sounding music, or art work that brings joy to our hearts.
Nevertheless, most perfectionists are harsh critics of themselves, with a tendency to work unceasingly towards what can be considered unrealistic goals.
The Positives of Perfectionism
More positive-focused perfectionists tend to have a high self-esteem, where they strive for excellence, rather than punishing themselves when they make a mistake.
Overall, ‘positive perfectionists’ tend to utilise problem solving coping styles. They are less prone to depression, anxiety and maladaptive coping styles. and more likely to achieve success, have better social interaction, and fewer psychological and somatic issues.
Negative Effects of Perfectionism
In its more negative form, however, perfectionism can have very disturbing and unhealthy consequences.
People holding such views, fear imperfection and believe that people will not like them or accept them unless they are perfect.
Unhealthy perfectionists feel a failure if they don’t reach their goals, or if they make mistakes. They focus heavily on their mistakes and take them as a sign of personal defects, which negatively impacts on their self-esteem.
Perfectionist tendencies in their pathological form, incorporating maladaptive coping styles, are thus exhausting and hard work, and are associated with depression, anxiety and somatic symptoms.
Perfectionism in Teenagers
Some adolescents at school also feel pressure from within to succeed for similar reasons as discussed, and sometimes when they believe that pressure is directed towards them (eg when a parent’s perfectionism is focused on them). The student may perceive that their parents have unrealistic expectations of them and demand higher results, even when the student feels he or she is doing their best. The parent focuses on the mistakes of their child, are critical of attempts and results, and very rarely reward them for their achievements. Their work is never good enough no matter how hard they try.
As a result of the pressure that perfectionists place on themselves, or have placed on them because of others, several possible negative and damaging consequences are likely.
Perfectionism and Anxiety
Perfectionism is strongly linked to Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression.
One key consequence, anxiety, often leads to procrastination. Such avoidance of the task at hand is merely a poor coping mechanism that reduces the anxiety temporarily, however it builds up again with even greater intensity as well as the accompanying guilt when the task is nearing its completion date.
In the workplace or at school, perfectionism can therefore lead to poor performance, the inability to complete tasks on time (or at all), and with considerable waste of time and energy focused on fixing unnecessary details instead of completing the task.
The Fear of Failure
Some perfectionists can be paralysed by the fear of failure without even being able to start the task. These consequences can apply to the greatest achievers of our time, where they have refused to hand in, or present their great work due to fear of failure, and worry that people will judge and criticise them.
On a more damaging note, perfectionism, in its pathological state, can also be considered a risk factor for suicide. With perfectionists being highly self-critical and frequently suffering anxiety and depression when they do not meet the excessively high standard they place on themselves, combined with not being able to display to the world how they really feel, it increases the risk of suicide “ideation”. Additionally, because of their tendency to present themselves as perfect, they usually are too ashamed to seek help.
Treatment for perfectionism is available and can be approached from many different therapeutic directions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one example that involves challenging the irrational thoughts and forming alternative, healthier ways of coping, thinking and approaching situations.
If you or a family member may be suffering anxiety and depression as a result of perfectionist tendencies, please feel comfortable in seeing me. Our conversations are friendly, helpful and totally confidential. Remember,
The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything – Theodore Roosevelt.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children and adolescents, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129