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When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem

Do you measure the value of your successes and failures against an unrelenting yardstick? Despite your best efforts, do you consistently feel like you're never quite good enough?

If so, you aren't alone. Perfectionism is a common personality trait that affects many people in different areas of their lives - from work and relationships to personal goals and achievements. But it's important to know whether your pursuit of perfection weighs down on your mental health.

Striving for excellence isn't necessarily bad – when done right, it can help propel us forward to reach our goals. But if our pursuit of excellence becomes all-consuming, that's when perfectionism becomes a problem.

In this blog post, we'll explore the pitfalls of perfectionism and tips for overcoming its negative effects. So, if you're ready to let go of unrealistic expectations and embrace a healthier mindset, read on!

Defining Perfectionism - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a strong desire to achieve flawlessness and high standards in one's work, performance, appearance, and personal relationships.

People with perfectionist tendencies often set unrealistic goals for themselves and others and may have difficulty accepting anything less than perfection. They may also be excessively critical of themselves and others and experience feelings of anxiety, guilt, or inadequacy when they fall short of their expectations.

Female of color college graduate in cap and gown striving for perfection
Female College graduate striving for perfection

Perfectionism is a double-edged sword - on the one hand, it can motivate us to excel and reach our full potential. On the other, if we strive for perfection too much and become obsessed with controlling everything in our lives, that same need for control ultimately ends up owning us. After all, we must remember that true perfection does not exist; by aiming toward something unreachable, you achieve nothing!

Perfectionism becomes a problem when it becomes a destructive force in your life, leading to negative consequences such as self-criticism, procrastination, shame, anxiety, and unhappiness.

Understanding its Causes and Triggers - What's Fueling Your Perfectionism?

Perfectionism can stem from many factors, such as societal pressure, family expectations, and personal beliefs. Some people may be born with a predisposition towards perfectionism, while others may develop it in response to certain life experiences or environmental factors.

Understanding your perfectionism's underlying causes and triggers is the first step towards managing it effectively. Here are some of the most common causes and triggers for problematic perfectionism:

Unreasonable expectations - Perfectionists often set impossibly high standards for themselves and others, leading to frustration, inadequacy, and disappointment.

A need for control - Perfectionists often feel they need to control everything in their lives to avoid making mistakes or looking bad, which can be exhausting and cause tremendous stress. Beneath this need for control is often an emotional lack of tolerance for chaos and disorder.

Fear of failure - Many perfectionists have a deep-seated fear of failing or making mistakes. This fear can prevent them from taking risks or trying new things, leading to dissatisfaction, stagnation, and missing out on opportunities for joy.

Perfectionistic thinking - Perfectionists tend to experience rigidity and inflexibility in how they think, seeing the world in black-and-white terms. This thinking can lead to negative emotions, difficulties with change, and missed learning opportunities.

When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem: How Perfectionism Takes a Toll on Your Life

Perfectionism can lead to unhappiness and shame when the need to be perfect becomes unattainable. You may be living a life that looks good on paper, but inside, you may feel lonely and dissatisfied.

You may constantly strive for perfection in all areas of your life, including your career, relationships, and personal goals. But when these thoughts lead you down a path toward isolation due to fear of judgment or criticism, it can leave you facing the devastating impact of loneliness.

The constant need for perfection can also lead to shame and self-criticism when you don't meet your expectations. You may feel like you're failing or not living up to your potential, leading to negative self-talk and a lack of self-esteem. This can create a vicious cycle of constantly striving for perfection but never feeling good enough.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Negative Emotions Related to Perfectionism

Create an environment where you support your progress, even if it isn't perfect: It's important to recognize that progress is not always linear and that setbacks and mistakes are a normal part of the journey. Try to focus on your achievements and the progress you've made, no matter how small. Celebrate your successes and be gentle with yourself when things don't go as planned. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you and value progress over perfection.

Deal with negative thinking - acknowledge and reframe your thoughts: Perfectionism can often lead to negative self-talk and a critical inner voice. Acknowledge when you're having negative thoughts and try to reframe them in a more positive light. Use positive affirmations to remind yourself of your worth and value, and challenge negative self-talk by asking yourself if it's actually true.

Set realistic expectations for yourself and learn to accept imperfection: Perfectionism can often lead to unrealistic expectations, which can be difficult to achieve and lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, set realistic goals and expectations for yourself, and learn to accept imperfection. It's okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Remember that perfection is not attainable and that striving for progress and improvement is a healthier way to live.

Practice self-compassion to counter feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy: Self-compassion is the practice of being kind and understanding towards yourself, especially during difficult times. It can help counter feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy that often arise from perfectionism. Treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would give to a friend, and remember that you are worthy and deserving of love and acceptance, no matter what.

Female ballerina striving for perfection posing in the middle of the street
Female ballerina posing perfectly

When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem, Seek Professional Support

Perfectionism is a difficult concept to grapple with and affects everyone differently. There are instances when it can be acknowledged as a positive trait, but this is not always the case. It can quickly become an obsessive need to control, leading to ill consequences like self-criticism, shame, anxiety, and unhappiness.

When perfectionism becomes a problem, therapy is a highly effective tool for managing it and developing a healthier attitude toward life. A therapist can provide a safe space to explore the underlying causes of your perfectionism, help you develop healthier perspectives about mistakes and failure, create realistic expectations for yourself, and learn to be resilient and view setbacks as opportunities for growth.

While it might seem like perfectionism is an intimidating and insurmountable entity, it's possible to address its challenges head-on with the right approach – exploring it rationally and honestly with the help of a supportive professional. If you or someone you know struggles with perfectionism in Massachusetts, please reach out for support!

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