Road sign with wording "In Persuit of perfection". Dark railroad background.

Do you find that you are constantly analysing yourself and your performance? Do you criticise yourself when things don’t go to plan? Do you find it hard to enjoy the times when you do well? Do you find it hard to delegate tasks to others because you feel their performance will reflect yours? If any of this sounds familiar, you may be a perfectionist: someone who strives to achieve their best performance and goals in everything they do, settling high and often basing self- evaluation on high standards.

Striving for something can be a healthy and a positive attribute, it is good to have goals and aim high. However, when the striving becomes excessive it can turn into an unhealthy obsession, which often impacts on wellbeing, relationships with self and with others.

When setting goals, we are focused on the future – succeeding, achieving and winning. We are often so busy planning, investing and working towards the goal that the journey along the way is often missed.

Perfectionism is correlated with fear of failure and self-defeating beahviours. High levels of perfectionism is often driven by low self-esteem which pushes the person to succeed and avoid ‘failing’. However, this ‘need’ undermines confidence because they feel that nothing they do is ever quite good enough. Additionally, perfectionism can either push a person to have unachievable high goals or it will lead the person to avoid the goal for fear of failure.

When we have rigid rules on how things ‘should be’, it puts pressure, stress and tension on our mind and body. Furthermore, when we invest a lot of time analysing and planning for success, it takes us away from the present and therefore we become less effective, this in turn, keeps us trapped in an unhealthy thought cycle and puts us at risk of anxiety and depression.

However, is there such a thing as ‘perfect’? As humans we are fallible and therefore will make mistakes at times. Strive for excellence as opposed to perfectionism. Excellence is about setting high standards for yourself but realistic standards. It allows us to enjoy the journey along the way and to enjoy the success that comes with it. Excellence is achievable whereas perfectionism leads to onging disappointment, frustration, self-doubt and self-criticism. When we meet our mistakes with self criticism it is very hard to recover and to perform effectively as our mind is pre-occupied which leads to anxiety.

Are you experiencing Perfectionism?

Symptoms to look out for include:

    • Increased self-criticism
    • Critical of others
    • Black and white thinking
    • Procrastination
    • Irritability
    • Workaholic
    • Avoiding the goal
    • Avoid opening up to other people for fear of judgement

Perfectionism is often displayed in:

    • Work performance
    • Social performance
    • Appearance
    • Academic performance
    • Weight
    • Eating
    • Sporting performance
    • Organisation
    • Ordering objects
    • Parenting
    • Intimate relationships

Tips to break free from perfectionism:

  1. Set achievable and realistic goals
  2. Learn to notice the positive
  3. Notice procrastination when it sets in
  4. Begin to let go of self-criticism and show compassion to yourself
  5. Use mindfulness to ground yourself in the moment and to let go of unhelpful rules.

Recommended Therapy

    • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
    • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Letting go of perfectionism is not about lowering standards but is about addressing the over-dependence of your self-worth on striving and achievement. It is about enjoying life and gives you a choice of how to live your life.If you would like to talk to someone about perfectionism, contact the clinic by telephone on 01 685 9261 or book online by email or using the contact form on the website.


© The Consulting Clinic 2015