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Perfectionism Leads to Anxiety (and Imperfection)

Perfectionism doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad trait to have, especially since many people commend this behavior in all facets of our lives, from relationships to work. However, it’s been shown that Perfectionism can increase depression and anxiety in people, so, therefore, many experts feel it harms mental health. Today we’ll explore just what it means to be a perfectionist and how it can lead to anxiety.

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is commonly defined as a “combination of excessively high personal standards and overcritical self-evaluations.” However, this term is more complex than the definition would lead one to believe.

In fact, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett, two experts in the field, spent decades of their careers trying to explain Perfectionism. And what they found is that it can be defined by one of three types, which are:

  • Self-oriented Perfectionism: An individual who attaches irrational levels of importance to being perfect while also holding themselves to unrealistic standards. 
  • Socially-prescribed Perfectionism: An individual who believes their social context is overly demanding, and they have to be perfect to secure their friends’ approval.
  • Other-oriented Perfectionism: An individual who imposes unrealistic standards on people around them.

In today’s world, millennials are at a higher risk of striving for Perfectionism, leading these young minds to also be at higher risk for anxiety and depression. This generation has many factors that contribute to them being at higher risk for Perfectionism and anxiety, including pressure to find high-paying jobs and excessive educational demands.

Yet, social media seems to be another key factor contributing to peoples’ anxiety, too, especially where social integration and body image are concerned. The vast amounts of unrealistic representations push younger generations to seek unachievable, so-called perfect bodies and increase their individual sense of isolation. The dangerous, unhealthy habit of needing a perfect lifestyle, ideal job, perfect relationship, and flawless body are enough to worsen anyone’s mental health.

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Traits of Perfectionism

See, the problem with Perfectionism (and the reason you want to know if you possess these traits) is because perfectionists usually achieve less and stress more than other high achievers. So, here are some characteristics to watch for when determining if you or someone else is a perfectionist:

It’s all or nothing.

Perfectionists and high achievers both set lofty goals to work toward. The difference is that a high achiever is satisfied with their job if it achieves excellence, even if their highest goals were left unmet. A perfectionist accepts nothing less than perfection, so ‘almost perfect’ is a failure for someone like this.

Perfectionists are highly critical.

Perfectionists are overly critical of themselves and others. They tend to spot imperfections and mistakes and then hone in on them because they can’t let them go. If failure occurs, these people are more judgemental and hard on everyone, including themselves.

Perfectionists have unrealistic standards.

Another problem with perfectionists is that their goals usually aren’t even reasonable. While high achievers set high goals, perfectionists tend to put even their beginning goals out of reach.

Perfectionists are focused on results.

Some high achievers enjoy chasing a goal more than they do actually achieving it, but perfectionists only see the goal – nothing else. This is why these types of people rarely love the process of striving and growing.

Perfectionists fear failure

These people are far more afraid to fail than other high achievers. They place so much importance on results and are so disappointed by anything but perfection that failure becomes scary.

Other Traits

Here are some other traits to watch for in perfectionists:

  • Depressed by unmet goals
  • Defensiveness
  • Procrastination
  • A lack of self-esteem
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Perfectionism and Anxiety

As we know, perfection is abstract and not possible in reality. When the concept is taken too far, and someone lives for perfection, it can lead to adverse outcomes such as procrastination, all-or-nothing thinking, the tendency to avoid challenges, lack of creativity, and making toxic comparisons. Yet, it’s also frequently accompanied by obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and at times suicidal impulses.

3 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

Just like with addiction, the first step to overcoming Perfectionism is admitting you have a problem. Once this occurs, you can start to become more aware of your tendencies and try to alter the behavior. Here are three ways to help with the process:

Set reasonable goals.

Since perfectionists usually set unrealistic goals due to their impossible standards, one way of overcoming Perfectionism is to set goals that are actually achievable and SMART. You will not only be less stressed, but you’ll feel more confident in your ability to reach those goals.

Forgive yourself for making mistakes.

When you forgive yourself for making mistakes, you are more apt to allow yourself to make mistakes in the first place. Regardless of what happens, know that making mistakes is not the end of the world. It would be best if you viewed them as opportunities to learn and grow so that you can do better next time.

Don’t overlook small wins.

Aiming for perfection means that you fixate on the negative aspects of your work or self. However, you must make a conscious effort to also celebrate small wins. Even if it’s something you’re not completely satisfied with, challenge yourself to identify at least three things you do like about the outcome.

The Bottom Line

In the end, it’s okay to aim for perfection, so long as you set achievable goals and know that total perfection is unattainable. Getting into the habit of accepting nothing less than perfect will only set you up for a lifetime of stress and failure! If you or someone you know is suffering from Perfectionism, it’s essential to recognize the issue and work toward resolving it.

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