Perfectionism refers to the setting of excessively high standards. These can either be standards that we set for ourselves, or the standards that we expect others have of us. Clinical or ‘problematic’ perfectionism is accompanied by an overly critical view of the self and a fear of not meeting self imposed standards.
What makes perfectionism problematic?
Many people would describe themselves as setting high standards for themselves, and would see this as beneficial and a valued part of their personality. So what marks healthy perfectionism out from problematic perfectionism?
Perfectionism can be considered problematic if…
- the standards we set have a negative impact on our self evaluation or self esteem ie) if we fail to meet the standards we set, we see ourselves in a negative way (e.g. as a failure or worthless).
- we struggle to feel good about our achievements, or if any sense of achievement or satisfaction is very short lived before our standards are raised further.
- the standards that are set, and the associated fear of failing to meet these standards has a negative impact on our productivity or on other areas of life. This may be because tasks are avoided for fear of not succeeding at them, or because the time taken to ensure standards are met is to the detriment of our emotions, social life and relationships.
Wile perfectionism is often seen as beneficial, a recent review showed that high levels of perfectionism actually predicted depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, suicidal ideation and eating disorders (Hewitt & Flett (2002).
Am I a perfectionist?
- Do you continually try your hardest to achieve high standards?
- Do you focus on what you have NOT achieved rather than what you have?
- Do other people tell you that your standards are too high?
- Are you very afraid of failing to meet your standards?
- If you achieved your goal, do you tend to set the standard higher next time?
- Do you base your self esteem on striving and achievement?
- Do you keep trying to meet your standards, even if this means that you miss out on things or if it is causing problems?
- Do you tend to avoid or procrastinate on tasks in case you fail or because of the time it would take?
If you answered yes to many of these questions it is likely that you are a perfectionist and it might be important to consider whether the standards that you set for yourself are realistic or helpful.