The multitude of social media platforms, photoshopping apps, and influencer advertisements all reflect a culture that thrives on showcasing your best self. We’ve all been there – casually scrolling through Instagram and seeing the picture-perfect couple, beach vacation, or home and wishing we had that for ourselves. The Internet is where all things aesthetically pleasing go to live, and influencers have made strides towards presenting more realistic parts of their life yet for some of us there is still an innate drive to be or at least appear perfect. How can we overcome this desire for perfectionism and still live our best lives?
To begin we need to first understand what perfectionism is. A definition, provided by the American Psychological Association (APA), says perfectionism is “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.” Perfectionists set high, unrealistic standards, are overly critical and view making mistakes or having flaws as unacceptable.
Perfectionism can be viewed as existing on a spectrum – it shows up differently for everyone and it impacts aspects of your life in various ways. Some core perfectionistic behavior and thought patterns to be mindful of include:
- Difficulty making decisions
- Reluctance asking for help or delegating tasks
- Procrastinating or delaying the start of tasks for fear of failing or not doing it well enough
- Seeking reassurance or validation from others
- Being overly concerned with hoe others perceive you
- Excessive need for organization, planning or list making
- Avoiding taking risks or trying new things
- Not feeling “good enough” even if you succeed
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Perceiving mistakes or failures as personal flaws
- Easily disappointed when others don’t meet your expectations
You can better identify the ways in which perfectionism manifests in your life by understanding the three types of perfectionistic traits.
This is imposing high demands and expectations on yourself. These individuals are conscientious, goal-oriented, high achievers. At the same time, they focus too much on failures or shortcomings and have a hard time celebrating their accomplishments.
Socially prescribed perfectionism
This refers to a perception that others are setting high expectations for you. These individuals believe others will criticize or judge them for achieving anything less than perfection.
This type of perfectionism refers to having high expectations for others. These individuals expect others to behave according to their standards and are disappointed when they do not.
Perfectionism has some benefits, like keeping you motivated to do, learn, and achieve more, but when not done in moderation, it can be a barrier to you living your life to the fullest. Perfectionistic individuals are more vulnerable to generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental health issues.
At the foundation perfectionism is a maladaptive, vicious cycle of anxiety. The fear of failing or being rejected by others creates anxiety and discomfort that we try to manage by seeking certainty and control. We adopt all-or-nothing thinking styles and impose rigid, unattainable standards on ourselves to avoid negative emotions and overcompensate for our insecurities. In the end, perfectionism ultimately leads to the same feelings we were trying to avoid – we are either too anxious to accomplish our goals or things do not go as planned and we dwell on the mistakes creating more anxiety.
If perfectionism isn’t achievable, then how can we avoid falling into its trap?
Gaining awareness of your perfectionistic tendencies is the first step. Consider the traits that are beneficial vs. the ones that are doing more harm than good.
Engage in self-compassion and positive self-talk. Instead of paying attention to all the things that go wrong or that aren’t working, try to focus on the things that are. You can practice this through daily affirmations or gratitude journaling.
Adopt a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. Try to embrace your mistakes as just what they are… mistakes. They are a normal, inevitable part of life. Remind yourself that making a mistake does not define who you are or who you can become.
Set realistic goals for yourself and adjust them accordingly. Avoid skipping steps or pressuring yourself to complete tasks in less time than appropriate.
If your perfectionism is fueling your anxiety in ways that have become too difficult to manage, seeking a mental health provider can help you gain insight into the root of your perfectionism and teach you individualized ways to cope and become more self-compassionate.