Perfectionism: How Can it Manifest?

It is easy to mistake perfectionism as a positive attribute or a healthy motivator, but that’s not always the case.

Perfectionists have impossibly high expectations of themselves and struggle to settle for anything less than the best or the highest of standards regardless of their attainability. Perfectionism develops in our early life. It may be that you grew up with workaholic parents, or you were encouraged to always do your best. All these elements can lead to you now putting more pressure on yourself to continuously aim higher. It could be that a large emphasis was put on academic and work success, this may lead you to give less thought to your work life balance. Along the way you will have received lots of praise and encouragement for your achievements which will have fuelled you seeing your high standards as a good trait.

The costs of being a perfectionist can be steep. Perfectionism interferes with your quality of life and can lead to depression and anxiety, and often resulting in an unhealthy life balance. It’s common for these costs to be hidden. Friends, family, and colleagues may have no idea of the emotional distress and exhaustion you are experiencing. This can lead to many people denying or under-estimating how serious the problem really is.

At Hannah Paskin Therapy, I believe understanding how perfectionism manifests are an essential first step to help to overcome it.

What are the symptoms of perfectionism?

Common symptoms of perfectionism include:
Struggling to relax, switch off or have fun
Physical impact such as exhaustion, insomnia, migraines, and digestive issues
Feelings of guilt and shame
Procrastination – avoiding starting a task if you are afraid you won’t be able to do it ‘right.’
Difficulty delegating, finding yourself micro-managing
A desire to be in control – volunteering yourself, taking over from others
A tendency to excessively plan, research and prepare
Never feeling good enough
Feeling responsible for any problems, but not accepting praise when things go well
Black and white thinking – e.g. If it is not perfect, it is terrible.
Beliefs that you are a failure

Overwhelming Perfectionism

Striving for perfection is unrelenting and stressful. The constant cycle of trying your best, but it never feeling good enough and then pushing yourself further only leads to once thing: your emotional and physical exhaustion.

If you are a perfectionist your expectations of yourself will be unreasonable, unachievable, and always out of reach. It’s like a unicorn – we might want it to be real, but it’s not. Perfection does not exist.

The result of these unrealistic expectations of ourselves is constant feelings of failure, not because you are not good enough, but because the goals were ever possible for you in the first place. Even if on a rare occasion the goal set is achieved, your destructive response is to typically move the goal post even higher diminishing any achievement that has been accomplished.

The Myth of Perfection

Many people take pride in being a perfectionist. It’s right that perfectionists can also be high achievers, but that isn’t because of the perfectionism, it’s in spite of it.

It’s a ticking time bomb for how long you can try to be perfect and still function. As time goes on the negative impact of being a perfectionist grows – concentration reduces, energy reduces, mistakes increase – the very thing you fear is now the result of your exhausting perfectionist ways.

The drive to do everything perfectly can also result in poor time management, with excess time spent researching and planning something leaving less time for more important or difficult tasks. It can manifest as failure to delegate, micro-managing, excessive time spent re-doing a piece of work, and frequently getting frustrated at others failure to do things how you would.

The desire to always be in control can also lead to a lack of confidence in dealing with unpredictable situations and makes dynamic response impossible.

Recovering from perfectionism

If you see some of these perfectionist traits in yourself then now may be the time to reach out and seek some help. Recognising that a change is needed or that you need to seek help is a crucial first step and I’m here to help with that change. Here at Hannah Paskin Therapy I will work with you to design an individual treatment plan to not only help you recognise your behaviour but also work on changing it for the better.

Therapy for perfectionism will help you understand how it developed, recognise the impact it is having on your life, learn proven strategies to achieve healthier attitudes and beliefs and most importantly discover how to implement changes to get your perfectionism under control.

Book your first appointment today.