Most people have an understanding that perfection is an ideal that by its very nature is subjective and unattainable. However, some individuals have an extremely hard time accepting this concept because the pressures they put on themselves to achieve high standards are intricately related to their perception of their own self-worth. Everyone knows someone who they would describe as a “perfectionist” because the drive for attaining high standards seems embedded into their personality. It also seems that certain disorders such as Autism Spectrum disorders or Obsessive- Compulsive disorders can create thought patterns and behaviors which seem to carry traits of perfectionism. Whether perfectionism stems from an individual’s personality, or it is a symptom of a disorder, most “perfectionists” are not aiming for the highest standard in every aspect of their life (work, school, home, church, etc). Similarly, not every perfectionist shares the same traits of perfectionism. Listed below are some possible perfectionist traits:

  • indecisiveness

  • over-preparation/ overcompensation

  • over-organizing

  • hoarding

  • preemptive giving up on hard tasks

  • avoidance/ procrastination

  • constant seeking of approval

  • inability to share a workload

  • black and white thinking or rules to live by

  • catastrophic thinking

It seems that our society is often rewarding qualities of perfectionism. For example, the gymnast who wins a gold medal at the Olympics is rewarded with fame, and is praised for her hard work and dedication. However, we are becoming more and more aware that perfectionism harbors a very dark side as well. Perfectionism is consistently linked to depressive symptoms (Hewitt & Flett, 1990), low self-esteem (Rice, Ashby, & Slaney, 1998), suicide ideation (Adkins & Parker, 1996), and eating disorders (Axtell & Newlon, 1993). A perfectionist is often causing emotional and physical harm by their pursuit of high achievement. However, a perfectionist may be a) blind to this harm, b) think that they have no other choice, or c) feel that the harm is out-weighed by potentially achieving their lofty goals.

Please stay tuned to Cultivation Counseling’s blog for more blog entries on this subject to come. In upcoming entries strategies, interventions, and tools will be introduced that people experiencing harmful effects of perfectionism can use to shift from unhealthy striving to attain perfection to a healthy pursuit of excellence.