David Burns defines perfectionism as someone “whose standards are high beyond reach or reason” and “who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment.”
I listened to a seminar by Martin M. Anthony, PhD and he has treated perfectionism for years. I will share some of his knowledge with you in this blog.
Perfectionism can manifest itself in these different areas:
- Social and performance anxiety
- Worry and generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
- Eating disorders
- Body image disorders
- Chronic fatigue
- Anger problems
- Suicidal thoughts
Hewitt and Flett’s define 3 different dimensions of perfectionism
- Self-oriented perfectionism is the unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves for performance
- Other-oriented perfectionism is expecting others to perform with unrealistic expectations
- Socially prescribed perfectionism is believing that others are expecting things from us and constantly trying to gain approval by trying to live up to what we think they want from us.
Socially prescribed perfectionism is the most destructive and can lead to anxiety and depression.
There is both positive and negative forms of perfectionism:
- Maladaptive evaluation is concern over mistakes, doubts about actions, parental expectations, parental criticism, and social prescribed perfectionism.
- Positive achievement strivings are personal standards, organization,, self-oriented perfectionism, other oriented perfectionism.
Research suggests that maladaptive perfectionism could be caused from parents that were both perfectionistic and critical while adaptive perfectionists come from more balanced cohesive, adaptable, and nurturing families.
Perfectionism stems from biased beliefs, assumptions, and predictions.
- Anything less than sticking to my diet perfectly is a failure. If I eat one cookie, I may as well have eaten 10 cookies.
- I always need to look perfect in front of other people.
- If I don’t get an A+ in this course, I don’t deserve to be in this program.
- My reports are never good enough
- I seem to be the only person in this house who knows how to clean things properly.
These are the thoughts manifested in perfectionistic thinking:
- All or nothing, or black and white thinking
- Shoulds and musts statements
- Selective attention by noticing the negative and discounting the positive
- Overgeneralization, like always or never statements
- Double standards by holding yourself to a higher standard than you do for others or visa versa
Performance-Related Behaviors include:
- Avoiding situations that may test one’s performance, like a test
- Goal achievement behaviors, like overpreparing
- Testing one’s performance by doing something over and over again
- Reassurance seeking
- Social comparisons
If you struggle with perfectionism and it is keeping you from enjoying the life that you want, therapy may help. We all have blind spots and we do not always see our dysfunctional behaviors or beliefs. Martin Anthony authored a book named “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough“. Just reading alone is not as effective as including it with therapy, so find a good therapist and be willing to do the work, so you have the opportunity to live life more fully, with less stress and anxiety.
Vickie Parker, LMFT
vickiemft.com, online counseling