If you are a perfectionist, it is likely you learned early in life that you were valued mainly for your achievements. As a result you may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people’s approval.

Your self-esteem may be based primarily on external standards. This can leave you vulnerable and sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others. To protect yourself you may decide that being perfect is your only defence.

Perfectionism is often associated with:

  • Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve their goals with a lack of personal worth or value.
  • Fear of making mistakes. In building their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Fear of disapproval. If they let others see their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect themselves from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.
  • Never being good enough. Perfectionists tend to see others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few errors, little emotional stress, and maximum self-confidence.
  • Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective.
  • Procrastination, missed deadlines and low productivity. Perfectionists tend to be "all-or-nothing" thinkers who see events and experiences as good or bad, perfect or imperfect, with nothing in between. Perfectionists believe if it can’t be done perfectly, it’s not worth doing. They also feel they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect.

Great achievers, like perfectionists, want to be and do better. Unlike perfectionists, they are willing to make mistakes and recognise failure, and general imperfection as part of the reality of being human.

Read through this short leaflet which explains more about perfectionism

Be a healthy striver

Healthy goal setting and striving is different from the self-defeating process of perfectionism. Healthy strivers tend to set goals based on their own wants and desires rather than primarily in response to external expectations.

Their goals are usually just one step beyond what they have already accomplished. They are realistic, internal, and potentially attainable. Healthy strivers take pleasure in the process of pursuing the task rather than focusing only on the end result. When they experience disapproval or failure they are able to use this learning to move forward realistically.

What can I do about it?

1. Set realistic and reachable goals based on your own wants and needs and on what you have accomplished in the past

2. Make modest improvements. As you reach a goal, set your next goal one level beyond your present level.

3. Try for less than 100%. Choose any activity and instead of aiming for 100%, try for 90%, 80%, or even 60% success. This will help you to realise that the world does not end when you are not perfect. Remember, if the minimum wasn't acceptable it wouldn't be called the minimum! 

4. Focus on the process of doing an activity not just on the end result. Celebrate your mistakes. Many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes.

5. Check your thoughts and feelings. We all have Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATS) but if these NATS are recognised and challenged constructively they can become your ally rather than your enemy.

Try out these exercises to check your understanding of perfectionism and help you to challenge unhelpful thinking about being perfect. 

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