“Perfection isn’t just impossible. It’s a counterproductive goal. Perfectionists are more likely to burn out and less likely to embrace new challenges. Success depends on high standards, not being flawless. The target is not perfection-it’s excellence.” —Adam Grant
Perfectionism Counseling with Empower Counseling in Birmingham, Al
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is the combination of setting unattainable standards then criticizing yourself (or others) when you do not meet these standards. Perfectionism is often accompanied by concerns about judgment from others and fear of failure. Often perfectionists do not realize they are setting unattainable goals for themselves and others. The unattainable goal might be expecting yourself to always be productive-the unattainable part being “always”.
There are three types of perfectionism. You could be one type or any combination of the three types.
Self-Oriented Perfectionism: When you set unattainable standards for yourself and then criticize yourself for not reaching these standards.
Other-Oriented Perfectionism: When you expect others to do things perfectly and are critical when they are not perfect.
Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: When you think others expect you to be perfect so you put pressure on yourself to live up to what you imagine their expectations to be.
How do I know if I am a perfectionist?
Thirty percent of the general population in the U.S. are perfectionists. 80% of gifted individuals are perfectionists. You are considered to be gifted if you have an IQ of 115 or above.
10 Signs you are a Perfectionist:
- Are constantly trying to prove your worth to others.
- Constantly feel like a failure.
- Often focus on the parts of you that you think you need to fix.
- Constantly compare yourself to others and always fall short.
- Experience shame about your perceived shortcomings.
- Feel like you are not living up to expectations (your own, society, family).
- Have trouble relaxing- always feel like you should be doing something or doing more.
- Are controlling in your relationships.
- Spend time trying to control what you cannot control.
What type of perfectionist are you?
Yes, there are 3 types. Knowing this can help you determine just how perfectionism is showing up in your behaviors and your life.
Three types of perfectionism
- Strong motivation to be perfect.
- Setting and holding yourself to unrealistic standards.
- Compulsive strivings.
- All or nothing thinking- total success or total failure.
- Focus on flaws or past failures.
- Narrow definition of success, broad definition of failure.
- Evaluation of your performance leads to self-criticism and may lead to self-punishment.
- When you fail at something, you see yourself as a failure.
- Belief that others have unrealistic standards for you and that they put pressure on you to be perfect.
- Associated with elevated levels of negative affect, chronic anger, avoidance coping styles, and low levels confidence in ability to problem solve.
- Great importance in gaining the approval of others.
- You have Unrealistic expectations of others.
Myths About Perfectionism
Many mistakenly believe that perfectionism is a healthy motivator, but that’s not the case.
Often individuals think if they set the bar really high, they will reach greater heights. But there is a difference in setting the bar high and being a perfectionist. A perfectionist is completely unreasonable with what she expects from herself and does not know it. When the perfectionist does not reach the unreachable, they become their own punching bag.
Perfectionism can make you feel unhappy with your life. It can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide. Eventually, it can also lead you to stop trying to succeed. Even mild cases can interfere with your quality of life, affecting your personal relationships, education, or work.
Dangers of Perfectionism
Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality. When taken too far, striving for perfection can lead to negative outcomes, like procrastination, a tendency to avoid challenges, rigid all-or-nothing thinking, toxic comparisons, and a lack of creativity.
I have so many clients come to me and say “I’m lazy. I just can’t seem to get started toward any of my goals.” Procrastination is often caused by perfectionism. If you criticize yourself for every result, are afraid of failure or of making a mistake, you are going to put off getting started.
Have you ever heard the term “paralysis analysis”. Paralysis analysis is caused by worry about making the perfect decision. It leads to prolonged deliberating, circular thinking, delayed action and sometimes no decision at all. The more choices in a situation, the more difficult the decision.
Fear of failure or of making a mistake keeps you stuck, unable to try. When all you do is punish yourself for not reaching the unattainable standard you set for yourself-eventually you become afraid to try.
Perfection causes burnout and ruins relationships.
This is a problem that is not going away. Scientists say perfectionism is increasing in our society. According to the World Health Organization and the Harvard Business Review, perfectionism is on the rise. A record number of young people worldwide suffer from serious depression or anxiety disorders stemming from perfectionism and comparisons to others.
Perfectionism plays a role in the development and continuation of many serious mental health conditions, including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social anxiety
- High-functioning anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Body dysmorphic disorder
What Causes Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a response to the negative meaning you have made about yourself. From words spoken to you, or an event or trauma in your life, you have determined you are not enough.
This conclusion drives a need to prove you are enough by setting unattainable goals and always striving to reach them. You may not even know you are striving toward unattainable goals. It might not be one huge unattainable goal. It might be more subtle than that. It might look like you being unreasonable in the amount of tasks you think you should get done in a day. It might look like you taking on too many responsibilities then criticizing yourself for not doing well enough in any of them.
Perfectionism can be caused by having parents or other adults in your life who were:
- Overly critical.
- Result or grade focused.
- Focused on mistakes or were intolerant of mistakes.
- Pushed you to “reach your potential.”
- Did not allow breaks or rest.
- Thought fun or rest was a waste of time or that you should always be productive.
Perfectionism could be a result of being bullied as a child or a teen. Trauma or sudden changes could also cause perfectionism.
How does Perfectionism affect me?
In your relationships
Perfectionism has a negative effect on relationships. If you think you must always be productive and your partner has no problem relaxing you might think your partner is lazy or should be doing more, or that your partner is not pulling his/her weight. If you expect perfection of others, everyone will always fall short and you will be living in constant disappointment, anger, and resentment. Resentment kills relationships.
If you expect yourself to be perfect, you will always be insecure, thinking your partner will find someone better. This can lead you to be overly suspicious and drive your partner away.
I will be the first to admit I thought I needed to be the perfect mom. I thought I needed to make everything as optimal as possible for my children and my husband to succeed in any area important to them- so I did it all. I did not realize at the time (This was before my Master Degree in Clinical Mental Health) that while I was trying to pave the way for their success what I was showing them with my actions was I didn’t believe they could each do what they wanted to do on their own- that I didn’t trust them or believe in them…That I didn’t think they could do it or that they couldn’t do it well enough.
I see so many anxious moms coming from a place of love but unintentionally passing their anxiety and perfectionism down to their children. Been there, done that.
If you are constantly expecting yourself to be perfect, and you fall short, which you will, self-esteem takes a huge hit. Your level of self-esteem greatly affects how you are able to show up in relationships, your professional life, and whether you are able to set boundaries.
If you are perfectionist, you are spending way too much time on small decisions trying to control and achieve the outcome you want. Perfectionism causes procrastination which makes it difficult to reach goals.
Adult perfectionists may also put their goals ahead of their health and relationships, and untreated maladaptive perfectionism can result in depression, eating disorders (a control issue), migraines (stress related), obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even suicide.
Your Professional Life
There is saying, “Wherever I go, there I am”. We don’t check ourselves at the door when we go to work. Whoever we are, including our perfectionism, comes with us. In fact, perfectionism shows up the most in school and at work.
Perfectionists often suffer from Imposter Syndrome
The most common symptoms of Imposter Syndrome are:
- Reluctance to accept credit for accomplishments: What can this do in your business or professional life?
- Perfection causes you to devalue yourself, not realizing your worth and undervaluing your services. Women especially suffer from imposter syndrome and devaluing ourselves.
An Internal survey at Hewlett Packard showed Women only applied for promotions when they met 100% of qualifications. Men applied when they met 50%. Perfectionists hold themselves back from promotions and better jobs.
- Thoughts of self-doubt: Not good enough or do not know enough, fear of specializing or niching, never thinking you qualify as an expert, not charging your worth.
Imposter syndrome stemming from perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, sadness, fear of failure and guilt about success- So, basically, it is a no win situation. If you are a success, it is not because of you. If you fail it is definitely because of you.
Perfectionism in Teens: How to Recognize It
Perfectionist symptoms in your teen may fall into one of two categories: those that help the perfectionist maintain their high standards and those that help them avoid situations in which they are afraid to fail.
Signs of perfectionism can range from a high need for control to excessive anger, depression, and suicidality.
Your perfectionist teen may spend needless amounts of time on a term paper or project, or they may procrastinate until the very last minute and throw something together. Even though the behavior is different, the need for the behavior is the same. The perfectionist who spends more time than necessary on projects, homework, and studying for tests does so because of fear of failure or fear of not being good enough. The perfectionist who procrastinates does so to have an excuse for why she did not achieve perfect results…”I didn’t make an “A” because I did the project at the last minute”.
Your teen might be a perfectionist if…
- She freaks out if something is taking longer than expected and is cutting into her study time.
- She comes apart if she makes any grade other than an “A”.
- Is afraid of disappointing others.
- Is always concerned with results.
- Compares herself to others.
- Has a rigid relationship with food.
- Has test anxiety.
- Is down on herself easily.
Perfectionism in College Students
Your college student may be a perfectionist in some situations but not in others. For example, perfectionism in college students typically focuses on academic and athletic achievements. You can have a college student with a very messy room who is still a perfectionist.
Perfectionism can unravel a college student. I have seen many smart, high achieving high school students go off to college only to have to come back home. Perfectionists often engage in all of nothing thinking. So a high achiever may quickly go off the rails if one mistake is made. I have seen plenty of students have one class in which they have a couple of lower than usual grades or have accidentally missed an assignment who had the thought “All is lost”. This leads to getting behind and procrastinating, which leads to more lower than expected grades, which leads to an identity crisis (seeing self as failure), which leads to lack of confidence in ability….
In athletics, your perfectionist may feel like a failure if she doesn’t reach her goal time, or expected number of points scored.
The all or nothing thinking perfectionists engage in leads to being rigid and breaking rather than being flexible and resilient.
The Best Treatment for Perfectionism: Counseling for Perfectionism with the experts at Empower Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama
As a recovering perfectionist herself, Kathryn knows perfectionism first hand, has studied perfectionism in depth, and has treated many perfectionist clients. Through Acceptance Commitment Therapy and ingenuitive time management techniques, Kathryn helps her clients move away from perfectionism and rigidity to psychological flexibility and resilience.
If you want:
- Higher self-esteem
- Stronger, more enjoyable relationships
- Better work-life balance
- To accomplish big goals
- Be more productive
- Experience ease gliding through life rather than getting upset about most everything…
Kathryn, founder of Empower Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama, can help you move away from maladaptive perfectionism and toward high achievement coupled with high self-esteem through:
- Self-Compassion work
- An Ingenuitive Time Management System
- Becoming Process Focused
- Value work
Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor,
Advanced trained in ACT
Starting Counseling for Perfectionism in Birmingham, Alabama with Empower Counseling
You don’t have to suffer from perfectionism anymore. Counseling can help you break free from perfectionism. Begin enjoying your life in a way you never thought possible. Our Birmingham, AL counseling clinic is the place to start counseling for perfectionism in Birmingham. We can also help you from anywhere in the state with online therapy in Alabama. To begin your treatment for perfectionism, follow these three simple steps:
- Contact Empower Counseling here to schedule your first appointment.
- Get to know your perfectionism therapist.
- Start your journey to a more enjoyable and fulfilling life today.
Other Therapy Services at Empower Counseling
There are many other services in our Birmingham, AL counseling clinic. If you find yourself feeling stuck, consider starting counseling for depression. We specialize in providing guidance and support through counseling for college students, teen therapy, and counseling for young adults. Our life coaching and counseling for professionals will help you reignite your passion and help you find purpose. We often offer therapy to help you navigate difficult life transitions. This can include start going through a divorce, graduating college, or finding a new career. If you are looking for a better, more balanced life, we are here to help you. Let’s get started.