Perfectionism: The Double-edged Sword

Every once in a while I come upon really insightful and interesting case studies and white papers that touch on a nerve, get me thinking, compel me to share the piece with others…And here is another one straight from the University of South Florida’s “The Counseling Center for Human Development.” (Circa 2000.) Enjoy – and let me know if you recognize someone while reading this. Potentially yourself? Your spouse? Your child? I know I sure did…not mentioning any names!

Ask yourself while reading this piece – if you do relate…what can you personally do to grow? Put a little less pressure and stress on yourself? Enjoy life a little more? And probably even succeed at a faster and greater (and more enjoyable rate)…

Perfectionism: The Double-edged Sword

Do you push yourself to be the “best?” The best student, greek, athlete or friend. Do you get upset with yourself when you’re anything less? While we all strive toward excellence, some individuals have a great difficulty accepting a personal role of less than “number one.” These people are considered perfectionists.

Many college (and high school) students are perfectionists. To these students, obtaining a “B” is considered a failure. (Not being the best on their team…not being the best in their class…all failures.) They are unwilling to accept an “average” performance or role, because to them, “average” equals “second-rate.”

Perfectionism is not the healthy pursuit of excellence, as most people tend to believe, but rather it is the compulsive striving toward unrealistic goals, declares psychiatrist David Burns. “Setting high personal standards and goals, and working hard to attain them is appropriate,” he says. “However, perfectionists set excessively high goals and strive compulsively to achieve them, punishing themselves for mistakes and lowering self-esteem because they can’t reach these impossibly high goals.”

Perfectionists believe compulsive striving is necessary for success. Aiming to be the “best” all the time virtually guarantees feelings of failure, however. In fact, studies suggest that perfectionists are often less productive and successful, and experience more stress and anxiety than their co-workers/students/teammates. For perfectionists, who measure worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishments, this vicious cycle is self-perpetuating and self-defeating…

So what’s the answer? First of all, be aware of the difference between setting high personal standards and perfectionism. Setting high standards involves the pursuit of success and realistic goals, while perfectionism involves setting impossibly high goals (all the time) and is motivated by the fear of failure.

Second, learn to focus on your successes rather than perceived failures. Perfectionists typically view success as an “avoidance of failure” and as a result rarely gain satisfaction from their achievements.

And finally, your worth as a person is not determined solely by your accomplishments. Feelings of self-worth are also affected by such factors as interpersonal relationships, physical health and appearance, spiritual beliefs and emotional well-being. Perfectionists often focus on only one area of their life to the exclusion of others.

10 Steps to Overcome Perfectionism

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