The Effects Of Perfectionism – What To Strive For Instead

There is a growing pressure, particularly on young people, but on adults too, to continually meet increasingly high standards and perceived ideals. Today we want to talk about why we think you should strive for something other than perfectionism.

Perfectionism – Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. (Wikipedia).

There is so much pressure to do well at school or work, to look a particular way (weight, body shape, size), have a nice home, money and material possessions. Young people start comparing themselves to friends and peers, and even social media influencers as they feel they need to compete to be the same as them or even be better than them.

Perfectionism often goes hand in hand with anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

Like perfectionism, these self-defeating thoughts and behaviours lead to an obsession with rigid control and you nurturing an inner critical voice. This may result in compulsive behavioural patterns and thoughts which helps reinforce and maintain your sense of control and self-criticism. In the case of eating disorders, perfectionism can also drive you to believe you have to actually be perfect at your eating disorder itself. The constant shame, judgment and blame caused by your anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia or eating disorder can drive perfection to become addictive.

Social media, glossy magazines and newspapers add extra pressure. They all offer major positive benefits but also can have a negative impact. Images and articles show celebrities/influencers living the “dream lifestyle”, having a “beach body”, owning designer goods, having their act together etc. Young, impressionable women and men see these and want to be like them/to have that; often not because of the aspirational, hard-working business empires and personal brands they build, but because of how they look and the happiness it appears this amount of money/fame/followers can bring. There are still publications which love to embarrass celebrities when they have gained weight after previously having a big weight loss, or splash the news of breakups or mental health issues across their front page. Headlines and stories aren’t used in a way that showcases the ‘side effects’ of striving for perfection but as a means of entertainment and gossip – something that culturally we’re still buying into.

They say, “reach for the stars” – there is no harm in aiming high and achieving great things, but you should strive for what is most important to you, rather than perfectionism.

We really want to remind you that  PERFECT DOES NOT EXIST, even if that’s what is portrayed in what you consume. The harsh reality is that perfectionism is detrimental to your mental health and wellbeing.

Perfectionism has been linked to the following clinical issues:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-Harm
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • OCD
  • Eating Disorders
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic Headaches
  • Suicide.

Being a perfectionist sounds ideal and some people may commend you for this but by doing so, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.

The negatives of being a perfectionist most definitely outweigh any positives (which are very few and far between):

  • You may set unrealistic standards or goals/dreams which are beyond your reach or out of your control.
  • You only focus on the outcome of your efforts rather than how you are going to achieve them.
  • Feelings of guilt, shame and anger make you want to give up more easily if things go wrong as you are not willing to change direction.
  • Your inner voice is telling you “I’m a failure. I’m not good enough.”
  • You are continually measuring your own self-worth (or sometimes lack of it) by how you are achieving perfection and how much you can accomplish – being too harsh on yourself.
  • You face the risk of becoming depressed as failure or disappointment is not an option for you.
  • You become very defensive when criticised as this is viewed as a personal attack.

Even saying that you are striving for excellence or success can sound daunting, but it is far safer than striving for perfection.

With this, it is the opposite way around in that the positives outweigh the negatives:

  • You define what excellence or success means for you – this might not mean grades, money or possessions, it might mean a happy family or getting the help you need.
  • You can set realistic, healthy standards or goals/dreams.
  • You can focus on the actual journey which is progressive and still have the outcome in sight – you have full control.
  • You can forgive yourself if things go wrong.
  • Your inner voice is telling you “I’m disappointed but it’s okay. I will try again or try it another way.”
  • You are adaptable and willing to make changes if you are not happy with the way things are going.
  • You are able to accept failure and disappointment and recover/bounce back from it.
  • You can take helpful criticism and use it to your advantage.

It’s perfectly fine to have high standards and goals/dreams but just make sure they are realistic and meaningful to you.

Beginning to overcome perfectionism starts with self-compassion and accepting our imperfections.

Holding a perfectionistic attitude has taught us to drive ourselves relentlessly towards a goal with little to no compassion or understanding for ourselves. Therefore the concept of self-kindness and self-care can initially seem impossible. The practice of self-compassion allows you to give yourself the same kindness as you show others and it will stop you from judging yourself so harshly. It will also allow you to give yourself the same level of understanding that you so willingly give to others. You will be less likely to judge yourself harshly when you fail or make mistakes.

Perhaps journal around your beliefs or use affirmations to remind you that you are enough, what you have is enough, but striving for what is important is okay too. Evaluate what you are consuming or who you are surrounding yourself with, and whether it makes you feel good or whether it contributes to feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. Overcoming perfectionism is a lot of mindset work but there are definitely things you can take action on to reduce/remove perfectionist behaviours too.

So next time you beat yourself up over something; stop. Be aware of what you are doing and saying to yourself: Is this judgment coming from a well or an unwell voice? Are there any reasons to doubt this statement? What would you say to a friend who has such a negative opinion of themselves?

You should never compare yourself to other people or what they have. Be proud to be an individual. Be yourself – don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t let other people have an influence over you. Remember, social media is often a highlight reel – what people want you to see of their lives.

“Letting go of your perfectionism allows you to be truly perfect at the one thing that is attainable – being a perfectly imperfect human being”

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself” – Anna Guindlen.

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