Perfectionism can be described as the uncompromising pursuit of exceptionally high standards. In other words, perfectionism can also be described as refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Perfectionist people are those who have high standards beyond reach or reason to sustain and who strain compulsively and relentlessly towards impossible goals and measure their own self-worth based entirely on their accomplishments and capabilities.
There are 3 different type of perfectionism:
- Self-oriented perfectionism – strict high personal standards, rigid evaluations of self, fear of failure, etc.
- Other-oriented perfectionism – setting unrealistic and high standards for others.
- Socially prescribed perfectionism or what we think others might expect of us – perceived external pressure to be perfect.
There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection.
What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its pursuit desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so there is a negative orientation goin on.
Perfectionists have difficulty in recognizing when enough is enough as reasonable performance is never quite good enough. This is called maladaptive perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionists are people who have an immense fear of criticism, concern about making mistakes, overemphasis on order and desire for complete admiration and they strive for personal superiority.
Striving for perfection has a lot of unhelpful characteristics or perils that can have an adverse effect on one’s performance, such as:
- Excessively high standards
- Not satisfied by success and continually striving for more
- Fear of failure leading to rejection, criticism or disapproval
- Emotional disturbance when standards not met
- Inflexible and overgeneralised high standards
- Overly self-critical and self-doubt
- Fear of competition
- All-or-nothing thinking such as ‘I have to do my job perfect otherwise I’m a total failure’
- Intolerant of mistakes by self or others
- Conditional self-acceptance
- Not learning as focusing only on avoiding errors
- Faulty definition of success
- High levels of anxiety before, during and after a performance
- Feel a fraud or phoneyism
- Non-acceptable of fallibility
Most people who are successful set very high standards for themselves and they seem to be happy in their lives. However what turns life into agonising pursuit of perfection is the extent to which people strive to be perfect and are worried about mistakes. I think that fear of making mistakes and doubts about actions are absolute prerequisites for perfectionism. Perfectionists fear that if they make a mistake, it will lead to others thinking badly of them, criticisms or disapproval. The performance aspect is intrinsic to their view of themselves. Low self-esteem is also quite often accompanied by perfectionist tendencies as individuals place more and more demands on themselves and others in order to demonstrate and prove their worthiness and value. Low self-esteem can often set up a cycle of avoidance and procrastination especially amongst rigid perfectionists.
Overall, perfectionism harms performance more than it helps.
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Rice, KG. and Preusser, KJ., (2002), The adaptive/maladaptive perfectionism scale, Measurement and Evaluation in Counselling and Development, Vol 34.4:210, [Online], Available: http://search.proquest.com/openview/bb8e76c6362136df09966437b4b55d97/1?pq-origsite=gscholar
Palmer, S. and Williams, H., (2012), Struggles with low self-esteem: Teaching self-acceptance in Neenan, M. and Palmer, S., (2012), Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in Practice. An Evidence Based Approach, East Sussex: Routledge.