The perils of perfectionism: Seven reasons to challenge your inner perfectionist

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As a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of perfectionism in my private practice, particularly amongst city professionals suffering from work-related stress. In my personal branding business, I see perfectionism as one of the most common obstacles to achieving a strong personal brand.

There are varying opinions on what exactly perfectionism is, and whether it’s a good or bad trait. According to clinical psychologist and author Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef, “perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order”. I don’t think she’s far off!

Perfectionism and a desire to excel are two very different things. A desire to do your best is reasonable and flexible. A need to be perfect on the other hand is rigid and demanding. It is also  self-defeating. We tend to get ourselves in trouble when we try to be perfect because perfection is really an illusion.

As Salvador Dali reminds us:


Here are my top seven reasons to challenge your inner perfectionist:

  • Perfectionism can hold you back in life and keep you stuck in the status quo. It implies that mistakes are unacceptable, preventing you from taking the necessary risks that are a part of growing and improving. Perfectionists often resort to doing the same thing over and over again. As a result, they can lack creativity and spontaneity, and have difficulty adapting to change.
  • Perfectionism frequently results in procrastination as things tend to be put off because they have to be done perfectly. Tasks build up and tend to become overwhelming or feel monumental.
  • Perfectionism can lead to feeling overworked and result in burn-out, as a need to be flawless can be downright exhausting. It is not uncommon for the perfectionist to have difficulty distinguishing between what is and what isn’t important.
  • Perfectionism can sabotage your self-worth and undermine your self-confidence, often due to an underlying fear of failure and an overall feeling that “nothing is good enough”. The perfectionist may try to hide this fear behind the impression of being flawless. It is frequently associated with the “imposter syndrome”, the feeling that you are “faking it” and it’s only a matter of time before you are found out.
  • Perfectionism can lead to a sense of apathy, disappointment or an overall feeling of a “void” in life. When reaching their goals, whether it be closing a big deal, getting a major promotion, or buying a house, the perfectionist often has a feeling of “is that all there is?”.  Although nothing is truly perfect, if the perfectionist did manage to reach 100%, chances are they would want 110%, as nothing feels good enough.
  • Perfectionist demands have the potential to significantly interfere with  your professional and personal relationships, as it takes much more time and energy for the perfectionist to finish anything, whether at work or at home. Perfectionists often hold others to the same impossible standards. This can often result in unnecessary disappointment, tension or conflict in a relationship.
  • Perfectionism and exceedingly high self-expectations generally result in unnecessary pressure that can affect you both physically and mentally. Perfectionist thinking patterns often underlie anxiety, anger and other mood disorders. It can also manifest itself physically and lead to gastro-intestinal problems, exhaustion, and sleep or eating disorders to name a few.

As you can see, perfectionism is far from a desirable trait, although it may initially seem to be positive!

If you have perfectionist tendencies, it is important to identify what perfectionism may be costing you and start to challenge your perfectionist thinking. In particular, identify and challenge any underlying fear of failure or mistakes and the exceedingly high demands you place on yourself and others.  Ultimately, it is much healthier to strive to do your best while accepting that no one – including you! – can be totally perfect.

For tips to help you address your inner perfectionist, visit the Golden Notebook blog.


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