Striving for excellence is the mission statement in several of our schools, colleges, offices and homes. The leaders and achievers in our society also encourage us to try to reach higher and to dream bigger. So, society has amply highlighted the positives of trying to do your best but are there any negative side-effects of striving to be perfect? While striving for excellence is a good motto what are the perfectionism symptoms one should watch out for in the journey towards excellence?
Perfectionism is about setting high expectations and goals and trying to avoid failure. Healthy perfectionism can result in doing one’s best, accepting mistakes, allowing for changes in plans, flexibility and better satisfaction in life. However, unhealthy perfectionism can result in negative emotions like anxiety, depression, frustration and maladaptive (unhealthy) behaviours like procrastination and avoidance. These perfectionism symptoms can become difficult to cope with work or tasks and to work collaboratively with others.
Many psychological problems are related to unhealthy perfectionism such as anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and depression and even personality disorders like an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. At times, unrealistic expectations can be directed towards others which leads to conflict, resentment and anger in interpersonal relationships. Being an unhealthy perfectionist can also make one more likely to have an impact on physical health like cardiovascular problems and other lifestyle disorders.
Recognizing perfectionism symptoms and its two sides can be a first step in avoiding these pitfalls. The table below highlights the differences between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism.
|Healthy perfectionism||Unhealthy perfectionism|
|Setting goals which are achievable considering the time and resources available||Setting goals which are impossible or very difficult to achieve|
|Considering mistakes to be expected and normal||Believing mistakes to mean failure or incompetence|
|Feeling satisfied with a task if it is reasonably well-done||Feeling constantly that the tasks you have completed were not good enough|
|Trying new tasks despite knowing that you cannot do them perfectly||Hesitating to try something new or behave spontaneously|
|Tending to check work again and again for minor mistakes or imperfections|
|Feeling that 100% of your efforts should go into every task|
|Tending to procrastinate tasks feeling that you can do them better later on|
One can also start by recognizing perfectionism in our thought patterns like Black or White thinking where the person views situations as either successes or failures (Black or white thinking) without recognizing the shades of grey. For example, a person feels a presentation they have done was a failure because there were some questions they couldn’t answer.
Sometimes perfectionism can make us so focused on the nitty-gritty that it is difficult to see the larger picture, so, taking a step back to get a better perspective would help in being less concerned about our mistakes and more about whether or not wanting to be perfect is useful. Well-tested treatments exist for perfectionism symptoms which can aid in overcoming this obstacle in striving for excellence. It is necessary for us to strive to be our best and to aspire to reach high standards in our life. But it is not necessary for that striving to be a struggle.
Dr Rukmini Systla
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Cadabams Group