Perfectionism – all your questions answered
There is a reason why it is said that one should never state that one is “a perfectionist” in a CV or an interview… indeed, perfectionism can be quite dangerous! According to our new book, there is a clear difference between a healthy achiever and a perfectionist. The latter is in constant search of perfection and certainty, while the former accepts that there can be many different paths towards success, and that failure is not fatal. Are you a perfectionist? To find out, let’s see if you can identify with one of these three characteristics…
What characterises a perfectionist?
Perfectionist personality traits include difficulty making decisions, dotting i’s crossing t’s (checking and rechecking), over-analysing, ruminating, being too picky about potential partners – all common to what psychiatrists refer to as ‘obsessive’. There are three dimensions pointed out by our author with regards to perfectionists. Can you recognise yourself in any of them?
1st dimension: self-oriented perfectionism
These people put pressure on themselves to attain unrealistic and impossible standards. This is associated with self-criticism, intense self-scrutiny and the inability to accept any mistakes or failings in one’s self. “I’m my own worst critic” you might hear them say. Sorotzkin (1985) describes a thinking style in which the individual feels compelled to achieve perfection in all areas of life as “the tyranny of ‘shoulds’. The problem is that low self-esteem and lack of self-belief can lead to the feeling that they will never achieve their goals in life, and that can produce a kind of immobilisation, where they lack energy and motivation to make things happen.
2nd dimension: Other-oriented perfectionism
These perfectionists expect others to meet unrealistically high standards – it’s a way of externalising the pressure they feel. It is most likely to develop when children are brought up in families which are extremely evaluative, where the emphasis is on everyone striving for perfection. This type of perfectionist often displays inflexibility, anger and intolerance, which may lead to problematic relationships, both at home and at work. Their excessive demands and expectations of others lead them to sometimes be seen as blaming, arrogant or dominant – “the people that matter to me should never let me down” they might be heard to say. They may have trouble delegating because they worry the results will be less than perfect. “If you want a job doing well, do it yourself” will sound familiar to them.
3rd dimension: Socially prescribed perfectionism
These perfectionists believe that others expect them to meet standards so high, that they are impossible for them to reach. So these high standards are thought to be imposed by others, whereas the self-orientated perfectionist’s high standards are self-imposed. This type is particularly potent because if they don’t meet those standards they feel there is a high risk of disapproval or rejection. They fear the social consequences of failure, looking foolish or being criticised by others. This type is associated with adjustment problems such as greater loneliness, shyness, fear of negative evaluation, and lower levels of self-esteem. It can lead to anger and resentment (at the person who is apparently imposing the standards), depression (if they are not met), and social anxiety (fear of being judged by others).
Remember that as we are complex humans, these three dimensions can overlap!
If you’d like to learn more about the dangers of perfectionism, the implications it can have on your work or ways of slowly changing a perfectionistic attitude, read Jenny Gould’s book “Overcoming Perfectionism“.