Notes on Perfectionism
This is a hodge-podge set of notes I've developed on perfectionism. I'm sorry I didn't keep better track of the sources but here it is:
What rational behaviors are needed to overcome perfectionist tendencies? To overcome perfectionism one needs to: * accept self as a human being * forgive self for mistakes or failings * put self back on the wagon immediately after falling off * accept that the ideal is only a guideline or goal to be worked toward, not to be achieved 100 percent * set realistic and flexible time frames for the achievement of a goal * develop a sense of patience and to reduce the need to “get it done yesterday” * be easier on oneself; setting unrealistic or unreasonable goals or deadlines sets you up for failure * recognize that the human condition is one of failings, weakness, deviations, imperfections and mistakes; it is acceptable to be human * recognize that one's backsliding does not mean the end of the world; it is OK to pick oneself up and start all over again * develop an ability to use “thought stopping” techniques whenever you find yourself mentally scolding yourself for not being “good enough” * visualize reality as it will be for a human rather than for a super human * learn to accept yourself the way you are; let go of the ideas of how you should be * enjoy success and achievement with a healthy self-pride, and eliminate the need for self-deprecation or false humility * learn to enjoy success without the need to second guess your ability to sustain the achievement * reward yourself for your progress, to reinforce your efforts to change even when progress is slight or doesn't meet up to your idealistic expectations * love yourself; to believe that you deserve good things * to eliminate unrealistic expectations and the idea that you are infallible * visualize yourself as “winning” even when it takes more energy, and more perseverance, than what you had planned * let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and to develop an open, compassionate understanding for the hard times, obstacles and temptations * be flexible in setting goals and be willing to reassess your plan from time to time to keep things realistic * be open to the idea that you will be successful in your efforts to change, even if you are not “first,” “the best,” “the model,” “the star pupil,” “the exemplar” or “the finest” * realize that the important thing is to be going in a positive direction
How can a social support system help in overcoming perfectionism? Social support systems can help you overcome perfectionism if you: * select realistic people who are not perfectionists in their own life * encourage your support system members to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course * have support people who role model forgiving and forgetting when mistakes, failures, offenses or backsliding occur * have given them permission to call you on being too hard, too brutal, too rigid, too unrealistic or too idealistic in your expectations * have people who will give positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small or slight it is * select trustworthy people who are open, honest, and have a sincere interest in your personal growth
Measurement and Definition Slaney (1996) created the Almost Perfect scale, which contains four variables: Standards and Order, Relationships, Anxiety, and Procrastination. It distinguishes between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Both adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists rate highly in Standards and Order, but maladaptive perfectionists also rate highly in Anxiety and Procrastination.
Slaney found that adaptive perfectionists had lower levels of procrastination than non-perfectionists.
Stoeber & Otto (2006) recently reviewed the various definitions and measures of perfectionism. They found that perfectionism comprised two main dimensions: perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns. Perfectionistic strivings are associated with positive aspects and perfectionistic concerns with negative aspects. Healthy perfectionists rate high in perfectionistic strivings and low in perfectionistic concerns, whereas unhealthy perfectionists rate highly in both strivings and concerns.
Personality Type Daniels & Price (2000) refer to Perfectionists as Ones. Perfectionists are focused on personal integrity and can be wise, discerning and inspiring in their quest for the truth. They also tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can become hypocritical and hyper-critical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices. The greatest fear of Perfectionists is to be flawed and their ultimate goal is perfection.
Negative aspects In its pathological form, perfectionism can be very damaging. It can take the form of procrastination when it is used to postpone tasks (“I can't start my project until I know the 'right' way to do it.”), and self-deprecation when it is used to excuse poor performance or to seek sympathy and affirmation from other people (“I can't believe I don't know how to reach my own goals. I must be stupid; how else could I not be able to do this?”).
In the workplace, perfectionism is often marked by low productivity as individuals lose time and energy on small irrelevant details of larger projects or mundane daily activities. This can lead to depression, alienated colleagues, and a greater risk of accidents. Adderholt-Elliot (1989) describes five characteristics of perfectionist students and teachers which contribute to underachievement: procrastination, fear of failure, the all-or-nothing mindset, paralysed perfectionism, and workaholism. In intimate relationships, unrealistic expectations can cause significant dissatisfaction for both partners. Perfectionists may sacrifice family and social activities in the quest for their goals.
Perfectionists can suffer anxiety and low self-esteem. Perfectionism is a risk factor for obsessive compulsive personality disorder, eating disorders, self harm, and clinical depression.
Therapists attempt to tackle the negative thinking that surrounds perfectionism, in particular the “all-or-nothing” thinking in which the client believes that an achievement is either perfect or useless. They encourage clients to set realistic goals and to face their fear of failure.
Overcoming Perfectionism: How to Develop a Healthier Outlook 1. Make a cost-benefit analysis 2. Become aware of your tendencies 3. See the positive 4. Alter your self-talk 5. Take baby steps 6. Enjoy the process 7. Learn to handle criticism