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What is perfectionism and is it a problem?

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Perfectionism is the determined pursuit of self-imposed high standards. It’s not always about being “perfect” as such but more about pushing yourself hard to meet and excessively high, targets which are usually self-imposed. Many people see perfectionist traits as positive or even necessary for success and there are times when perfectionist traits can be viewed as highly motivating.  However, perfectionism can take also take a negative turn if the pursuit of such standards is negatively impacting wellbeing; achieving these high standards no longer brings that feeling of achievement or satisfaction; you’re judging your whole self-worth on your ability to work towards and achieve these standards and perhaps even have the fear that others may not accept you if you’re not achieving them. As a result this can lead to depression and low self-esteem. Very often people can be perfectionists in one area of their lives but not others, perhaps academic perfectionism with a need to score certain exam grades. We often overlook perfectionism when we think about our mental health however, we’re increasingly realising that perfectionism can cause and maintain other mental health problems. 

Remember perfectionists don’t necessarily exhibit perfectionist attitudes in all aspects of their life, it may be confined to one or two areas. Examples of places people may experience perfectionist mindsets include: 

  • Academic environments such as school or university - Perhaps you’re always striving for top grades, excessively comparing yourself to others and wanting to be top of the class. 

  • Sports – Striving to always be the best or setting yourself increasingly more challenging or even unattainable targets and failing to recognise or value existing achievements. 

  • Speaking – Examples may include being overly hard on yourself for saying “um” in a speech too many times. 

  • Physical appearance - Excessively worrying about personal grooming or style, taking hours choosing what to wear or how to style hair. 

  • Housework and house presentation - The desire for a home to always appear a certain way “like a show home” and struggling to cope when the home does not meet these standards. Perfectionist beliefs can always be relevant here too such as “I’m the only person who can do the washing properly”. 

  • Relationships – Having impossibly high standards of relationships or perhaps difficulty being vulnerable. This can often result in relationships breaking down due to impossibly high standards. 

  • Excessive organisation in the pursuit of a perfect result. 

Key attributes of perfectionists 

Perfectionists may have one or many of the following: 

  • Setting self-imposedhigh standards 

  • Highly critical of themself and feeling that accomplishments are never quite good enough, obsessing on the minor imperfection in an overall successful outcome 

  • Procrastination (despite wanting to excel the pressure to succeed often leads perfectionists to put things off for fear of being unable to meet self-imposed standards. 

  • Avoiding situations that may test performance when not “ready” 

  • Feeling that 100% effort is essential, less than this will result in failure  

  • Believing self-worth is based on achievements 

Perfectionist behaviour can result in negative implications for mental health including: anxiety, depression, exhaustion, muscle tension, insomnia, difficulty relaxing and digestive issues. 

Does any of this ring a bell for you? If you’re thinking that this may sound like you then fortunately, you can seek support through therapy. This can help you recognise and understand your perfectionism as well as develop coping strategies to reduce perfectionist behaviours and re-evaluate perfectionist behaviours. 

 hypnotherapy and perfectionism

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