The Ugly Side of Perfectionism

Ashley Renee
4 min readJan 20, 2021

3 ways to manage perfectionistic tendencies that are disrupting your life

Ahmad Gunnaivi via Unsplash

Are you plagued by a desire to be perfect?

Is nothing you do ever good enough? Do you nitpick at every project you finish, convincing yourself that you could’ve done better? Do you procrastinate and avoid new challenges due to fear of failure?

Odds are, you’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism can be defined as “a broad personality style characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”

No, it’s not a diagnosis, although it may sound and feel like one.

Because while there are perks to being a perfectionist, there are so many consequences that negatively affect several aspects of life including family, friend circles, work life and most importantly, your relationship with yourself.

Here is how perfectionism often shows up:

4 Dangers of Perfectionism

  1. Constant procrastination and counterproductivity
  2. Constant comparison
  3. Avoiding challenges/missing out on new opportunities
  4. Lack of creativity

Not to mention, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and low-self esteem.

“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” — Michael Law

Research states that perfectionism is often a learned behavior, which is good news. This means that it can be unlearned.

It is normal and healthy to work hard and do your best to achieve a goal.

However, it is not healthy when you’ve reached your desired goal and still believe it is not enough. This is the ugly side of perfectionism.

At the core of perfectionism is a deeply-held belief that your value is based on what you achieve or what you do for other people.

Research professor Brené Brown defines perfectionism as aself-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame.”

She makes a clear distinction that perfectionism has everything to do with perception and defensive mode, and nothing to do with healthy motivation and achievement.

What is the Root of Perfectionism?

So, how did you learn such a belief?

Like with any issue, getting to the root of the problem is where you can find clarity. From there, you can make any necessary changes.

While research has not indicated concrete causes of perfectionism, here are 5 possible root causes:

5 Common Causes of Perfectionism

  1. Insecure attachment style from childhood: Attachment Theory suggests that how our parents/guardians related to us in our childhood influences how we relate with others in our adulthood. Insecure attachment style is indicative of childhood needs not being met or being ignored. A 2012 study found that social disconnection is correlated with perfectionist tendencies and fearful attachment or insecure attachment are associated with non-disclosure of imperfection.
  2. Perfectionist parents/guardians: Many of our learned behaviors are passed down from our parents or guardians. If you had parents that were perfectionists, there is a chance they passed this down to you.
  3. Academic settings and competition: The education system in the US is known for its sometimes unhealthy competitive nature, and this continues to take a toll on the mental health of adults and youth. A 2017 study found that self-imposed perfectionism among college students increased by 10 percent between 1989 and 2016; socially prescribed perfectionism or the perception of high expectations from others, increased by 33 percent.
  4. School or workplace bullying: Constant criticisms or disapproval in the school environment or workplace can trigger perfectionist tendencies.
  5. Mental health issues including anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): There is a correlation between the two, but perfectionists do not always have these kinds of disorders.

These are general causes of perfectionism and they can manifest in different ways.

If you relate to any of these, try to figure out how these experiences could have informed your perfectionist tendencies.

Now that we know possible root causes, here are 3 ways that reputable organizations, researchers and mental health professionals suggest to manage them.

3 Ways to Manage Perfectionism

  1. Seek a therapist to help you get to the root of your perfectionistic behavior
  2. Contact a life coach to help you set and maintain reasonable goals and hold you accountable
  3. Avoid perfectionistic tendencies by identifying your triggers, adjusting your standards and creating checklists to complete daily tasks

If you’re plagued by perfectionism, you’re not alone. Many struggle with this issue and are looking for a solution.

If your perfectionist tendencies become too debilitating and are affecting your work life, relationships and personal wellbeing, seek help from a mental health professional or coach.

--

--

Ashley Renee

Creative writer | Lover of words, wellness and the arts