September 7, 2015

What Causes Perfectionism & How Does Perfectionism Prevent Success?

Written by Rachel Eddins

Posted in Anxiety and with tags: confidence, perfectionism, stress management

student dealing with perfectionism

Leslie has always gotten straight A’s.

Leslie’s family and teachers constantly told her how intelligent and hard-working she was. She continued to work for their praise all through college and law school.

Leslie just landed the perfect job at a law firm, but something isn’t right. Leslie feels like she’s struggling to stay ahead.

Her superiors pile project after project onto her desk before she can finish anything. Her list of to-dos has grown so long that she’s become gripped by fear.

She’s started showing up late to work, or calling in sick altogether. I’m a failure, she thinks. For the first time in her life, Leslie doesn’t know what to do.

Perfectionism Can Lead to Anxiety & Depression

Leslie might not think she’s a perfectionist at all; she’s driven, ambitious, and hard-working—but a perfectionist? No.

Ambition and drive can be wonderful characteristics; however, if the most consistent measure of your personal value is whether or not you succeed at everything you do, perfectionism—not failure—could be the culprit behind your blues.

Despite what you think perfectionism can actually prevent success vs. leading to achievement. Perfectionism can be maladaptive and lead to indecision, avoidance and procrastination. It can create a cycle of anxiety, avoidance and self-doubt.

The costs of perfectionism could include being paralyzed with fear and an inability to work towards one’s goals.

When you set high standards for yourself they may become impossible to achieve. This can lead to lack of motivation and giving up before you start.

The ideal you strive for can never be reached leading to feelings of depression, guilt and shame.

Here are 5 reasons perfectionism prevents success:

1. Perfectionism distorts self-worth.

Perfectionism props up the dangerous myth that you need to jump over endless hurdles before you can feel good about yourself. Rather than doing something simply for enjoyment, you might start to seek out activities solely for the validation they provide.

Perfectionism prevents success and leads to indecision. Perfectionism also tells you that you need to hear from others that you have value before you believe it yourself.

2. Perfectionism motivates with fear.

When you’re wholly invested in outcomes, anticipation, and fear become driving forces. You might feel consumed by thoughts of what will happen if a presentation doesn’t go well. You become nervous and agitated.

Perhaps you take on too much responsibility for yourself, in order to ensure that nothing goes wrong. When fear is a steady hand on your back, pressing you constantly forward, you can become so focused on not making any missteps that you miss out on what’s going on around you.

3. Perfectionism leads to avoidance.

Perfectionism leads to avoidance. Houston, TX

Surprisingly, bringing a perfectionist attitude to every situation can lead you to neglect your work and responsibilities.

Surprisingly, bringing a perfectionist attitude to every situation can lead you to neglect your work and responsibilities. Chasing achievements entirely for the approval of others can be frightening. Maybe you’ve learned to avoid completing projects in order to stave off failure and rejection.

Maybe you’re so scared of failing that you can’t commit to a certain approach. A fear of making mistakes often carries over into your relationships, leading you to break off relationships before anything can go wrong.

4. Perfectionism emphasizes the negative.

Perfectionism functions by constantly scanning your horizon for gaps and hurdles. Rather than focusing on all the time and work you put into a project, you see what could be better.

Perfectionism’s eternal scanner doesn’t turn off even when you’ve done a good job—you still see how it could have gone differently, weighing the outcomes of each scenario that didn’t happen.

5. Perfectionism burns you out.

It makes sense that if fear, avoidance, and low self-confidence eat at your dinner table, sleep in your bed, and follow you to work every day, you’re probably feeling pretty tired. You might even feel guilty and ashamed.

You can’t seem to turn your bad thoughts off. Rather than focusing on what’s going right, you feel weighed down by what isn’t happening. You’re no longer present.

Perfectionism Leads to Low Self-Esteem

It can result in the ability to feel satisfaction for one’s efforts because things may never be perceived as good enough. Perfectionism prevents success vs leading to excellence.

Due to not feeling good enough, perfectionists can be dependent on the validation of others to boost their self-esteem. The trouble with this is that it is temporary.

You have to work extra hard to get the self-esteem boost and then feelings of inadequacy return just as quickly. This perpetuates low self-esteem.

People who pursue excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in working to meet high standards. Alternatively, people motivated for perfection may be driven by self-doubt and fears of disapproval, ridicule, and rejection.

The high producer has drive, while the perfectionist is driven.

Over time, this can become a trap. Lack of satisfaction, decision-making struggles and an endless pursuit of trying harder can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of depression.

What Causes Perfectionism?

1. Dysfunctional Beliefs

Dysfunctional beliefs such as shoulds/musts, black and white thinking, rigid or irrational beliefs and cognitive distortions can lead to perfectionism.

Black and white thinking assumes that things are all good or all bad. Perfect or imperfect. Since perfect is unattainable, this sets one up for a perpetual feeling of inadequacy.

2. Lack of Information About the Self

Not knowing who you are or needing validation from others to feel worthwhile can make it impossible to have a healthy relationship with oneself or others.

3. Fear of Failure and Rejection

An irrational fear that one will be rejected if he/she isn’t perfect can lead to perfectionistic tendencies or avoidance.

4, Fear of Success.

The idea of success can feel like a heavy burden. If one is successful, it can mean a lot of work to maintain and keep up. Perfectionism can contribute to the belief that success will have to be maintained at all costs.

So what’s the alternative?

If you’re trapped in an emotional cycle that requires regular confidence boosts from successes at work or at home, getting off that hamster wheel can be really difficult.

You can take small steps to a happier you by practicing—practice authenticity, practice self-compassion, and practice enjoying rather than racing through your day. You can learn to no longer need those regular boosts from the outside.

Counseling Services Available for Overcoming Perfectionism

If you’re ready to take the next step in overcoming perfectionism, contact one of our counselors for help. Our therapists in Houston, Tx can help you get started. To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Recommended Reading:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

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