Perfectionism Counselling Vancouver

Therapy for Perfectionism & Self-Worth

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism describes a preoccupation with being or appearing perfect. A person with perfectionism believes that perfection is attainable.

Most people can appreciate high standards. It’s one thing to work hard to achieve success. As a society, we admire others who pursue ambitious goals – it demonstrates strength, discipline, and determination. For many people, high expectations provide a source of motivation to reach their potential. It might also reflect self-confidence. Even when doing their best, most high-achieving people understand that mistakes are bound to happen. But they’re still able to persevere because they don’t see a mistake along the way as a failure or a reflection of their self-worth.

People with perfectionism have expectations that surpass regular high standards – they expect perfection from themselves. Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence, or about healthy achievement. Rather, perfectionists tend to believe anything short of perfection is a failure and that nothing they do is worthwhile unless it’s perfect. Even minor mistakes have colossal consequences. Instead of finding value in their progress, learning, or hard work, they might measure themselves against others or focus intently on producing immaculate results.

People with perfectionism use it to protect themselves from painful emotions that stem from blame, judgment, or shame. Perfectionists are highly self-critical and often feel overwhelmed by the pressure to achieve perfection. They interpret their failures as a reflection of themselves. People with perfectionism are at risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm.

Signs of Perfectionism:

Perfectionists feel a constant need to achieve perfection. A person with perfectionism may demonstrate the following:

  • An inability to perform a task unless you’re certain you can do so perfectly
  • Feeling like you fail at everything you attempt
  • Procrastinating on a regular basis – delaying tasks out of fear you’re unable to do them perfectly
  • Agonizing over small details
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Excessively thorough when completing tasks
  • Constantly trying to improve or “perfect” things by redoing them
  • Difficulty relaxing and being open with your thoughts and feelings
  • A need for control in personal and professional relationships
  • Preoccupation with rules, order, or lists (often elaborate)
  • Dissatisfaction in response to desired results

For people with perfectionism, the stakes are always high. They’ll resist trying new things (even things they’re interested in) to avoid negative judgement or because of beliefs about their inadequacy. Someone with perfection might spend an hour writing a four-sentence email or stop going to class if they don’t believe they can get their desired results.

Types of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can appear in several areas of a person’s life, although sometimes it is dominant in a particular area. Some examples of common domains include: 

Work or academic settings: People who are perfectionists in school or at work often take extra time to complete tasks. They might even avoid starting tasks out of fear of doing it imperfectly. Academic settings can provoke perfectionism in young people.

Relationships: People with perfectionism often project their expectations on others. It can add pressure to those intimate relationships or friendships.

Physical Activity: Sports and athletics often encourage or intensify perfectionism. This might be especially true in individual athletics, such as track or gymnastics.

Environment: Some perfectionists might spend excessive amounts of time and energy on keeping their surrounds tidy, or consistent with their aesthetic standards. 

Health: Some perfectionists become highly regimented with their eating. They may follow excessively healthy diets that permit only “clean” foods.

Communication. Some people are perfectionistic about the way they speak or write. They might minimize or avoid speaking and writing to prevent mistakes.

Physical Appearance. People who are perfectionistic about their physical appearance are preoccupied with looking “perfect”. They might spend excessive amounts of time grooming or refining their personal style. This kind of perfectionism can overlap with or result in eating disorders or exercise addiction.

Perfectionism & Risk Factors

Anxiety disorders. Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are especially common among perfectionists. OCD and perfectionism tend to overlap among people who are fixated things being done “just right” or who have an intense need for certainty.

Parenting. People that had parents who demanded perfection from them as children are at risk for developing perfectionism. Their parents may have set unreasonable standards and responded harshly and disapprovingly when their children don’t succeed, despite their efforts.

Insecure attachment. People with insecure attachment styles did not get their needs met in development and as a result, may struggle to self-soothe as adults. They may struggle to accept an outcome that’s positive unless it’s perfect.

Low self-esteem. People who feel insecure and inadequate use perfectionism as a way to gain approval from others. They may feel that they’re unworthy of love or acceptance unless they achieve standards of perfection.

History of high achievement. People with a high achievement history might feel they need to live up to their past achievements. It can add a tremendous amount of pressure to perform at a high level and lead to perfectionistic behaviour.

Counselling for Perfectionism

Living with perfectionism can be exhausting and time-consuming. It can stand in the way of leading a happy, balanced life.

Counselling can help you overcome perfectionism. You and your therapist will look at past experiences to identify the sources of the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions driving your need for perfection and your fears around failure. You’ll examine how they’ve shaped your current beliefs and eventually, you’ll challenge their validity. Establishing new and healthy approaches to successes and mistakes are key to healing and making meaningful changes. Your therapist might look into your need for acceptance and help you respond to negative feedback.

Counselling for perfectionism will guide you to practice acceptance, self-compassion, and new ways of thinking about your goals and achievements. You will learn to make the important distinction that what you do is not what you are.

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