Perfectionism is an obsession with having no faults or defects. Perfectionists are excessively critical of themselves and others. Cultural values may make perfectionism seem like a positive personality trait, but it typically has negative effects, resulting in very maladaptive behavioral patterns, ultimately leading to depression and general feelings of inadequacy.
- Never feeling good enough
- Obsessively revising work
- Feeling worthless when things aren’t perfect
- Hypersensitivity to criticism
- Desire to please others
- Excessive fear of perceived failure
- Black and white thinking
Perfectionism may have roots in childhood when a child is held to extremely high standards or is constantly struggling to gain approval from those they care about. Over time, they develop a self-esteem that is entirely dependent on the approval of others, rather than self-fulfillment. Because they never received the approval and validation they needed at a young age, perfectionists are essentially trying to be absolutely perfect in the hopes that they will finally be good enough and avoid succumbing to failure.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helpful in challenging maladaptive behaviors and replacing them with more realistic ideas about reality. Once irrational thinking is recognized, it is easier to change it. Psychoanalytic therapy may also prove useful in uncovering childhood experiences at the root of unconscious motivations. Eventually, the client must learn to set realistic goals and feel good about meeting these goals, even when they feel more could be done.