Perfectionism Disorder

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Perfectionism disorder: The good stuff

Perfectionism is a highly destructive quality that causes a person a great deal of unhappiness and stress. However, there may be some upsides to being a perfectionist. 

  • Perfectionists can be thought of as people who are always striving to do their best.
  • They can be an incredible asset to a team of people in the workplace.
  • They can often reach goals in multiple areas of their lives that most of us would never dream of achieving.
  • Perfectionists are often efficient and organized.
  • They are hardly ever unprepared and can be trusted by others to complete tasks.

But you can still achieve these great things without being a perfectionist. The desire to excel and to well is different from the desire to be perfect. 


Perfectionism is a disorder because the cost to the person that struggles with it is great and it is the desire to excel taken to the extreme. Many people show up in therapy and need to work on beliefs and the cycle of perfectionism and how it has negatively impacted their lives. 

What is a perfectionism disorder: The cycle of harm.

 Exceedingly high personal standards and a fear of making mistakes. 

 It is good to want to do well and set high expectations for yourself, but not unachievable ones.  A perfectionist has expectations of achievement that are unreachable. They expect to do well at every moment, and when they don't they feel like a failure. But who can be perfect all the time? Additionally they feel unlovable or unworthy when they are not perfect. This sets up a painful cycle because  the standards a perfectionist sets for himself are often impossible to meet.  It is also difficult for a perfectionist to ever attribute his lack of reaching his goal to the nature of the goal itself. Instead of concluding that the expectation was too high, the  perfectionist will falsely conclude that he was  a failure or did not work enough. This perpetuates a cycle of unhappiness and self loathing, and sometimes shame and depression. 

Additionally, one of the hallmarks of perfectionism is concern over mistakes. As a result, perfectionists often avoid making mistakes, and this causes them to limit their life experiences. All new life experiences and new learning  require a willingness to make mistakes. This can turn into a vicious cycle of avoidance, shame, stagnation,  isolation and depression. Perfectionism is also associated with other diagnoses. It's been shown to be related to eating disorders, depression and a host of other anxiety disorders. Perfectionism makes other mental health issues worse. It is very important to recognize and help yourself heal from perfectionism disorder if you suffer from it. Although you may believe it helps you and gives you an edge in this world, a deeper exploration of the pattern of your perfectionism will prove it harms you and prevents you from achieving your full potential. This may seem like a radical idea, but I promise it's true. Perfectionism is associated with suicidal ideation and behavior and is shown to be predictive of suicidal ideation. It is no joke. It is not a good thing to be a perfectionist. Learning to heal from these toxic ideas of what makes you worthwhile is a priority, and your life will get markedly better if you commit to changing these patterns. 

What areas do perfectionists focus on? Research has shown perfectionists usually pick a from a few of the categories below, and each individual person is different: 

People exhibit perfectionism in different arenas. Most people will select a few to focus on. Including:

  • Work 
  • Bodily hygiene 
  • Studies 
  • Physical appearance 
  • Social relationships 
  • Presentation of documents 
  • Spelling
  • Dress 
  • Way of speaking 
  • Romantic relationships 
  • Eating habits 
  • Health 
  • Domestic chores / cleanliness 
  • Time management / punctuality 
  • Correspondence / mail 
  • Leisure activities 
  • Oral presentations 

Do you have perfectionism disorder?

There are actually three kinds of perfectionism disorder.

  • Other oriented perfectionism
  • Self oriented perfectionism
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism


Here are some characteristics of the three different kinds. 

If you have excessively high standards for others and believe that others will value you only if you are perfect, you probably have other oriented perfectionism.  Here are some more questions to see if you have other oriented perfectionism. 


  • Do you believe the people you care about shouldn't ever let you down?
  • Do you disrespect people who are average?
  • Do you criticize your friends for accepting second best?
  • is it important to you that the people you are close to are successful?
  • Do you have high expectations for the people around you and do you believe that they should never make mistakes?

If you answer yes  to these questions you likely have socially-prescribed perfectionism or  the belief that others have unrealistically high standards for you.

  • Do you worry that others will not think you are okay if you don't succeed?
  • Do you feel like others will be upset with you if you may a mistake?
  • Do you feel like your family/parents/spouse expects you to be perfect?
  • Do you think anything you do that is less than excellent is seen as poor work by others?

If you answer yes to these questions you likely have self-oriented perfectionism. This is what we typically think of when we think of perfectionism. Essentially,  high standards for achievement and self-criticism when standards aren’t met.


  • Do you feel like you must always be successful in all areas of your life?
  • Do you think you must live up to your full potential at all times?
  • Do you feel like you always have to be the best at whatever you do?
  • Do you have a very hard time with making mistakes?
  • Do you feel you must always be successful at school or work?

What can you do if you suffer from perfectionism disorder?


It's important note that if you have been seriously seriously impacted by you perfectionism, you may need a little help in the form of short term or longer term therapy. Perfectionism can lead to depression or interact with depression in a way that motivating yourself to work on its anxious components is impossible. If this is the case, get a good therapist who can support you. 

Here are some self help Activities to start working on your perfectionism disorder. This is in fact what we do in therapy to treat perfectionism disorder, but you can try this at home and see if you have success!



Explore Your Should Statements

People who are perfectionists have a long list of should statements that exemplify their unrealistic expectations. Beginning to learn your shoulds and generating a list of those shoulds is one way to start helping yourself. Get yourself a journal and begin to write in a section dedicated to your perfectionis, 

  • What runs through your mind when you think of the  things you need to be doing for the day and are feeling anxious? 
  • How often do you say “should” and “must” to yourself when you are thinking of your to do list?
  • How do you feel when you say to yourself these shoulds and musts?
  • If you said these things to your child, or any child, or a friend or someone you loved, what impact do you think it would have on him and their sense of self?

2. Design a behavioral experiment. Behavioral experiments are designed to test out your hypothesis that maintain your fears. Often they show you that what you think will happen will not happen and ultimately they will help you determine how to make different choices, or not.  First in a behavioral experiment you state your belief how much you believe it and then you design and experiment to test the hypothesis similar to high school chemistry.  You also will suggest another possibly more helpful belief that others without perfectionism might have. Here is an example:

Perfectionist belief

"I must clean the bathroom completely and perfectly every day or my family will judge and reject  me."

Belief rating 100 percent

Alternative belief

"It's okay to not perfectly clean everything sometimes"

Experiment

Do not clean the the entire bathroom on Monday for example (leave the toothpaste on the sink) and see if your family rejects you, expresses discontent, or outwardly judges you. 

 Double Standards.

 People who have perfectionism often have double standards. 

Explore your Double standardsUse your journal to explore these ideas. Do you  have one set of rules for yourself and a different set for others? Is this fair? Does this makes sense? How does this affect you?

Many people who have perfectionist thinking will have these patterns of behavior. 


 Explore behaviors you may be doing that maintain the anxious component of your perfectionism disorder

  • Checking and reassurance seeking
  • Repeating and correcting to ensure things are done correctly
  • Excessive organizing and list making to the point where it becomes more time consuming than helpful
  • Procrastination because doing things perfectly is so hard
  • Taking  too long on tasks because doing things perfectly is so hard
  • Giving up too soon on tasks because doing things perfectly is so hard
  • Failure to delegate because of not trusting others
  • Hoarding and excessive acquiring 
  • Avoidance 
  • Attempts to change the behavior of others or controlling behaviors because of lack of trust in others to do things perfectly

After taking stock of which of these you do, begin to work on changing these behaviors.  Do the opposite of what you are doing and expect to feel uncomfortable. For example if you have a habit of not delegating start with delegating small tasks around your family or workplace. Then do a behavioral experiment as described above and see what the outcome is.  

Check out this great APA article on perfectionism

Thanks for visiting! Feel free to email me at kristenlynnmcclure@gmail.com

Thanks for visiting! Feel free to email me at kristenlynnmcclure@gmail.com

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