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The Truth About Perfectionism & Anxiety/7 Signs You May be A Perfectionist

Updated: May 10, 2023

Take Away:

Perfectionism is not the same as doing your best, in fact it is an extreme version of pushing yourself. People who struggle with perfectionist behaviors, often set unreasonable and very high expectations for themselves that are impossible to achieve. Perfectionists are motivated by fear while high achievers are motivated by their desire to do their best. If you believe you may be struggling with perfectionism, keep reading to learn some tools for letting go of perfectionism.


Table of Contents:

  1. What is perfectionism?

  2. What are the forms of perfectionism?

  3. What are perfectionism symptoms?

  4. What keeps perfectionism going?

  5. How to let go of perfectionism?


What is Perfectionism?

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Root Cause of Perfectionism

Are you a person that sets impossibly high standards for yourself and sometimes for others? Do you believe that you should achieve your goals effortlessly and never have flaws, make mistakes, or be disagreeable? If you answered yes to these questions, the reality is you may be a perfectionist.

Perfectionism is often mistaken for doing something perfectly or for someone to have a desire to be perfect. In reality, perfectionism is not about being perfect but it does involve relentless striving for extremely high standards, judging your self-worth based on your ability to achieve unrelenting standards, and experiencing negative consequences but continuing to go for them despite the cost. This not only puts pressure on you to meet high standards but it can influence the way you think about yourself.


What Are the Forms of Perfectionism?

  • Self-orientated perfectionism

A person with this form of perfectionism has a self-directed expectation that they need to be perfect. They create unrealistically high standards that are not realistic. On the one hand, they are goal orientated and driven, but they are highly self-critical. They may notice every mistake, repeatedly think about mistakes, and beat themselves up because of them.

  • Other-orientated perfectionism

A person with this form of perfectionism has unrealistic expectations of others (children, friends, coworkers, spouses, etc.). They are highly critical of others and may frequently feel disappointed and angry if other people are not meeting or living up to their expectations.

  • Socially prescribed perfectionism

A person with this form of perfectionism believes that other people have high standards for them that are impossible to meet.


What Are Perfectionism Symptoms?

How-to-beat-perfectionism. Row of blue paper clips lined up in a perfect line followed by 5 rows of perfectly lined green pencils.
Perfectionism Symptoms

Perfectionists often engage in unhelpful behaviors that assist them in maintaining their high standards. Here are some signs you may be a perfectionist:

  • You do not start tasks or activities unless you feel you can complete them perfectly.

  • You are highly critical of yourself and your abilities.

  • You focus only on results.

  • You are a procrastinator.

  • You have a high fear of failure.

  • You set unrealistic standards for yourself and beat yourself up for not being able to do the impossible.

  • You struggle with making decisions.


What Keeps Perfectionism Going?

Perfectionism is the quest to achieve through high standards. Perfectionists believe that their self-worth is determined by how much they achieve and can show up in a person's physical appearance, professional accomplishments, relationships, health, and even your family life.

Perfectionism can also show up in how you may act and how you think. Perfectionists tend to also be extremely self-critical especially if they are unable to meet their high standards. Self-criticism often results in feeling bad about oneself and can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, anger, and depression. These negative feelings are often preceded by unhelpful self-critical statements or thoughts.

Perfectionism is kept going by a sense of self-worth that is dependent on the achievement of high standards. Your sense of self-worth is associated with rules and assumptions you have developed in life. The vicious cycle of perfectionism shows how you can get stuck in a negative spiral but the good news is you can change it.

Piece of paper that say do you tend to be perfect?
Perfectionism and Anxiety

Some thinking styles that are common in people with perfectionism include:

  • All or nothing thinking (Either I do it right or not at all).

  • Should statements (I should work harder).

  • Labeling (I'm a loser).

  • Mind reading (Everyone thinks I don't know what I'm doing I should just not try).

To recap, perfectionism is often driven by fear of failure, fear of judgement, and fear of not being good enough. When someone with perfectionism feels they have not achieved their high standards, they may begin to experience anxiety. Perfectionism and anxiety are connected. Anxiety can fuel the perfectionist's cycle of self-criticism and self-doubt as well as lead to avoidance of feelings and tasks that keep perfectionism spinning. Managing perfectionistic tendencies is an important step in managing anxiety.


How to Let Go of Perfectionism?

Perfectionism stems from biased beliefs, assumptions, and predictions. As mentioned earlier, perfectionists often subscribe to unhelpful thinking styles that have been around for a long time. It's important to note that these thinking styles will not disappear overnight, but you can choose to react differently by setting more realistic standards for yourself. This can look like:

  • Challenging unhelpful thinking styles and developing more helpful ones.

  • Setting reasonable and attainable standards.

  • Evaluating your performance objectively.

  • Remembering that practice makes perfect.

Research shows that the negative effects of perfectionism, specifically being self-critical, often results in poor goal progress. It is important to practice self-compassion, challenge negative thoughts, focus on progress, and seek support. Therapy can help you better understand the reason behind the pressure to be perfect and find the root cause of perfectionism. Therapy can also be a space where you learn what your standards are, identify your reactions to not meeting your standards, and explore costs and alternatives to relaxing your standards. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can also help encourage flexible thinking, correct unrealistic beliefs, expose you to feared thoughts and situations and help you find acceptance. Therapy can also give you more tools to learn how to let go of perfectionism. If you believe you may be struggling with perfectionism and anxiety, and it is causing you distress please reach out to me today.

Woman smiling in a blue and red dress
Perfectionism and Anxiety Therapist

Need Help Letting Go of Perfectionism?

If you are in Houston, New York, or California and you would like to explore treatment options for managing perfectionism and anxiety please contact me and schedule a free consultation today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help. Let's work together to change your behavior so you can live a less pressured life. Don't let you get in the way.

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