The concept of perfectionism is a tricky one, and one best viewed on a continuum. I have moved up and down on that continuum – from maladaptive perfectionism to adaptive perfectionism – Yep, there is such a thing. Check out this assessment if you are unsure where you fall on the continuum: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/perfectionism/ (Hewitt & Flett, 1990).
As someone once responsible for hiring employees, I would esteem perfectionistic-types. After all, it was relieving to know that they would strive to do a job to the best of their ability! I now know that that my perfectionistic employees were most likely struggling with mental health issues.
So what is perfectionism? Is it simply a quirk of high-achieving individuals, or is it something problematic?
For the last three decades, researchers have discerned that being a perfectionist is a good indicator that one has a difficult relationship with Self. (Flett, Hewitt & Mikail, 2017). Perfectionism is less about one’s way of thinking, and more about one’s way of being in the world. The researchers posit that perfectionism isn’t about perfecting things (job, home, appearance, partner/kids, et cetera), it is more about perfecting the Self.
All components and dimensions of perfectionism ultimately involve attempts to perfect an imperfect Self. (Flett, Hewitt, & Mikail).
Perfectionism is a growing health concern. Perfectionism increases anxiety and depression, and is linked to eating disorders, chronic illnesses (irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia), and also impedes recovery from heart disease and brain injury. Multiple studies have found links between perfectionism and suicidality (attempted and completed).
What leads to perfectionism? Often it is one’s early life experience with their primary caregiver that leads to perfectionism (perfectionism is created in relationship). At the root of perfectionism is internalized shame and a feeling of not being worthy, or “good enough”. Oftentimes high levels of shame one is experiencing did not stem from personal wrongdoings – they became an embodied way of being from relationships with others or their surroundings in early life – such burdens are often unintentionally passed down from one generation to another.
What can be done to reduce perfectionism and unrecognized internalized shame? Therapy helps immensely! As does embracing the tenets and practice of Self-Compassion (see here for more information on Self-Compassion: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/03/mindfulness-self-compassion/)
If you are wishing to move away from the debilitating effects of perfectionism, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Together, we can move towards embracing your FLAWSOMENESS!