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  • Writer's pictureDr. Elena Duong

To Be a Perfectionist or Not?

Updated: May 24, 2023

Do you have perfectionistic traits? How is it working for you?


In today’s society, most still view perfectionism in a positive light, thinking it will help them achieve all they want in life. But, does it really? Being a perfectionist is different from healthy striving in life since perfectionism is more than just hard work… it is wanting a perfect outcome for whatever task you are working on.



What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait focused on excelling, which means individuals, who are perfectionistic, are usually very determined in meeting the high standards they set for themselves. They tend to be extremely critical of themselves if they are not achieving at their preferred high level since their self-worth is often dependent on their achievements. Therefore, they are more affected by their own perceived failures or mistakes.


Those who have perfectionistic traits tend to have lower self-esteem as well as struggle with depression, anxiety, burnout, and other mental health concerns, including eating disorders. There is also an overlap with people-pleasing behaviors and codependent traits (read more here).


People can become perfectionistic through having an insecure attachment with their caregiver, seeing those behaviors in their caregiver, or as a trauma response to name a few. People can be perfectionistic in different areas in life or all areas, such as personal life, work life, and more.


Functions of Perfectionism

According to Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” Dr. Brene Brown noted perfectionism can actually interfere with success and is more associated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis, which keeps us from living full lives and can keep shame alive within us.


This trait often functions as a coping mechanism for our insecurities. People with perfectionism are often afraid to be seen for their authentic selves, so they think perfectionism will protect them from the potential hurt or rejection for being seen as their real selves. In reality, all it does is prevent deeper connection and continue the cycle of coping through perfectionism.


Signs of Perfectionism

  • Avoid trying new activities/tasks in fear of failure

  • Struggle with tasks you feel like you can’t do perfectly

  • Try to delay or take a longer time to finish task in attempt to perfect it

  • Focus more on the outcome being perfect than the steps to get there

  • Constant comparisons with others’ work

  • Judge others who are not striving for perfection

  • Ruminate on perceived mistakes/failures from the task

Tips to Cope with Perfectionism

Try to take it one moment, one day at a time. It is probably how you have coped for a while, so it will take time to change.

  • Awareness of your perfectionistic habits

    • What triggers your habits?

  • Learn to be okay with mistakes

    • Try to lower your expectations/standards

    • Accept mistakes and failure as a part of life

  • Reframe perfectionistic thoughts on how you view yourself and others

    • Try to see the gray area instead of focusing on doing the best or whether you will fail

  • Practice self-compassion

    • If you interested in learning more, feel free to click here

  • Seek professional mental health help to break the perfectionistic cycle

Perfectionism is how some have learned to cope with their lives, which allowed them to survive to be adults. Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves as adults, “Is it still working for us? Will this help me live the life I envisioned for myself?” Change, no matter how big or small, is difficult. The first step is always the hardest.


If you are interested in continuing to challenge the perfectionistic cycle, feel free to contact us here for our mental health services.


Stay tuned. The next topic is "Honoring AAPI Mental Health Awareness Month."


References:

Brown, B. (2010). Gifts of imperfection, the: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.


Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.

Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.


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