Perfectionism is characterized by incessant efforts to achieve perfection in various areas of life, ranging from physical appearance, to relationship management, to academic and career achievement, to financial management and more. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism are hyper-focused on others’ evaluations of their performance and are also highly self-critical. In today’s media, the “not enough” messaging we are routinely exposed to has made individuals who struggle with self-esteem particularly susceptible towards perfectionist thoughts and behaviors, which can lead to anxiety, social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and addiction. At Colorado CBT, we are passionate about supporting individuals struggling with perfectionism to develop increasingly flexible cognitive processes, to improve self-esteem, to implement self-compassion techniques and to develop healthier, more effective coping strategies as a means to address perfectionist tendencies.
Why Perfectionism Isn’t Actually So Perfect
Accordingly to Brené Brown, the world’s leading researcher on shame and vulnerability, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that really prevents us from taking flight”. While it may seem as though adopting a perfectionist approach towards life will lead to better outcomes, research has found the opposite to be true. Perfectionism serves as a protective factor, fueled by the idea that if an individual is “perfect”, they can avoid experiencing painful emotions such as shame, disappointment, or inadequacy. However, perfectionism is inherently self-destructive as it compels individuals to strive for unrealistic, ever-expanding goals, and it stifles the opportunity to approach life with openness and acceptance, two fundamental characteristics required to live life meaningfully.
Here are several other reasons why perfectionism prevents us from experiencing a genuine sense of fulfillment:
- Perfectionists are hyper-focused on the end product of a given task instead of the process of learning. This leads to the development of a future-focused orientation instead of being truly present.
- Perfectionism often leads to impaired time-management skills. Perfectionists will not see a given task as completed until the result is “perfect”, which can result in dedicating excessive time to completing tasks. It can also lead to procrastination, as perfectionists will often delay the start of a given task until they are confident they can complete it perfectly.
- Inherently, being “perfect” is a subjective measurement, leaving perfectionists constantly striving for more and further reinforcing the idea that one is “not enough”.
- Perfectionism can lead to interpersonal issues, including a lack of trust that others can meet our standards for perfection, resulting in an increased need for control in all situations.
- Perfectionists will often avoid activities and social engagements of interest driven by the fear of being perceived as anything less than “perfect”.
- Perfectionism causes individuals to place priority on external validation instead of finding strength, confidence, and security from within. This often leads to feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and low self-esteem.
Improving Cognitive Flexibility and Overcoming Rigid Thought Processes
Using treatments including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, our experienced practitioners at Colorado CBT can help you to address perfectionist tendencies by exploring the rigid thought processes associated with perfectionism and by improving cognitive flexibility. For example, imagine you decided to run a marathon for the first time. A perfectionist outlook towards the race might include the thought, “If I do not place first in the race, then I am a failure”. This thought would undoubtedly lead to an extremely stressful training process, provoke anxiety, and result in amplified feelings of inadequacy. By addressing the rigidity of thoughts similar to the above, we can help empower you to approach life with more flexible thought process, leading to increased open-mindedness and acceptance of self. To begin the process of addressing perfectionism at our clinic, please reach out to make an appointment!