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14 June, 2012

How does perfectionism keep problems going?

In part one of our three part series on Striving for Perfectionism; we looked at what is perfectionism and the main differences between a healthy pursuit of excellence and unhelpful perfectionism. This week we ask "how does perfectionism keep problems going?"

As described before, unhealthy perfectionism involves

  • Demanding standards and self-criticism
  • Striving to meet demanding standards despite negative effects
  • Basing self-evaluation on high standards (Shafran et al 2007)

A question might be then, what keeps perfectionism going? Those with perfectionism are locked into a self-perpetuating cycle. It is difficult to change as perfectionism relates to strongly held beliefs. It is also difficult to change as perfectionism is re-in forced socially. An example of that would be an employer being very happy to employ someone with perfectionism as work is done perfectly! Perfectionism beliefs are generally longstanding, are enduring and the person themselves see their perfectionism as part of their personality. The person then finds changing their perfectionism difficult. They will question what would I be like without my perfectionism?!

Many think: ’I will not perform at all’, ‘I will become lazy’, ‘others will think less of me’, ‘I will be overwhelmed with anxiety’, ‘I will lose something important’, ‘I will be average’, ‘These barriers to making change in perfectionism’.

Perfectionism and mental health problems

Perfectionism has been found to be a factor in the development of many mental health problems. It is also a factor in maintaining mental health problems. These include Depression, Anxiety Disorders, (OCD, Social phobia, panic disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, PTSD, GAD, Sexual problems), Low Self Esteem, Eating Disorders, Habit Disorders,(e.g. hair pulling, skin picking), Medically unexplained symptoms,(Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Sleep Problems, Anger problems.

Case example of person with Depression and Perfectionism

Liz is a 19 year old college student, from an early age, Liz has had beliefs of “doing her best at all times”. She has studied very hard at school. In her leaving cert she achieved all Grade A’s. Her perfectionism beliefs lead her to patterns of doing her best at study and exams. In her first year in college she failed one exam. This led to an episode of Depression. At this time her perfectionism beliefs continued to be present i.e. “I need to do all, I need to push myself”. She found it difficult to achieve what she wished to achieve because of her Depression and these thoughts, beliefs and behaviours kept her depression going. For Liz perfectionism was a factor in the development and the maintenance of her depression.

Continue to…

How CBT can help improve perfectionism