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07 June, 2012

Striving for perfectionism: part one

We would like to introduce you to a three part series on perfectionism. Within this series, we will ask what is perfectionism? How does perfectionism keep problems going? And how can CBT help?

What is perfectionism?

Ann works 2 hours late each evening, without stopping for breaks. Mike is always on time for work, appointments and social occasions. Gerry stays up all night prior to an important presentation at work preparing his slides. Jessica always keeps her ‘happy face’ on when at work and socially. Lee strives to run his marathon a little faster each time. Grainne checks her emails ten times before she sends them. Martin goes to the gym for 3 hours every day. Liz spends much time in the morning co-ordinating her clothes. Lucy is there for her friends all the time, despite not getting support for herself. Mark strives to get A’s in all exams. Jill spends six hours per day cleaning her home.

‘Perfectionism’ is a term used to describe a person who strives to achieve their best performance in things they do. Perfectionism can relate to many parts of a persons’ life or just to one part. Common areas that perfectionism occurs are in work life, home life, study, relationships and friendships, social performance, personal appearance, cleanliness or activities such as sports, exercise or music. These areas are generally ones that are very important to the person. 

‘ Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. It involves basing one’s self-worth almost exclusively on how well these standards are pursued and achieved’ ( Shafran et al 2007)

Important dimensions of Perfectionism are

  • Demanding standards and self-criticism
  • Striving to meet demanding standards despite negative effects
  • Basing self-evaluation on high standards

Research has shown us that there are different forms of perfectionism.

  • Having high standards of self, but also expecting high standards of others and believing others have high standards of you.
  • A research group found that the key components of perfectionism are high personal standards and being self-critical if mistakes are made.
  • Although there are differences in defining perfectionism, what is agreed is that for some perfectionism is unhelpful and this is very different to a healthy pursuit of excellence

The main differences between unhelpful perfectionism and a healthy pursuit of excellence are: in unhelpful perfectionism the person’s view of themselves is too dependent on how well they think they achieve their own demanding standards. Also,  In unhelpful perfectionism, people continue to pursue their standards despite negative consequences. In a healthy pursuit of excellence the person’s view of themselves is not overly dependent on how well they think they achieve their own standards and a person would be able to break from pursuing their standards if negative consequences occur.

Continue to…

How does perfectionism keep problems going?