Perfectionism is a personality trait that involves adding pressure on oneself or others to attain high standards. Don E Hamachek was a professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology and the author of several published works including, “The Psychodynamics of Normal and Neurotic Perfectionism”. Hamachek defined normal perfection as an individual who set realistic but high standards to attain. Though the individual may still equate their success and fulfillment from their hard work ethic, they are able to recognize when their need to attain comes at a cost and can adapt to this. Unlike normal perfectionists, neurotic perfectionists are defined by their inability to give themselves grace and adjust behaviors and expectations in the pursuit of attaining their high standards. Characteristics of neurotic perfectionism have also been associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and OCD. Here are three strategies for managing the maladaptive characteristics of perfectionism.
Identify the Fear
In Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she says: “Perfection is a 20 pound shield we lug around thinking it will protect us, when in fact, it is the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.” Many people that struggle with perfectionistic traits often behave from a place of fear. So I challenge you to reflect, what is it that you may fear and what was the source of that fear?
Many of the thoughts associated with perfectionism tend to lie in a cognitive distortion known as All or Nothing thinking. “I always need to give my best”, “I cannot make any mistakes”, and “I should have done better”. These are examples of the thought patterns of someone with perfectionistic characteristics and are not based on reality. Always giving your best is not sustainable, never making a mistake is unrealistic and in some circumstances, there may not have been anything in your control to have influenced a better outcome. Recognizing your all-or-nothing thinking and testing if they are based in reality is a great strategy to begin conquering perfectionistic traits.
Learn to Give Yourself Grace
Those who have perfectionistic traits often lack self-compassion. Self-compassion is a practice that includes various components such as self-kindness, a lack of judgment, and common humanity. Self-compassion is a skill that needs to be actively practiced and can include things such as mindfulness, boundary setting, healthy ways to comfort the body such as good nutrition and movement., or therapy.
If you feel as though you need support exploring and managing perfectionistic traits and are interested in seeking therapy. Feel free to reach out for a complimentary consultation.
Mariah Dookie is a licensed professional counselor and trauma-informed practitioner. She specializes in anxiety, stress management, body image issues, and perfectionism in adults.
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