Smith, LMFT and author of
Perfectionism, Revised & Updated: Finding the Key to Balance and
is a compulsive pattern of behavior and thought that may begin in childhood as
part of one’s natural traits or arise through circumstances and stress. It is
only a problem if it has a detrimental effect on one's quality of life or
conflicts with personal values. Those who have a serious problem with
perfectionism often struggle with low self-esteem, repressed feelings,
insecurity or shame. Trying to be perfect is not a conscious choice and, for
those who are coping with chronic stress, it may become a long-term pattern of
trying to maintain excellence in many areas of life.
all perfectionists the same?
two types of perfectionists. Overt perfectionists are easy to see; they are
orderly, organized and a little uptight. They may be critical of others and
hard to please. Some overt perfectionists are focused on social standards and
how others should be.
perfectionists do not appear perfect in many areas of life but have mental
committees of critics. Covert perfectionists pressure themselves to be better,
are very self-critical, make comparisons to others and often feel that they
don’t measure up. They are especially challenged by relationships in which they
do not feel adequate or good enough. Coverts tend to be more
self-oriented—more concerned about their own performance than others.
serious is it?
has been linked to anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
It is also related to lower relationship satisfaction and fear of intimacy.
does perfectionism hurt relationships?
are sensitive and defensive about making mistakes or being blamed or
criticized. They avoid vulnerability and openness and try not to appear flawed
or bad. Since intimacy requires openness with emotions, their relationships may
be superficial and focused on doing things for their partners rather than just
being close. Some may also appear superior, expecting things to be done a
certain way to the point of demeaning a partner.
does it affect children when a parent is a perfectionist?
perfectionist may become an enforcer or teacher rather than a loving parent. They
value doing what is right or correct rather than allowing children to learn
from mistakes and develop their own identities. At times it may seem that the
parent's self-esteem is dependent on the success of the child. Some children
will rebel; others will try to comply while hiding their imperfections and
doubts from their parent.
can this pattern be changed?
a three-stage process. First perfectionists need to see and evaluate the
pitfalls of perfectionism and how it began. If it is not a problem, it doesn't
need to change. If it is causing problems or is not a reflection of your
values, it is important to make changes. The second step, called Becoming
Me, charges perfectionists to looks closely at who they really are. It is
important to be real and slowly practice letting others see who you are. The
third step is to let go of expectations and forgive yourself for past mistakes.
It is a time to begin accepting yourself and others.