PERFECTIONISM

Perfectionism is a personality characteristic wherein the person tends to strive for flawlessness, setting exceedingly high standards that are difficult to attain, and making overly critical evaluations.

There are three forms of perfectionism: self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism is believing that being perfect is important. Socially prescribed perfectionism, on the other hand, is believing that being perfect is important to others. Other-oriented perfectionism is believing that it is important that other people are perfect.[1]

Behaviours associated with Perfectionism:1,[2],[3]

  • Ceaseless and rigid demand of own perfection.
  • Often doubts own actions.
  • Excessive worry about mistakes.
  • Often compares self to others.
  • Difficulty interacting with others.
  • Constant rumination or overthinking about perfection.

Feelings associated with Perfectionism:2,3

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Self-doubt
  • Incompetent
  • Shame

Thoughts associated with Perfectionism:1,2

  • “If I fail at something, I think about that particular failure for a long time afterwards.”
  • “I try to be perfect in everything I do.”
  • “Other people think that I have failed if I do not do my very best all the time.”
  • “I expect others to be perfect in everything they do.”

Perfectionism and the Body:[4]

  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Asthma
  • Fatigue
  • Burnout

Perfectionism and the Brain:

Perfectionism was found to be related to the volume of gray matter (in the anterior cingulate cortex), which is a region in the brain that is responsible for thought management and regulation of emotions. Doubt over actions and concern over mistakes, which are aspects of Perfectionism, were related to larger gray matter volume. When people doubt their actions, they show concern about it and evaluate what they did very critically that they become more sensitive to negative emotion. Thus, Perfectionism leads a person to experience negative emotions, difficulty controlling negative thoughts, and to have poor self-concept.[5]

Perfectionism was also found to be related to levels of gray matter in the left temporal thalamus, which is responsible for different aspects of consciousness including arousal, awareness, and attention. This may contribute to people with Perfectionism being overly critical and sensitive to their mistakes. Gray matter volume at the thalamus is also correlated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which may explain why people with OCD have perfectionism-related behaviours. Specific neural pathways also pass through the thalamus to regulate sleep and wakefulness states. The levels of gray matter at the thalamus may interrupt these neural pathways and cause sleep difficulties experienced by those who have Perfectionism.[6]

Does Psychology Work?

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Research has shown evidence in the efficacy of CBT used in the reduction of Perfectionism. CBT focuses on changing biased cognitive processes and thoughts that maintain perfectionism. Evidence also shows that along with Perfectionism, CBT also reduces symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and emotional issues experienced by individuals with Eating Disorders.[7]
  • Interpersonal Process Approach (IPA): Research shows evidence that IPA is effective in reducing Perfectionism and the distress associated with it. Reduction of Perfectionism through IPA was also able to improve Depression and interpersonal problems.[8]
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): Studies show that there is a relationship between PTSD and Perfectionism. After experiencing a traumatic event, the person may ruminate or think about why it happened and what should have been done to avoid it. This constant rumination about the loss of control and wanting to take back control leads to Perfectionism.[9] For cases like this, where Perfectionism is a by-product of a traumatic experience, research shows that EMDR is effective in treating PTSD[10] which may help address Perfectionism as well.

Tips to Help Manage Perfectionism![11]

  • Reduce life stress: Practice mindfulness and become more aware of the additional stress created by the constant need or striving for perfection. This will help provide insight that the consequences of the stress brought on by Perfectionism are simply not worth it.
  • Manage emotional and self-critical reactions when things go wrong: View the self as a student of life who is continually developing. Mistakes are not there to cast the final judgment. They are lessons and opportunities for learning. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence.
  • Commit to more positive social connections to achieve work-life balance: Perfectionism drives people to focus on the self and this needs to be countered by directing the attention outward in a prosocial and non-judgmental way. Positive engagement with the community will improve life satisfaction, purpose in life, personal growth, self-efficacy, and connectedness with others.
  • Live fully and experience enjoyment, happiness, and satisfaction in daily life: People will be more likely to experience positive emotions when they are authentic, genuine, and open.

It makes sense that you want to do your best in everything that you do. On the other hand, unreasonable standards of Perfectionism may result in stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, burnout, dissociation, and avoidance of all work. If you start to experience a decline in the physical, mental, and social aspects of your health, it is time to see a Psychologist. At Hopewell Psychological, therapies like CBT and EMDR can help you develop more balanced expectations so that you can achieve excellence and also maintain a positive self-esteem and a balanced life.

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*Psychologists are covered under Insurance Companies in Canada. You will need to check with your insurance company about the specific details regarding your coverage.

References

[1] Damian, Lavinia E., Stoeber, Joachim, Negru, Oana, & Baban, Adriana. “On the development of perfectionism in adolescence: Perceived parental expectations predict longitudinal increases in socially prescribed perfectionism.” Personality and Individual Differences 55.6 (2013): 688-693. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1016/j.paid.2013.05.021

[2] Flett, Gordon L., Nepon, Taryn, and Hewitt, Paul L. “Perfectionism, Worry, and Rumination in Health and Mental Health: A review and a conceptual framework for a cognitive theory of perfectionism.” Perfectionism, Health, and Well-Being. New York: Springer, 2016. Print.

[3] Smith, Martin M., Saklofske, Donald H., and Yan Gonggu. “Perfectionism, trait emotional intelligence, and psychological outcomes.” Personality and Individual Differences 85. (2015): 155-158. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.010.

[4] Sirois, Fuschia M., and Molnar, Danielle S. Perfectionism, Health, and Well-being. New York: Springer, 2015. Print.

[5] Wu, Di, Wang, Kangcheng, Wei, Dongtao, Chen, Qunlin, Du, Xue, Yang, Junyi, and Qiu, Jiang. “Perfectionism mediated the relationship between brain structure variation and negative emotion in a nonclinical sample.” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioural Neuroscience 17.1 (2017): 211-223. DOI: 10.3758/s13415-016-0474-8.

[6] Karimizadeh, A., Mahnam, A., Yazdchi, M. R., Besharat, M. A. “Individual Differences in Personality Traits: Perfectionism and the Brain Structure.” Journal of Psychophysiology 29.3 (2015): 107-111. DOI: 10.1027/0269-8803/a000141.

[7] Lloyd, Samantha, Schmidt, Ulrike, Khondoker, Mizanur, and Tchanturia, Kate. “Can Psychological Interventions Reduce Perfectionism? A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 43. (2015): 705-731. DOI: 10.1017/S1352465814000162

[8] Hewitt, Paul L., Mikail, Samuel F., Flett, Gordon L., Tasca, Giorgio A., Flynn, Carol A., Deng, Xiaolei, Kaldas, Janet, & Chen, Chang. “Psychodynamic/Interpersonal Group Psychotherapy for Perfectionism: Evaluating the effectiveness of a short-term treatment.” Psychotherapy 52.2 (2015): 205-217. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pst0000016

[9] Egan, Sarah J., Hattaway, Mary, and Kane, Robert T. “The Relationship between Perfectionism and Rumination in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 42.2 (2014): 211-223. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465812001129

[10] Cusack, Karen, Jonas, Daniel E., Forneris, Catherine A., Wines, Candi, Sonis, Jeffrey, Middleton, Jennifer Cook, Feltner, Cynthia, Brownley, Kimberly A., and Olmsted, Kristine Rae. “Psychological treatments for adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Clinical Psychology Review 43. (2016): 128-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.10.003

[11] Flett, Gordon L., and Hewitt, Paul L. “Managing perfectionism and the excessive striving that undermines flourishing: implications for leading the perfect life.” Flourishing in Life, work and careers: individual wellbeing and careers: individual wellbeing and career experiences. UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. 2015. Print.

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