Are You a Perfectionist? 6 Common Signs of Perfectionism
Have you ever been asked in a job interview the dreaded question "what is your weakness?" If so, you might have responded with the common answer of being a perfectionist. While many people see perfectionism as a positive trait, we will explore in this blog post that it is not always as beneficial as we once believed. In fact, perfectionism can be linked to a variety of mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, burnout, eating disorders, and relationship issues. By examining what perfectionism is and identifying common signs of perfectionism, we hope to bring more awareness to the negative impact it can have on our lives.
What is Perfectionism According to Psychology
Perfectionism is a personality trait that is often associated with setting high standards and striving for excellence. While it can be a positive attribute, it is important to distinguish between healthy and toxic perfectionism. Healthy perfectionism is characterized by having high expectations for oneself while still being able to maintain a balanced perspective and healthy coping mechanisms. Toxic perfectionism, on the other hand, involves rigid and unrealistic expectations, fear of failure, and a constant need for control, which can lead to negative consequences such as stress, anxiety, and burnout.
6 Common Signs and Traits of Perfectionists
Let's now delve into the six main features of perfectionism. While there are many other signs of perfectionism, we will focus on six key characteristics in this section. If you are interested in learning more, check our free handy guide with additional information.
1. They aim for success and results
Let's start by discussing the core aim of perfectionism - the pursuit of results and success. While there is nothing inherently wrong with striving for excellence, the problem arises when a perfectionist becomes fixated on tangible outcomes and external recognition. This is what we call toxic perfectionism. The need to meet other people's expectations and seek validation from them can become all-consuming, leading to anxiety, stress, and even addiction to instant gratification; to the feeling that they are being productive and busy. Perfectionists want to showcase their achievements to others and are always on the lookout for external recognition. When they do not receive the validation they seek, they feel unproductive and unfulfilled. The pressure to produce tangible results can also lead to a neglect of necessary background work, like cleaning their house, as it does not contribute to the external recognition they crave.
2. Can't enjoy their success
It might come across as surprising, but while perfectionists strive for results and success, when the time comes to reap the benefits, they cannot enjoy it. Many perfectionists set goals and work tirelessly to achieve them, only to find that they are not satisfied once they have reached their objectives. The focus on results becomes a never-ending cycle, with the individual always striving for more and never taking the time to celebrate or appreciate their accomplishments. This constant striving for more can lead to a lack of enjoyment and satisfaction with what has already been achieved. When this lack of happiness and joy becomes a constant state, it may be a sign of toxic perfectionism at play. If you find yourself struggling to find deep satisfaction and contentment with your accomplishments, it may be worth examining whether perfectionism is impacting your life.
3. They feel lonely
The third sign of perfectionism is a reluctance to ask for help. Perfectionists want to take all the credit for their achievements. They believe that if someone else helps them, it means that they have not put in enough effort and it takes away from their credit. This desire for credit and validation can lead to loneliness because the perfectionist may feel that no one understands their struggles or supports them. Therefore, if you find it difficult to ask for help and feel that you have to do everything alone, it may be a sign that you are a perfectionist.
4. They criticize themselves and lack compassion
We discussed that perfectionism entails having high standards for oneself or for others, and being excessively critical. This can manifest in continuously raising the bar for oneself, feeling that one should have known more, done better, or been more successful by now. While striving for excellence is not necessarily harmful, once again, it is important to differentiate between healthy and toxic perfectionism. The latter involves not only judging and pushing oneself but also lacking compassion. When experiencing setbacks or making mistakes, a perfectionist is prone to shame, blame, belittle, or offend themselves. Such self-criticism is not only intense but also lacking in kindness, care, and understanding. This absence of self-compassion can exacerbate the pain and distress that come with struggling, making it harder to cope and recover. Thus, it is crucial to recognize the signs of perfectionism, including the lack of self-compassion, and to learn to practice self-kindness and acceptance.
5. They fear failure
Moving on to the fifth characteristic, perfectionists tend to have a deeply ingrained fear of failure, mistakes, and setbacks. This fear stems from the desire to maintain the perfect plan they have created for themselves and their perfect self-image. They tend to fear that any tiny error will culminate in their downfall and destruction of their perfect image. Due to this, they avoid any form of failure as much as possible (which is, of course, an impossible feat to achieve). They tend to proof-check their emails over and over and can take hours to finish a project, which oftentimes leads to the next sign: procrastination.
6. They procrastinate
Perfectionism and procrastination often comes hand-in-hand. These two tendencies often exist in the same person, as the overwhelming pressure of high expectations, fear of failure, and self-criticism can paralyze our rational thinking and lead to a state of emotional overwhelm. When we are in this state, the amygdala, which is our brain's centre of fear, is activated and expanded, while our prefrontal cortex, the centre of rational decision-making, is under-functioning. This is why perfectionists often experience a fear of failure, which in turn leads to procrastination.
To sum up, people with toxic perfectionism are often success-oriented but find it challenging to relish in their achievements. They can struggle with asking for help, feel lonely, and are overly critical of themselves, often lacking self-compassion. Fear of failure and procrastination are common issues that perfectionists face, and they feed unto each other in a vicious cycle. If you resonate with any of these traits, it may have become a part of your daily routine, leading to feelings of burnout and overwhelm. However, please remember that thousands of people are in the same boat as you; trying to overcome their negative perfectionistic tendencies and build a more fulfilling life. You are not alone.
If you would like to learn more, I have compiled a list of 20 common traits of perfectionists in my guide, and I invite you to check it out. If you have any questions or comments, or want some support, I am here to continue the conversation about perfectionism. Take care.
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