Updated: Aug 25
I have researched perfectionism for five years now for my PhD in Psychology. I can't wait to share some of my most interesting and useful findings with all you perfectionists out there! After reading this post, you will understand:
What is perfectionism
How to let go its negative parts and maintain its unique advantages
I. What is perfectionism?
After examining over 300 measures of perfectionism employed by psychologists, I found that there are 5 major aspects of perfectionism:
You tend to set high goals and standards for yourself.
You often find yourself striving to be the best in everything you do.
You tend to value organization and order.
You often have doubts about yourself and are concerned about making any mistakes.
You tend to be self-critical and think you are not good enough.
You think others around you (e.g. your boss, your parents, significant other) expect you to be perfect and have high standards for you.
You tend to have high standards for others (e.g. your significant other, coworkers, children) and expect them to be perfect.
Perfectionism is related to your well-being, motivation and performance
By collecting data from over 900 articles on perfectionism over the last five years, I found perfectionism has consequences for your well-being, motivation and performance.
1. People who have high Perfectionistic Strivings & Perfectionistic Orderliness (high standards for themselves and tend to be organized and timely) tend to:
✓ be more satisfied with life,
✓ experience more positive emotions,
✓ have less lack of accomplishment (one aspect of burnout),
✓ be engaged at work,
✓ not procrastinate,
✓ perform better in school, work and sports.
These individuals also tend to engage in more direct coping styles when faced with stress (see my post on different coping styles).
Runner crossing the finish line
2. People who are higher on Perfectionistic Concerns & Socially-Prescribed Perfectionism (concerned over mistakes, doubts about actions, perceive others have high standards for themselves) tend to:
✓ be less satisfied with life,
✓ experience less positive emotions and more negative emotions,
✓ have lower job satisfaction,
✓ be more stressed and suffer from burnout,
✓ have more psychosomatic symptoms
These individuals tend to have an avoidant coping style in face with stress (see my post on different coping styles). A recent review on the relationship between perfectionism and psychological disorders found individuals with these maladaptive aspects of perfectionism are also more likely to have psychological disorders ranging from anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders.
3. Finally, individuals who are higher on Other-Oriented Perfectionism (tend to expect others to be perfect or have high standards for others) tend to be less agreeable. Specifically, they tend to be less polite and tend to be more aggressive. Therefore, such individuals tend to have more interpersonal conflicts and have more difficulties in relationships.
II. How can we brighten the dark sides of our perfectionism?
💡 Reach for the sky but don't hurt yourself on the way. There's no doubt that having high standards for yourself will likely motivate you to perform better. Just don't forget to check on yourself both physically and mentally.
A recent review found that being higher on perfectionism is related to working longer hours and being workaholic. Thus, you may often find yourself staring at your computer screen with your head moving closer and closer to the screen for multiple hours. By the time you realize how many hours you've worked without stopping, your eyes are sore, your neck is stiff and your back may be in pain. Set a timer every hour to remind yourself to take a break, stand up, walk around and get a drink.
💡 Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Be gentle to yourself when you make a mistake. Tell yourself "It's ok, you are just human". Learn from your mistake and move on.
💡 Build confidence in yourself. One way to reduce doubts about yourself is to reflect on all your past accomplishments no matter how small they are. Keep a list of all the great things you've accomplished and all the compliments you've received from others. Continue to add to the list over time to remind yourself of how amazing you are!
💡 Set your own goals. When your parents/spouse/boss sets you a daunting task, evaluate whether it is realistic. If not, push back and set a more achievable goal for yourself.
💡 Set realistic expectations for others. Before imposing your expectations on others, have a conversation with them to understand their expectations for themselves. Then try to reach a compromise between their expectations and your expectations for them. This will prevent them from being stressed out. Also, let them know you are tolerant of their mistakes. This will lower their concerns over making mistakes.
Perfectionism can be amazing or detrimental depending on your profile of perfectionism aspects. Perfectionism at its best, can lead us to thrive in life and achieve excellence; at its worst, it can deteriorate our mental well-being and relationships.
The good news is you have the power to change your perfectionism for the better. I hope this post will help you make use of the good sides of your perfectionism to continue to strive for excellence in life and prevent you from suffering the negative consequences of the dark sides of perfectionism.
If you feel that your perfectionism is making you uncomfortable or causing problems in your relationships, try to adopt one strategy discussed above to improve your perfectionism.
If you know someone who may be struggling with perfectionism, share this post with them to help them out!
Like, Comment & Share
Please like this post and leave a comment if you found it helpful and share it with others who may benefit from seeing this!
As always, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have regarding perfectionism or anything else you'd like help with!
Harari, D., Swider, B. W., Steed, L. B., & Breidenthal, A. P. (2018). Is perfect good? A meta-analysis of perfectionism in the workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(10), 1121.
Limburg, K., Watson, H. J., Hagger, M. S., & Egan, S. J. (2017). The relationship between perfectionism and psychopathology: A meta‐analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 73(10), 1301-1326.