Perfectionists think they are perfect and other misconceptions

Perfectionists think they are perfect and other misconceptions

Author: Blanca Connelly who is part of our English Speaking team.

When it comes to the topic of perfectionism, there appears to be a lot of confusion in mainstream society as to what it is. However, growing evidence suggests that perfectionism is on the rise and is largely to blame for many mental health problems. Whether you´re struggling from perfectionist tendencies, know someone who is, or simply want to understand perfectionism better, here are 5 misconceptions (and realities) related to perfectionism:

  1. Perfectionists think they are perfect

This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. While perfectionists strive for perfection, they are often plagued by feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and distress. Difficulties in detecting, processing, and regulating painful emotions are also common. It has been well documented that perfectionistic characteristics and rigid thinking patterns play a key role in the manifestation of many mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.

2. There´s only one type of perfectionism

It has been well established that perfectionism is multidimensional. Dr. Hewitt and Dr. Flett, who developed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (a widely used tool to measure perfectionism), identified 3 dimensions of perfectionism – self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism. According to these psychologists, self-oriented perfectionism reflects the expectation that one should be perfect. In contrast, other-oriented perfectionism focuses on the competencies of others. Finally, socially prescribed perfectionism involves the belief that others expect them to be perfect. Research shows that all forms of perfectionism, particularly socially prescribed perfectionism, is associated with low self-esteem and low self-acceptance. So, to summarize – every person is unique, and perfectionism comes in many shapes and sizes.

3. Perfection is an admirable and healthy goal

False. Perfection is an impossible goal; one that inevitably leads to a sense of failure and chaos since it, simply put, rejects reality. Perfectionists expect their journey through life and towards any goal to be smooth sailing, direct, and failure-free. However, no one can live a “perfect” life, that consists of only positive emotions, flawlessness, and success, thus aspiring for it only leads to suffering, pressure, and disappointment.

4. Perfectionism leads to greater success

Research doesn’t show that perfectionism leads to greater success. As explained by psychologist Dr. Tal Ben- Shahar, who taught the most popular course in Harvard University history, it is possible for two people (a perfectionist and non-perfectionist) to accomplish an identical goal with the same level of ambition and motivation. The key difference lies in the way each person views the process towards the goal. While everyone dislikes hurdles, the perfectionist has an unrealistic expectation of his or her path to success, a “straight line” path. When it doesn’t prove to be the case, the perfectionist struggles to accept obstacles, drawbacks, or errors, making the journey towards the same goal a lot more painful and anxiety provoking.

5. Perfectionists are tidy, organized, and productive

While this may be the case for certain perfectionists, perfectionism is also associated with productivity problems, avoidance, and procrastination. This is largely because perfectionists tend to be “all or nothing” thinkers. The perfectionist world is often black or white (e.g., success or failure, good or bad) and grey spaces are consequently not welcomed. However, studies show that dichotomous thinking styles create cognitive blocks, making it difficult to approach a task or goal unless success is guaranteed. In other words, perfectionists´ fear of not doing things “perfectly” or failing often prevents them from starting or finishing tasks. By avoiding the possibility of failure, the perfectionist is in fact preventing their chance of success. 

In sum, perfectionists don’t think they are perfect, perfectionism isn’t a strength and perfection isn’t an attainable goal. To help tackle common misconceptions, it’s crucial to shed light on the reality of what perfectionism is and the harmful role it plays in many people’s lives. If you or someone you know is struggling to let go of certain perfectionistic tendencies, it may be helpful to remember that it is possible to have high personal standards, be hard working, and achieve goals without being a perfectionist. While perfectionism is often associated with success in mainstream society, the reality is that it leads to many challenges such as difficulties accepting failure, painful emotions, success, and real life.  

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