Being emotionally healthy involves accepting yourself as a human being, and loving yourself despite your flaws. Having a healthy attitude towards yourself and others is an excellent way to prevent perfectionism. Listed below are behavior and attitude suggestions that combat perfectionistic tendencies:
· accept self as a human being
· forgive self for mistakes
· accept that the ``ideal'' is only a guideline or goal to be worked toward, not to be achieved 100%
· set realistic and flexible time frames for the achievement of a goal
· develop a sense of patience and to reduce the need to ``get it done yesterday''
· be easier on oneself; setting unrealistic or unreasonable goals or deadlines sets you up for failure
· recognize that the human condition is one of failings, weakness, deviations, imperfections, and mistakes; it is acceptable to be human
· recognize that one's backsliding does not mean the end of the world; it is OK to pick oneself up and start all over again
· develop an ability to use ``thought stopping'' techniques whenever you find yourself mentally scolding yourself for not being ``good enough''
· visualize reality as it will be for a ``human'' rather than for a ``super human''
· learn to accept yourself the way you are; let go of the ideas of how you ``should be''
· enjoy success and achievement with a healthy self-pride, and eliminate the need for self deprecation or false humility
· learn to enjoy success without the need to second guess your ability to sustain the achievement
· reward yourself for your progress, to reinforce your efforts to change even when progress is slight or doesn't meet up to your idealistic expectations
· love yourself; to believe that you deserve good things
· to eliminate unrealistic expectations and the idea that you are infallible
· visualize yourself as ``winning'' even when it takes more energy, and more perseverance, than what you had planned
· let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and to develop an open, compassionate understanding for the hard times, obstacles, and temptations
· be flexible in setting goals and be willing to reassess your plan from time to time to keep things realistic
· be open to the idea that you will be successful in your efforts to change, even if you are not ``first,'' ``the best,'' ``the model,'' ``the star pupil,'' `` the exemplar,'' `` the finest''
· realize that the important thing is to be going in a positive direction
List adapted from www.coping.org
Negative Consequences of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is very exhausting on the mind and body. Over time, perfectionists become susceptible to any number of possible physical or emotional consequences. Here are a few:
· Low self-esteem
· Anxiety (performance, test, social)
· Health problems (ulcers, migraines, etc)
· Strained relationships
· Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues
· Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors
· Substance Abuse
The desire for perfection is prominent in our culture, but the continuous quest to reach impossible goals can lead to a lifetime of great distress. Perfectionism is an irrational thought pattern, driven by low self-esteem, that drives people to achieve the impossible – perfection. In a society that pushes us to achieve, and rewards us for our success - those at risk for perfectionism can be easily pushed over the edge and fall into a pit of self doubt, procrastination, and stress. But there is help. By using therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, people who suffer from perfectionism can learn to live a more fulfilling life by modifying their everyday behaviors and changing their automatic thought patterns.
If you or someone you know struggles with perfectionism, please take advantage of the self help resources on this page. If you need additional resources, or want to talk to a mental health professional, please come by the Counseling Office or call (409) 740-4736 to make an appointment.
Perfect vs. Good Enough
Perfectionists are very different than healthy achievers. Perfectionists are driven by self doubt, and create a narrow world of insecurity and low self esteem. Healthy achievers recognize their strengths, are comfortable with their weaknesses, and maintain a healthy balance between goals and achievements. Here are some other differences between perfectionism and healthy standards:
· Standards are high beyond reach or reason
· Straining compulsively toward impossible goals
· Self worth is invested in productivity and accomplishments
· Accomplishments are not satisfying
· Motivated by fear of failure
· Terrified of failure
· Dysfunctional and depressed when faced with failure
· Overly defensive when criticized
· Reluctant to share vulnerable feelings
Healthy standards for success:
· Sets high, but achievable goals and standards
· Enjoys the process, not just the outcome
· Able to bounce back from criticism
· Healthy levels of anxiety regarding performance
· Reacts positively to helpful criticism
· Satisfied with accomplishments
· Self esteem is unconditional
· Not afraid to fail
· Not afraid to share feelings or be vulnerable with other people
Challenge your perfectionism
Are you a perfectionist? If so, getting to know yourself and what drives your perfectionism can be an excellent step towards thinking and behaving in more healthy ways. Take some time to answer the following questions; they will help you better understand your perfectionism:
- What characteristics of perfectionism are true for me?
- What irrational beliefs of perfectionists do I ascribe to?
- What rational alternatives can I adopt to reduce the negative impact of perfectionism in my life?
- What are the negative consequences of perfectionism in my life?
- What am I doing to address these negative issues in my life?
- How do these negative issues affect my past and current efforts to change my problematic behavior?
- What new rational behavior do I need to develop in order to overcome the negative impact of perfectionism?
- How can my social support system help me in overcoming my perfectionistic attitude?
Are you holding on to any beliefs or goals that might not be beneficial for you to hold on to? Are you jeopardizing valuable relationships to maintain this belief or goal? Ask yourself:
- Is this goal achievable?
- How will I know when I have achieved the goal?
- Am I flexible with my standards and able to change my beliefs when necessary?
- Does it benefit me to have this goal or belief?
- What motivates me to hold the belief or reach the goal?
Trying to be perfect is an exhausting challenge. However, if you are tired of the battle, and are motivated to change your behaviors, you can reduce your perfectionism tendencies. Listed below are some techniques that might help you overcome perfectionism. Try to incorporate some of these techniques into your daily routine. Please remember that changing the way you think and act does take time, so be patient with yourself, congratulate your progress, and don’t give up.
1.) Develop awareness of when you think or act in perfectionist ways. A great way to increase your awareness is to write down when you experience perfectionist thoughts. You can create your own thought log to monitor and keep track of your thoughts. Some suggestions for the log: include the day and time of thought, the thought itself, and what the thought developed in response to. Once you start noticing your perfectionism patterns (what they are, where they come from, and situations that trigger them), you might be amazed at how pervasive they are in your day-to-day life. The more you are aware of the problem, the easier it is to correct.
2.) Create a cost-benefit analysis that weighs the advantages and disadvantages of your perfectionism. When listing the “costs” don’t forget to consider the toll that the thoughts have on you and your interpersonal relationships. When listing “benefits” don’t consider things like “helps me get things done” or “motivates me to succeed.” Perfectionism doesn’t help you complete tasks, reach goals, or succeed; instead, perfectionism is the negative part of you that tells yourself you’re not done, or you didn’t do it good enough, or you have to try even harder. Writing down all the bad vs. the good will raise your awareness of how negatively perfectionism affects you, and will increase your motivation to change the behavior.
3.) Think more positive. If you are a perfectionist, chances are that you have a tendency to be negative (“the food’s always cold,” “my grades are never good enough,” “they’ll never get it right”). Allowing yourself to think negatively reinforces perfectionism, and contributes to a poor self image. Make a conscious effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, every time you catch yourself thinking or saying something negative, immediately come up with 3 positive thoughts or sayings that counteract the negative thought. You can also try writing down (in a journal or small notebook) each time you have a negative thought. Over time you will retrain your mind to automatically think more positive. You can also increase your self image by paying more attention to the things that you like about yourself. Start each morning by writing down at least 5 things that you like about yourself. If 5 seem difficult, try thinking about what other people might say they like about you.
4.) Find the happy medium. Perfectionists often employ an “all-or-nothing” style of thinking. You might see things as either all good or all bad, with nothing in between (“2nd place is last place,” “you always say that,” “I’ll never get into grad school”). Watch for this type of thought pattern and challenge it. Ask yourself questions like: Is it really as bad as I feel it is? Do others see it the same way I do?
5.) Set healthy goals. Do you set unattainable goals based on unrealistic expectations of yourself or others? If so, this behavior can detrimental to your self esteem because when goals aren’t met, it reinforces your fears or feelings of failure. Instead, be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Focus on goals that are challenging but still possible to achieve, so that you can reward yourself (and boost your ego) when the goal is reached.