Most people can relate to being perfectionistic in certain areas of life. You might strive to be the perfect boy-/girlfriend, the perfect employee, the perfect friend, the perfect parent, or perfect student. You might also strive to have the perfect home, physical shape, or appearance. Perfectionism can appear in several aspects of our lives.
But what does the term ‘perfectionist’ really apply to? The term is typically used to describe a person striving to do everything to perfection. If you wish to understand when and why perfectionism can become a problem, it is helpful to know of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ perfectionism.
With a degree of appropriate perfectionism, you strive to do well in select areas of life. The term also prescribes that you enjoy the process on the way to obtain your goals. Everything is not dependent on how the process falls out. The path to the goal is at least as important as the end result. Appropriate perfectionism rests on the assumption that it is human to fail.
The appropriate perfectionism can be a strength because it motivates you to work for the things that matter to you – it can help you to get things done.
Characteristic to inappropriate perfectionism is that you evaluate your own worth up against the degree to which you manage to live up to you own high standards and obtain the goals connected to these. This can result in harsh self-criticism if you fail to meet you own demands. If you are struggling with inappropriate perfectionism you will constantly try to live up to your own high standards – regardless of the consequences.
Perfectionistic ways of thinking
Perfectionists (here referring to inappropriate perfectionism) often think in terms of either/or. For example: “All the rooms in one’s house must appear absolutely perfect otherwise you don’t live in a stylish manner”. Or: ”All of your friends must like you very much, or you’re not a good friend”. Or: ”If I eat more than two pieces of candy in one day, you might as well eat a pound of candy the rest of the week”.
When you think in terms of either/or you can end up being in a bad mood much of the time. This is because no one constantly can follow very strict rules. It is simply impossible to win. The result can become ending up feeling like a failure most of the time.
What can I receive help for?
As portrayed above inappropriate perfectionism can negatively impact your general life quality. It is however a character trait that you through Cogntive Behavioral Therapy can learn to cope with and have it working for you and not against you.
The course of treatment is individually shaped to meet the needs of the specific client. The general focus will be on changing the client’s inappropriate patterns of thinking as well as the behavior caused by the thinking. The client will equipped to cope with the discomfort connected to the fear of not meeting one’s own demands. The goal is eventually that the client obtains a way of treating him-/herself in a more appropriate and compassionate manner.