Katherine Schafler lives in New York where she practices as a psychotherapist as well as writing for Thrive, Time, and Business Insider. She also writes her own blog where she aims to get people to refocus on the ways that they think and experience things. Katherine works with a wide variety of people but finds a lot of her clients are women between 25 and who seem to have busy, successful lives. From the outside, things look really great, but often there’s something wrong or they are struggling with making major decisions or changes that you wouldn’t know about simply by looking at or talking with them.
Many of them seem to be perfectionists, which on one level can be seen as being very positive but can be problematical if it goes out of kilter. There is now research available about perfectionism that shows there are healthy and unhealthy types of perfectionism. Healthy or Adaptive Perfectionism is characterised by having high standards for yourself as well as others, being persistent in the face of adversity, and conscientiousness. This type of perfectionism usually goes with goal-directed behaviour and good organisational skills. So, if you always try to do your best, meet deadlines and expectations but don’t get really upset if you don’t always hit your targets, you could be seen as having a healthy type of perfectionism because you’re focusing on the positive which is motivating you to do well.
Alternatively, Unhealthy or Maladaptive perfectionism is based on concern about past mistakes, fears about making new mistakes, doubts about doing things correctly and of meeting the expectations of others. If you often feel ill before a test or presentation because you are worried about not living up to expectations, are constantly asking for reassurance or spend a lot of time concerned that you’re not meeting your own and others high standards, you may be an unhealthy perfectionist, focusing on the negative and things that you can’t control.
Culturally, we often see perfectionism as a good thing and there are obviously positive effects of healthy perfectionism – high standards, a good work ethic and an excellent goal attainment but perfectionist tendencies can become serious problem with negative consequences if we try to attain the unobtainable. Anxiety, depression and physical exhaustion and an unhealthy and inaccurate view of ourselves, our achievements and self-worth is the result.
So, perfectionism can help or harm us. It can be applauded or it can be unhealthy and damaging. If you feel your perfectionism is bordering on unhealthy, there are some simple changes you make that will allow you to keep your high standards without damaging and destroying your own life.
– Strive for excellence, not perfection. Excellence means always doing your best and holding on to your high standards while realising that perfection is unattainable.
– Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, You are unique and will never be like anybody else.
– Be flexible. Dealing with unexpected pressures and demands will help you set realistic expectationS.
– Retrain your brain. Perfectionists are conditioned to think in terms of black or white, good or bad, all or nothing. Unhealthy mental patterns can be replaced by new and healthy ones
– Listen to your thoughts. Beware of negative automatic thoughts that tell you you’re not good enough. Identifying these thoughts will help you replace them with more reasonable ones.
– Don’t negate the positives. Situations or events that don’t go as well as you hoped can have positive aspects. Use them.
– Don’t obsess about what other people think. You’ll be harder on yourself than anyone else.
– Risk failure. Some really high-profile innovations and inventions came from people who risked failure – and often did so.
Perfectionism is about managing the balance of your life so that you feel that your life represents who you really are. By accepting who you are and where you are, you can use your strength to help you position yourself in the healthiest way. Instead of trying to be a completely different person, just accept your perfectionistic traits and work on managing them for yourself and making sure you are around people who aren’t imposing impossible standards on you that trigger their perfectionism in you.